Car of the Week: 1934 Ford three-window coupe

1934 Ford sat in a barn since 1958 and started up for AACA Hershey
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Car of the Week 2020
 This Ford has spent no more than 22 years of its life on the road, and the number might be even lower.

This Ford has spent no more than 22 years of its life on the road, and the number might be even lower.

Driving a 1934 Ford three-window coupe from an AACA Hershey flea market space to the show field would be less than remarkable if not for one detail.

“We took the shortcut way to get over to the show field,” said the Ford’s owner, Don Weir of York, Pa., “so it’s probably about a mile altogether, other than backing it in and out of the barn.”

The part about the barn makes all the difference, though, as the car had been parked there for a long, long time.

“We bought it in Binghamton, New York, in 1956,” Weir explained. “A buddy of mine bought it in ’56 and I went to New York with him and helped him take it back to Philadelphia. In ’58, I bought it from him.

 With a straight face, Ford was able to claim that its V-8 was the first in the lowest-price field, so touting it in the grille badge made perfect sense.

With a straight face, Ford was able to claim that its V-8 was the first in the lowest-price field, so touting it in the grille badge made perfect sense.

“It’s been sitting in my barn since 1958 until we pulled it out on August 3 of (2019).”

The friend who’d bought it in Binghamton, he said, was a serious fan of such Fords and understandably so.

Building a ‘better’ Ford

Ford by 1934 had put its too-long reliance on the Model T behind it. While the Model T that had been introduced in late 1908 had done more than any contemporary car to make personal transportation a reality for countless Americans, it failed to evolve along with the world it had helped to create. Its production ended in 1927 and in spite of the fact that it been constantly upgraded and improved during its lifetime, it remained a vehicle designed with 1908’s needs in mind.

The Model T was beloved then as it is today, but it was embarrassingly obsolete and so the Model A that arrived for 1928 was much more modern. Its predecessor’s planetary-gear two-speed manual transmission and the service brake that acted on the transmission were gone, replaced by what had now become the industry standard: a three-speed manual sliding-gear transmission and brakes on all four wheels. The final Model Ts had worn styling upgrades that helped them to look current, if not fresh, but the Model A’s styling was contemporary and attractive. Its 200-cid flathead four produced 40 hp and while that was a commendable improvement from the Model T’s 176.7-cid four with its 20 hp, it was still a four.

The four-cylinder Chevrolet outsold Ford in the 1927 model year for the first time, no doubt in part because Ford shut down to retool for much of the year. Then Chevy switched to a six for 1929. The cheapest Chevys that year were the six-cylinder $525 roadster and touring while the least-expensive Ford was the four-cylinder $450 roadster. Chevrolet advertised that it now offered “a six in the price range of a four” and although Ford wasn’t the only four-cylinder car then on the market, the point was made. In case anyone didn’t get it, the ad noted that “Chevrolet engineers knew that the six-cylinder motor is inherently the more perfectly balanced motor — the ideal power plant to meet the growing public demand for greater reserve power, faster getaway and, above all — smooth, quiet performance.”

 The 1934 Ford’s instrument panel is about as simple as possible. The painted surface was new for 1934.

The 1934 Ford’s instrument panel is about as simple as possible. The painted surface was new for 1934.

Ford’s response came in 1932 with the V-8. The new car was an evolutionary step away from the Model A thanks to a general softening of the lines and was “the greatest thrill in motoring” thanks to its new engine. The 221-cid flathead V-8 developed 65 hp and Ford promised that the driver would notice the “flashing acceleration, the ease with which (the car) will reach its maximum speed, and hold it.” The new 221, it explained, “for the first time brings into the lowest price field the V-8 type of engine, which has previously been confined almost exclusively to cars selling in the highest price range.” In a shot at Chevrolet’s claim of “smooth, quiet performance” from its “more perfectly balanced motor,” Ford added that “one of the important characteristics of the V-type engine is its smooth operation.”

While Ford’s earliest V-8s were not without problems, Ford worked to correct them and soon had a winner. Its descendants would be in production two decades later, but more immediately, the V-8 for 1933 was bumped up to 75 hp in bodies that “are new and distinctive in their graceful streamlines and they express the new mode in motor car designing. In every detail, you see evidence of a carefully planned harmony of line, proportion and direction.” It was more than puffery, as the new Ford replaced much of the 1932 model’s boxy vertical theme with a gently sloping look. The softening that had appeared one year earlier was enhanced and the 1933 Ford represented an almost-complete break with the styles of previous Fords.

Not surprisingly, although the V-8 was boosted to 85 hp for 1934, the Ford’s body was only mildly updated with changes including a slightly different grille, reconfigured hood-side louvers and smaller headlamps and cowl lamps. It was “the ideal choice for all the people, everywhere” and “the complete answer to your motoring needs.” There might have been some truth in that rather broad claim, because like most prewar Fords, the 1933 and ’34 became popular with collectors (and hot rodders) long ago. Clearly, Weir’s friend was one of those who fell hopelessly under the spell.

 Ford was proud of its new 221-cid V-8 in 1932 and cited its “flashing acceleration.” By 1934, it had jumped from the original 65 hp to 85.

Ford was proud of its new 221-cid V-8 in 1932 and cited its “flashing acceleration.” By 1934, it had jumped from the original 65 hp to 85.

The first drive...61 years later

“At one point,” Weir recalled, “he had four three-window coupes in his barn and two five-window coupes. He just liked to buy Fords and he had a place to store them. There were three of us who all ran around together and we all played around with cars, but he had the most money, so he bought them first.”

His friend with the storage space might not have driven the car shown here and it’s possible that he never even heard it run, Weir said, adding that when he bought the Ford from him in 1958, he was sure that he wouldn’t end up in a similar situation.

“My original plan was to restore it,” he explained, “but then I got married in ’63 and, of course, when that happens, a lot of plans are changed... This got put in the back of the barn and as you buy other cars, they go in front of the one that’s in the back of the barn and so you can’t get to it.”

Only a few friends knew he had it, so there was no stream of questions about it and the car might have stayed in the back of the barn if not for Weir’s second plan for the Ford. This time, the plan is to let it go.

“I know that nothing happens overnight,” Weir said, “so I figure it’s time to get started and move some stuff. Fortunately for somebody else, unfortunately for me, this was the one we pulled out first.”

He won’t be disappointed if this plan falls through like his first plan did. Should that happen, there’s actually a third plan.

“I would think that it’s probably about as good as it looks,” he said. “It’s not perfect. It’s going to need some loving care, but if I kept it, it would stay the way it is. I think it’s a good preservation car, it’s a good survivor and it’s a good reference car for anybody who’s trying to restore one and wants to know what’s right and what’s wrong, so I would keep it the way it is.”

The car might in fact be better than it looks, given that he pulled it out of the barn at noon on a Saturday and had it running by noon on Sunday. Swapping out the gas tank for one from another Ford was the only major work and after that, it was ready. It went on and off of the trailer and then from the Hershey flea market to the show field. It was the first time in the 61 years since he’d bought it that Weir was able to drive it on a road.

“That’s why it would be really nice to keep it,” he said, “but I’ve got three cars torn apart in the shop right now.”

The difference between three disassembled cars and four might not seem like a big one.

“Well, that’s true,” Weir conceded. “That’s true until you start mixing up the parts.”

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