Story and photos by Brian Earnest
Bob Lyons chuckles as he tries to explain what it was that first attracted him to the 1940 Fords. Sure, they looked great — especially the coupes — but for Lyons the cars appealed to more than just one of his five senses.
He traces his Ford affection back to some of his earliest memories as a kid, when he was able to venture into a Ford garage in a small Wisconsin town. “My uncle was the son of the Ford dealer in that little town. When I was 3 and 4 years old I used to take my tricycle out of his driveway and yell this guy’s name until he would take me over to the Ford garage. And I would hang around the showroom… It was big enough for one or two cars at most. And they had a little card table set up for me in the service area and I had to stay out of the way, but I used to sit there for hours and watch these cars come in and out and watch these guys working on them. I used to love the sounds of these cars, and the smells. I loved the smells.
“I don’t know, I always liked the old Fords… Over the years I used to go back to that Ford garage and talk to people. Those were the first cars I ever really knew anything about, those old pre-war and postwar Fords with the flathead V-8s in them.”
Many years later, in the late 1980s, the Middleton, Wis., resident saw a 1940 Ford sedan listed for sale in the local newspaper. Lyons decided to pull the trigger and get his first 1940 Ford. He really liked the sedan and enjoyed owning it for about a decade, but the ’40 sedan turned out to be just a stepping stone to the car that Lyons REALLY wanted, a ’40 Ford coupe.
During his time owning his ’40 sedan, Lyons got to be friends with fellow Wisconsinite Mike Kubarth, an expert on the ’39-’40 Fords and an accomplished restorer of the cars. Kurbarth knew of a nice ’40 Ford Standard coupe for sale in northern Illinois and he told Lyons about it. Appropriately, it was painted a factory-correct Lyon Blue. Bob Lyons figured he had to have it.
“I was happy with the sedan, but I always kind of dreamed about owning a coupe. I always thought the coupes were just beautiful cars, so I went down there and looked at it, and after we went back-and-forth a little bit I ended up buying it. That was in 1998 and I’ve had the car ever since then.”
STANDARD OF EXCELLENCE
Lyons’ car is a Standard model, not the fancier and more iconic Deluxe. Lyons insists that while more people probably identify with the top-tier Deluxe, he actually prefers the look of the Standard. “I’ve come to like the Standard. The features on the Standard are a little simpler and a little cleaner and I actually prefer it,” he says. “The main differences are the grille, hubcaps, [and] dashboard. The little Ford symbol is blue on the Standard and not red, and the [Ford script] on the side of the hood is different. The Deluxe had a two-tone dashboard and a clock in the dash. The steering wheel is different and there is a little different layout for the gauges, and the Deluxes had an armrest. But for all practical purposes, they are the same car.”
The blue coupe wasn’t perfect, according to Lyons, but it came with an impressive pedigree. It had twice been honored with the Dearborn Award, the highest award in the Early Ford V-8 Club’ judging system. To earn such a distinction, a car must score at least 950 out of a possible 1,000 points.
When Lyons took ownership, the car looked great, but it had a few irregularities that needed to be ironed out. It was equipped with an incorrect generator and had a few other minor things that needed changing or fixing to be completely correct. By 2008, Lyons and Kubarth had the car in near-perfect shape again and it earned its third Dearborn Award.
“It got 994 points out of 1,000,” Lyons says. “And I can tell you all the things that were wrong! It has some cracks in the steering wheel, which I didn’t feel like trying to fix and still haven’t fixed. On the radiator cap you couldn’t read the stamping numbers on there. You can see them, but you can’t read them and I didn’t want to fix that because the cap fits fine and radiator caps are hard to come by. That black paper liner thing on the inside of the trunk had gotten wet and kind of bubbled and wrinkled. That’s been replaced now. I had a chip in the whitewall of the spare tire. They docked me a point for that. The fan belt was brown instead of black, although Mike disputes that that is incorrect. Anyway, we changed that and the fan belt is black now. And they said the master cylinder was leaking. Actually what had happened is the cap had been put back on improperly and it leaked and dribbled down the outside.”
