Story and photos by Angelo Van Bogart
Most kids remember the first time they were in a car when the speedometer crossed the century mark. Old Cars Weekly reader Dave Reardon’s century-mark experience may have turned him into a Ford man. It undoubtedly made him a ’40 Ford Deluxe coupe fan.
“I wanted one since I was about 10 years old — it’s the first time I ever got to go 100 mph in a car,” Reardon said of the '40 Ford. “I wasn’t driving, though. The driver was a good friend who used to come to the gas station where I hung out and washed cars on Saturdays. He had to go to another town one day to pick up a part and he said, ‘Jump in,’ and we got his ’40 Ford up to 100 mph, and I said, ‘Boy!’”
The ride happened in about 1945, and by the early 2000s, after owning many other Fords, Reardon began a determined search for a ’40 coupe of his own from his home in Dubuque, Ia.
“When they were affordable, I couldn’t afford one, so when I got it in my head to get one, I had tunnel vision,” he said.
That tunnel vision took him on a beeline to one of the most unlikely of places to find a 1940 Ford Deluxe coupe. “A guy saw it sitting in front of the Chevrolet dealership in Elizabethtown,” Reardon said. “The owner lived near there on a farm and he had all Chevys, and he had it there to be serviced.”
Upon hearing about the 1940 Ford coupe at the dealership, Reardon hopped in his truck to find out if it was for sale. It turned out the coupe was owned by two men whose aunt had bought it new. The men inherited the car after her passing around 1991 and only drove it once a year to have it serviced at the local Chevrolet dealership. And they had no interest in selling their family heirloom.
Reardon gave the owners his phone number and maintained contact with them. Eventually, they became friends, but the car wasn’t for sale and Reardon’s search for a 1940 Ford continued.
Five years ago, when a second 1940 Ford Deluxe coupe appeared on eBay, Reardon almost satisfied his search. He called the seller and in short order realized he knew the coupe’s owner from a Model A meet in that city. The two talked on the phone, but the price was more than Reardon was willing to pay. Over the course of a year, the two stayed in contact and when the price dropped from $58,000 to the price of the coupe’s restoration — around $40,000 — Reardon hopped back in his truck and drove due south.
“We went down there to his warehouse, and he backed it out of the warehouse and as I was looking at it, we noticed the roof and trunk weren’t even the same color of blue,” Reardon said. “When they painted it, they ran out of paint. So that put the caution light on.”
After making the long drive, Reardon decided it was still worth poring over the ’40 Ford coupe. His crouching and crawling around the coupe revealed a botched restoration job with some poorly installed components and unforgivable sheet metal repairs, which included using galvanized sheet metal for the trunk floor.
“I got back in my truck and he asked if I would give $25,000 for it and I said, ‘I don’t want anything to do with that car.’”
That price is hard to turn down for any 1940 Ford coupe these days, but Reardon remembered the Deluxe coupe he found at that Chevrolet dealership so many years ago. That first ’40 was as cherry of a car as one could hope for. It had only one repaint since new, having been sprayed the original Vintage Burgundy in the mid-1950s. It also retained all of the original interior and documentation and had been loved by its original owner for more than 40 years. Perhaps he was never going to find a worthy comparison.
“It has the original bill of sale — it was bought new by Natalie Maynard from St. Paul, Minn.,” Reardon said. “She purchased the car Oct. 9, 1940, from Young Motor Car Co., distributors of Ford, Lincoln, Zephyr and Mercury in St. Paul. She paid — with the tax and license — $631.”
Reardon knew a check for $631 — with or without more zeros behind that figure — wasn’t going to buy that Ford coupe. Or so he thought. When he had all but given up on finding the perfect ’40, he received a call from one of the owners who started out simply talking cars.
“His 1947 De Soto convertible earned high points at a Chrysler national meet in California the summer before, and when he called me to tell me about that, I asked if he took his car to Iola [Wis.],” Reardon said. Reardon wound up calling show organizers to tell them about the car, and they made arrangements to feature the car in the show's theme tent. "I think that softened him up a little bit," Reardon said.
