By Brian Earnest
Bill Burns chuckles a bit when he thinks back to his father Gilford’s “tinkering” tendencies. In some ways, the senior Burns was a bit of a closet customizer, adding unique and subtle details that certainly weren’t “factory issue” to his stately, buttoned-down 1935 Ford Deluxe Tudor.
Bill just figures his old man loved his gray Ford so much, he couldn’t resist giving it a few tweeks and do-dads that made it different from any other car on the road. Either way, the unique old Ford has been a beloved member of the family since the day Bill’s dad got it new as a going-off-to-college gift 73 years ago. The elder Burns died 48 years ago, but thanks to his son’s undying affection for the car, the venerable Ford has never looked better — well, at least not for a long time.
“The car was originally purchased by my dad — given to him new when he went to college,” recalled Burns, a resident of Brownsville, Texas. “It was his personal vehicle his entire life, and he died in ’61. He and my mom dated in the car. My brother and I dated in the car … The car has quite a family history to it.
“Dave loved that automobile … I mean, he drove it from 1935 to 1961. He loved the car, and that’s why we kept it.”
One of the reasons Gilford loved his Ford was because of all the fun little things he was able to do to the car, thanks to his fondness for gadgetry and his job as an instrument technician for Pan American Airways. Some old Fords from that era got flames and scallops, some went without fenders or hoods. Gilford Burns’ car cruised around with various airplane parts bolted all over it.
“Pan American Airways, during World War II, they had an instrument repair shop, and they sent airplane instruments there to get fixed,” Bill said. Gilford ran the shop, and “would occasionally modify something and put in on the ’35 Ford,” according to Bill. “Instrumentation, spark plugs, a water injecting system for the carburetor … I could go on and on. It had some rather unique features on it.
“The car didn’t need ’em, but he was just dealing with these instruments and he loved that car and just had to put something on it… He had altimeters and, of course, temperature gauges and pressure gauges…”
“He latched onto a couple of aircraft landing lights that were about the size of the fog lights that were on the Deluxe model Fords. Well, we used to travel in Mexico for weeks at a time when I was a kid. If you ever travel down there, you know the roads aren’t normal, and if you meet a truck down there on the road, they’re not gonna dim (their high-beams). Well, man, I’ll tell you, those lights lit up the countryside. Those truck drivers would be hustling to get their lights dimmed.”
Most of the changes of the aeronautical variety were cosmetic, but not all of them. Bill found out the hard way it was best to be careful with the oversized airplane spark plugs his dad decided to use as an experiment. “Those spark plugs were really long — they probably stuck up twice as high as regular plugs,” he said. “That car had one whale of a spark, I wanna tell you. I was helping him one night in the garage and I bumped into one of those things, and it knocked me halfway across the floor!”
Oversized plugs and headlights that you could see from space were clearly not standard equipment on the 1935 Deluxes, but the mildly restyled Fords did have their share of accessories and refinements that year.
Ford claimed “Greater Beauty, Greater Comfort, and Greater Safety” for 1935. The narrower radiator grille lost its sharply veed base and four horizontal bars helped accentuate the 1935 model’s new lower and more streamlined appearance. The fender outlines were much more rounded and the side hood louvers received three horizontal bright stripes. In profile, the Ford windshield was seen more sharply sloped than previously. The parking lamps became integrated with the headlights and the headlamp shells were painted body color. For the first time, Ford offered a built-in trunk for its Tudor and Fordor models, and all Fords had front-hinged doors front and rear.
Deluxe Fords had a set of horizontal bars running down the center section of the dash. External distinctions included bright windshield and grille trim work on the Deluxe models, and dual exposed horns with twin tail lamps in back. A convertible sedan was new, and the Victoria model was discontinued.
The engine was the 221-cid L-head V-8, which produced 85 hp at 3,800 rpm. Alas, the engine in Burns’ car was damaged by what Bill termed a “rare freeze” during winter and replaced with a “a late-’30s ‘85.’”
The cars rode on a 112-inch wheelbase with 6.00 x 16 tires. A sliding-gear, manual-floor-shift transmission was standard on the ’35s.
“In the mid to late-’50s, when I was a teenager, I used to drive the car a lot and it had an 85-hp V-8 in it, and I’d drag race that thing,” Bill said.
“Of course, Dad would have killed me, but it really got up and went.”
Wire wheels could wear optional whitewall tires. Other options included a radio, antenna, heater, cigar lighter, clock, seat covers, spotlight, dual windshield wipers, greyhound radiator ornament, luggage rack and a banjo-type steering wheel.
Ford was the nation’s top-selling car maker for 1935 and offered five different Standard body styles and 10 different Deluxe models. The Burns’ car was one of 87,336 of the Tudor trunk sedans built, making it the third-most popular car in the 15-car lineup.
When Bill got the car following his father’s passing, he knew he’d eventually give it a loving and well-deserved restoration, but the process wound up taking longer than he planned. “I took it down basically to the frame and I started over with it, but I got transferred for my job every two or three years and it took a long time to get the thing finished up… I’ve lived in various places around the country. We moved a lot, and all these companies I went to work for, my main stipulation was, ‘If you want me, then the car is coming, too.’ For so long, the car was in various stages of restoration during all these moves. There was probably more money spent on it moving than the car was ever worth.”
Bill finally finished his restoration in early 1980s, preserving as many of his father’s airplane modifications as he could.
The transmission and rear end are original. The underside and body panels were sand blasted and painted with zinc chromate and black paint.
Fittingly, the car wound up on display for a number of years in the Confederate Air Force Museum in Brownsville before the family took it back seven or eight years ago — still with only 74,000 miles on the odometer.
Bill has now turned over the keys to the family heirloom Ford to his own son, Greg, who is storing it in southeast Arizona. At this point in the car’s life, it wouldn’t seem right for it to ever leave the family.
“I restored it because of the love my father had for it,” Bill says. “And it got me started in antique cars. I’ve had two Corvettes and T-bird and few other things … I’ve had my toys, and this car was his toy.”
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