By Angelo Van Bogart
After his many years of hunting cars, it takes a lot to peg out Larry Fisette’s oil pressure. However, his latest find got his oil pressure pumping so fast and hard, it may have just broke the gauge.
The De Pere, Wis., automotive archeologist recently uncovered the lone surviving prototype 1932 Ford Model Y (Model 19). The Model Y is historically significant for the lone fact that it was the first Ford Motor Co. model built for a sales market outside of the United States. However, the car is also credited for keeping Ford Motor Co. viable in Europe during the Great Depression. Most importantly to Ford fans in the United States, the European four-cylinder Model Y formed the styling foundation for the wildly popular 1933 Ford Model 40 V-8 model sold in the Western Hemisphere, but at 3/4 scale.
So, where did Fisette find this worldly automobile hiding? Just across Lake Michigan, in Detroit. Not far from where it was built, actually. But it took a friend in an unlikely business to lead Fisette to the little Model Y.
“The phone rang and it was Bob Brown,” Fisette said. “Bob was called to inspect a mechanical music machine — he’s the president of Mills Novelty Co. — and Bob said the lady with the music machines had two ’32 Fords for sale. I told Bob, ‘Nobody has two ’32 Fords for sale,’ but I packed up and went to Detroit.”
“Bob was wrong and I was right: she had four ’32 Fords.”
That was three years ago. At that time, Fisette was able to buy two of the 1932s Fords — a roadster and a five-window coupe — but the seller’s sentimental attachment was too strong to part with her 1932 phaeton and the Model Y. Her husband, the late Al Maynard, Jr., of Detroit Autorama fame, had intentions of restoring the Model Y for her. By February of this year, she had changed her tune and decided the time was right to sing good-bye to her last 1932s, one of which was this prototype Model Y.
Initially, Fisette wasn’t that interested in the Model Y until he found out the car was serial number 0001 from the run of prototype Model Y Fords destined for the European market. “That turned out the be the most interesting thing, the ‘01,’” Fisette said. “I mean, I would buy the ‘01’ lawn mower. Nobody can top you on that.”
After his interest was piqued, Fisette examined the nearly forgotten car more closely and fell in love with its features. “It just has a lot of appeal,” he said. “The whole styling is appealing, because it had the styling of the ’33-’34 Ford, but it was only 3/4 the size of the Ford. The bumpers were attractive to me because it has ’32 Ford bumpers, and it has the suicide doors that I like. “And the fact it was all there and it wasn’t rusty appealed to me, not to mention I had never seen one before.”
Once he had the green light to buy the widow’s last two 1932 Fords, Fisette rushed to Detroit and scooped up the finds. With the title to the Model Y in his grip, he contacted the Ford Y&C Model Register in England and fell even more in love with the car after the register’s archivist, Sam Roberts, confirmed the interesting history of the find.
In his e-mail reply, Roberts told Fisette that this was the only known surviving Model Y development car of 12 built by Ford Motor Co. in 1931 and ’32. Roberts, who researched Model Y's for his book “Ford Model ‘Y:’ Henry’s Car for Europe,” said the prototypes were likely built in Dearborn at Ford’s secretive Triple E Ford Engineering building.
Of that dozen development prototypes, 11 were painted white and extensively tested and compared to three small British cars at a test track at the Dearborn airfield. The 12th car was shipped to England on March 12, 1932, where it was used to promote the new smaller Ford to the European market. This 12th pre-production Model Y, believed to be the only example painted Vineyard Green, was extensively photographed and also used for what Roberts called “manufacturing trials work” at Ford’s Dagenham, Essex, factory. On the way to England, its shocks rusted and had to be replaced once it arrived. Fisette’s car happens to wear a coat of Vineyard Green paint beneath its current off-white repaint, and it wears British shocks.
Once Fisette’s prototype and the others proved the Model Y was a winner, production of the final design began in England in September 1932. According to the Ford Y. and C. Register website, 14 non-running prototypes also were built in the United States and shipped to England beginning in October 1931. The purpose of these 14 additional cars was to generate excitement for the new European-sized Ford, beginning at their unveiling at the Royal Albert Hall in South Kensington, London, during February 1932. The cars then toured additional capitals in Europe before they were eventually scrapped at the end of the year.
One of the Model Y’s notable claims to fame is that it was designed by legendary designer E.T. “Bob” Gregorie. Once Edsel Ford saw Gregorie’s design for the 90-inch-wheelbase Model Y, he instructed Gregorie to bulk it up to fit the 112-inch-wheelbase chassis used on Western Hemisphere Fords. The car that resulted — the American 1933 Ford — was loved long before it and the very similar-looking 1934 Ford became pop culture icons thanks to “The California Kid” and ZZ Top.
What makes this prototype different from the production models (and some of the other prototypes) is its hood sides — this car has 10 hood louvers instead of nine or even six on the production models that followed — and its Model A door handles and tail lamps. Fisette said the Model A tail lamps on his Model Y look like they were modified to hang upside down from beneath the bumper. It’s also worth noting that by 1932, Ford bodies featured very little wood in their bodies, yet this prototype continued the traditional use of wood for structural support.
As the only remaining of the 12 running Model Y prototypes, Fisette is fortunate the car is so complete. He says it’s only missing the spare wheel and the wiper motor. It’s also very solid and relatively original. Besides its obvious repaint, Fisette can tell that it’s been reupholstered. A few parts have been changed, such as the parking lamps and the front seats, but the known previous owners (Maynard, and before him, Buzz Yontz) kept the original parts.
Although the car would be a great candidate for a rotisserie restoration, Fisette doesn’t think he has another one in him. “At 77 years old, something tells me I may not want to,” he said. “I would love to restore the car but at my age, I wonder if I would get it finished. As much as I like it, I would love to do it. If I was 60, I would already have it apart. Maybe 77 is not that old, but look at 80 — how many people do you know are 80 and are still restoring cars?”
Still, Fisette can’t help but tinker on the old Model Y. He hasn’t been able to stop himself from sorting out the interior, and he has even made the little four-cylinder hum again in anticipation of its sale.
“I cleaned out the carburetor and the fuel pump and it runs like a watch,” he said. “I would love to [restore] her, but I just can’t.”
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