Several months later, one of the owners called Reardon and told him he could come pick up the ’40 Ford. But there was one caveat, and it was a big one.
“I agreed to sign some papers with a notary public that I would never put a Chevy engine in it or modify it, and if I decided to do that, they would buy it back from me,” Reardon said.
Reardon knows what he has, and modifying the 1940 is the last thing on his mind. He’s housed an impressive list of Model A Fords, Mustangs and other Ford products that are nice originals or cars he’s restored to award-winning standards of authenticity. He also knows it doesn’t get any better than this Ford. Few cars of the Ford’s age retain such intact history as his ’40 and remain in the condition of his Ford, so now he only plans to drive it while completing small upgrades.
“When I got it, I put a new set of tires on it,” Reardon said. “I had the wing tips and bumper guards re-plated for it and that’s about it.
The odometer now registers well over 75,000 miles. He may continue upgrading the car’s condition in the years to come, but there’s one thing Reardon won’t do for certain. “I am getting a hard time from the hot-rodders around here asking when I am putting the Chevy small-block in it,” he said. “I say, ‘Never, not in my lifetime.’”
Fords from the 1940 model year are among the most stylish mass-produced cars from the prewar era. The lines of all 1940 Fords were penned by master of design Eugene “Bob” Gregorie, and those lines were facelifts of his previous design that dated to 1938. For 1939, the Ford coupe body, a five-window design, was made smoother and actually 1 inch longer than 1938 from tail to cowl. The revised coupe body was carried over from 1939 to 1940, and remains so elegant in design it was recently reproduced by Dennis Carpenter Ford Restoration Parts.
From 1939 to 1940, Gregorie facelifted the front clip of the carryover bodies by giving all Deluxe model Fords a new two-part grille, the center of which was narrower than in 1939 with new horizontal bars that were chrome-plated. Flanking the new grille were painted panels that filled the space between the grille and each fender. Meanwhile, the lesser-priced Ford V-8 incorporated a grille that appeared to be a painted version of the 1939 Deluxe grille with a thick center trim piece at the grille’s prow.
All 1940 Fords received sealed-beam headlamps, and Ford V-8 headlamp bezels were finished in the body color, and their integral parking lamp lacked the ribbed surround used on Deluxe models. Deluxe headlamp bezels not only had a ribbed design, but were also plated. The hubcaps of Ford V-8 models also had a series of concentric rings surrounding a V-8 emblem while “Ford Deluxe” appeared on Deluxe model hubcaps.
At the rear, both Ford V-8 and Deluxe models utilized chevron-shaped tail lamps that looked borrowed from an Army sergeant’s shoulder. Deluxe models used one of these tail lamps on the rear tip of each rear fender while Ford V-8s featured just one, placed on the driver’s side rear fender.
The beauty of 1940 Fords wasn’t skin deep. Flathead power continued to be the order of the day, with one of two V-8 engines planted between the front fenders. Ford V-8s received the 136-cid, 60-hp flathead as standard equipment in Model 02A, but Ford V-8 models could also be ordered with the 85-hp, 221-cid V-8 as Model 01A. Meanwhile, all Ford Deluxes received the 85-hp V-8. All models rode on the 112-inch wheelbase with 16-inch stamped steel wheels. They also had a new steering column-mounted shift lever for the three-speed manual transmission and carried over hydraulic brakes, which Ford finally offered beginning in 1939.
Production figures are available only for the 1940 calendar year and include early-1941 model year builds, but regardless of how the figures are noted, 1940 was a good year for Ford. The company built 599,175 vehicles, up from 532,152 during the 1939 calendar year, despite Ford’s price hikes from 1939 to 1940. For comparison, a 1939 Deluxe coupe had a factory price of $685; in 1940, the Deluxe coupe was $722.
That’s still a bargain compared to today’s values, when a like-new 1940 Ford Deluxe coupe can fetch more than $50,000.
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