Story and photos by Brian Earnest
Sometimes in life, you just gotta take a chance.
There really is not other good explanation for why John Lang would want to stop at a stranger’s house, knock on the door and inquire about an old Ford he heard might be sitting in a shed on the property. Lang had never restored such a car. He'd never owned one, and never even owned a collector car before.
But “barn find” automobiles can have an irresistible appeal, and Lang, a resident of Marshfield, Wis., simply couldn’t pass up the chance to drag an old car out into the sunlight for the first time in years and give it a second chance in life.
“How long had it been sitting there? I couldn’t tell you. A long time,” said Lang of his beautiful 1946 Ford Super Deluxe coupe sedan. “It was sitting in a machine shed with a dirt floor, but it survived really well, I gotta say that.
“Another guy had told me about it and I decided to stop and see the [owner] and ask him about it. He said sure, he’d sell it.”
“I tell everybody it had some scars on it. It lasted through several wars, and was definitely scarred up, but it wasn’t in bad shape … I wanted it right away. Yup. My dad had a ’47 Ford, and I liked flatheads, so I wanted to stick with a flathead from around this age — 1946, ’47, ’48. I loaded ’er on a trailer and brought it home. And I got ’er running right away!”
That was back in 1998. A year later, Lang retired and began a three-year restoration that has turned the Ford into a real show-stopper. The deep-red coupe is now your quintessential Sunday fun machine, making regular appearances at local car shows and taking joy rides around central Wisconsin.
“I got it done in the spring of ’02 and we just turned 10,000 miles on it,” Lang said. “That first year the speedometer didn’t work, but we’ve got 10,000 miles on it since that second year.
“I don’t see many of them. Not many of them at all. Most of them are street-rodded. I put this one back to original, except for the paint. This car is mostly original, but most of these were rodded and chopped and had big engines put into them. I didn’t do any of that.”
The first post-war Fords are still extremely popular among car hobby folks today, but they were positively red-hot when they first arrived in dealer showrooms in October of 1945. After four years with no new cars available, folks were lining up, literally, to get their hands on new automobiles, and Ford buyers were clamoring for new machines, even if the 1946s were only slightly updated versions of the 1942 offerings.
The front end was given a new grille that featured three horizontal chrome bars below a prominent set of Ford “wings” mounted to the bottom ends of the curved hood. Everything else on the car was virtually the same as in 1942, including the 225-cid six-cylinder or 239-cid flathead V-8, which were the only two engine choices in both of Ford’s two tiers (Deluxe and Super Deluxe). The bottom-end Special that had been offered up until 1942 did not return after the war.
The top-end Super Deluxes featured twin sun visors, a horizontal chrome strip on the bodyside, chrome around the windows, armrests on the doors, a horn ring and a few other minor upgrades. The Super Deluxes came in seven configurations: two-door coupe, two-door coupe sedan, two-door convertible, two- and four-door sedans, two-door Sportsman, two-door convertible, and four-door station wagon.
The two-door sedan coupes like Lang’s were second on the popularity charts that year among Fords. With a production total of 70,826, they were still well behind the two-door sedans, however; Ford built 163,370 of those.
The cars all rode on 114-inch wheelbases with overall lengths of 196.2 inches. The sedan coupes tipped the scales at 3,140 lbs. and carried a base sticker price of about $1,307.
All the Fords carried a column-shifted three-speed transmission and hydraulic drum brakes on all four 16-inch wheels. Brake horsepower for the flathead V-8 was rated at 100, with 180 lbs.-ft. of torque.
Lang was able to save and restore almost everything on his Ford, including the engine and drive train. He did wind up buying a donor car, however, to help supply some missing trim pieces and a few other parts. “I was missing a some of the chrome on the trunk … I had it, but it was all bent up and beat up and the trunk didn’t fit right. The seat — I don’t know what they had in it for a seat, so the car that I bought had a seat that fit [right]. All the chrome is off the first one, except the chrome on the trunk. The second one I bought had the sun visor on it, so I took the sun visor off the second car and put it on this one.
“The drive train is all from the original car. We had everything completely rebuilt in it. It needed it!"
Perhaps the most obvious difference between the Deluxes and Super Deluxes for 1946 was on the interior. The Deluxe models carried pretty much the same look as the 1942 Fords, but the Super Deluxes were trimmed in navy and gray with red accents.
Lang didn’t really have a timetable for his Ford restoration, and the longer he worked on his car, the higher his standards seemed to get. He admits he didn’t envision the car turning out this nice when he first dragged it home.
“No, I didn’t, not when I started,” he said. “But where do you quit, you know? You get into it and you don’t know where to stop, so you just keep going.
“I knew it would be a job, but I knew it wasn’t in the worst shape. The floor was good in it, and they’ve fixed a lot worse ones than this.”
The shiny burgundy paint is clearly an upgrade over the original Royal Maroon offered by Ford in 1946. In perhaps his biggest concession to non-originality, Lang extended the deep red to the interior, where he used red to replace the navy blue that had originally been part of the blue-and-gray cockpit color scheme — including the steering wheel. The Ford still carries its red-on-black instruments, radio and dash brightwork. “It’s close to the original color, but it’s brighter and more modern,” Lang said. “The older ones had a duller enamel with a duller finish. We went with burgundy … I think we hit it just right.”
The interior was re-upholstered in its original gray, but the seat fabric now has some red striping to match the deep red paint inside and out.
Even though he put three-plus years of time, effort and expense into the Ford, Lang made sure he didn’t turn out a trailer queen. His goal was to have a beautiful, dependable toy that he could show off, and the ’46 has turned into exactly that.
“It was my first one and probably my last one,” he said. “I don’t have the ambition to do another one. I’m going to enjoy this one for a while yet.”
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