BOB GREGORIE’S MASTERPIECE
Thanks to the creative mind of master designer Eugene “Bob” Gregorie, the 1940 Fords are among the most beautiful and enduring machines ever to roll off Blue Oval assembly lines. The fabulous facelift began in 1939 when the coupe body grew by an inch over the ’38 model and featured smoother lines and a generally more elegant design. The 1940 models had new grille designs — the Deluxe getting a two-part unit with a narrower center, while the Standard models got a ticker center trim piece and had noses that resembled painted versions of the ’39 Deluxe grille. Deluxe hubcaps had a series of concentric rings surrounding a blue V-8 emblem. The Standard dash and steering wheel had a Briarwood Brown finish and the instrument panel had a larger speedometer face. Standard models had front vent windows. 1940 was also the final year the 60-hp V-8 was available as an option in Standard models only.
Cars with the Standard body were also offered with the 85-hp V-8. Deluxe models could only be had with the 85-hp engine.
The Standard lineup included the two coupes, a two-door sedan, four-door sedan, and four-door station wagon (not available with the 60-hp engine). Deluxes had those models along with a second station wagon and a convertible.
The base price for a ’40 Standard coupe like Lyons’ car was about $660. These days his five-window coupe features many of the most popular accessories from 1940, including a leather interior, radio, heater, oil filter, oil bath air cleaner, grille guard, road light, white wall tires, outer trim rings, outside mirrors and a locking gas cap.
“I put the radio in the car. It cost as much as the car itself when it was new!” Lyons jokes. “And I put the heater in it, which also cost about 600 bucks to do, which was about the cost of the car originally. I also put tires on it, of course, and a correct grille guard, a locking gas cap and a couple more accessories, but basically it’s as I bought it 28 years ago.
“I haven’t really done anything to it mechanically. I haven’t done anything major to the engine. That’s the engine that was in the car when I got it. I did put an electric fuel pump on it, which wouldn’t have been correct when I was having it judged, but they have changed that and it is allowed now.”
There is no doubt that dual exhausts are Lyons’ favorite accessory. They weren’t offered in ’40, but he insists they should have been. “After it got judged at Dearborn, one of the first things I did was put the dual exhaust and the Smittys back on it,” he says. “Henry [Ford] should have done that in the first place.”
Lyons didn’t have the dual exhausts on the car when the Revell model folks came calling, however. He had to have things factory-issue because Revell wanted to use his car as a measuring stick for a 1:25 plastic model kit they planned to build. “A crew came up here from somewhere in the Chicago suburbs with all kinds of cameras and measuring devices and spent the better part of a day going over that car, every part of that car, every little thing,” he recalls. “They made a 1:25 scale model and my car was the template for that. Pretty cool! It’s a nice piece of provenance, I guess.”
Lyons estimates that he puts about 400-500 miles a year on the Ford, and he isn’t shy about running it around on the backroads of Wisconsin. Plenty of heads turn whenever he has the car out on the road, and folks aren’t hesitant about voicing their approval. “I get a lot of, ‘Does that have a V-8 in it?’ he says. “Older people especially remember them. They remember an uncle or grandpa or dad or somebody had one — maybe not a ’40, but an old flathead V-8 and they start telling stories. It brings back memories of the Fords in their lives.”
After winning Dearborn Awards three times, Lyons figures the car’s points-judging days are over, at least for now. He hasn’t chased any trophies in more than 10 years, although he might show up at a local car show now and then for fun. Mostly, he likes taking the car out for joy rides and little trips back in time.
“I wax it and polish and enjoy doing that stuff, but I mostly enjoy driving it. It’s not museum piece. I drive it and it’s good therapy,” Lyons concludes.
“After I‘ve driven it I put it back in the garage, and it will smell like that old Ford garage from when I was a little kid — gas and oil and grease. When it’s hot, there is something about that smell. It just brings a smile to my face every time I do it. “
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