Classic Car Buyer's Guide:
When you watched Rebel Without a Cause, it was a Ford coupe that James Dean drove in the deadly game of chicken. When you built your first lead sled, chances are it was a Mercury or Ford from the early fifties. If you went new car shopping in 1949, 1953 or 1954, you likely bought a Ford. These cars not only saved the company, they brought Ford into the modern age. To top it off, they were stylish, tough and sporty for the era. Today they feature prominently in the retro hot rod build ups, classic restorations and rat rod creations. Read on as we give you the inside dope on choosing a solid Dearborn flyer from the also rans.
Year by Year Identification: The 1949 model shared nothing with the 1948 and earlier generation Fords in styling. The grille was large, chrome plated and featured a central bullet with either '8' or '6' in the center for engine size. The turn signal lamps were at the end of each grille spear. The body panels were slab sided with large windows compared to the 1948 model. These cars were available in sedan, station wagon and convertible bodies. Nameplates were limited to Standard and Custom series. For 1950, the grille changed slightly, using square turn signal lamps on the fenders below the headlamps. Nameplates were Deluxe and Custom series. 1951 models had a new grille with two smaller bullet motifs sharing a prominent chrome spear. A new hardtop called the Victoria joined the series and became a big seller. For 1952, the car had a major restyle. The grille had a split spear with bullet at each end. Large quarter panel chrome vents were added. If it was a Crestline, it also had a rear fender chrome spear. Model names grew to three with Mainline at the bottom, Customline in the middle and Crestline at the top. Tail lights changed to the circular rocket booster style. The 1953 model had a new grille with a return to the central bullet idea with four vertical bars on each side sandwiched between a huge chrome bar. Tail lamps were the same as 1952. Side trim was ornate on the Crestline and Custom models with vertical jet spears on the wheel housings. For 1954, Ford boasted a new Y-block V8 engine, new ball joint suspension instead of king pins and a new green plexiglass roof on the Skyliner model. The grille was revised with a replay of the 1952 center bar and bullet but with fancier wrap around turn signal pods. Side trim was simplified and full length now.
Engine Power trains & Popular Options: From 1949 to 1953, the V8 offering was a Flathead displacing 239 cubic inches. A straight six with 226 cubic inches was standard until 1952 when it was replaced by the 215 cid unit. In 1954, it was replaced by a 223 cid unit while the all new Y-block overhead valve V8 debuted with 239 cid and 130 horsepower. You would think the Y-block would be the strongest preference for engine choices, but the Flathead was very reliable by 1952 and a huge backlog of parts made it easy to keep up and modify for power. Today, we see two groups of enthusiasts in play. Those who admire the Flathead for its "retro charm" and growing list of new fabricated performance goodies will go after the early '49-'53 bodies. Those who love the Y-block will pursue the 1954 models. In Canada, it should be noted that the Flathead was used in 1954 models. Transmission use was primarily a three-speed, manual column shift with optional overdrive. The automatic transmission was available in 1951 offering a two speed drive with Low Gear range and was called Fordomatic.
When it comes to options, the V8 is highly preferred by most living in or near cities for ease of operation in traffic. The Custom series especially in convertible or Country Squire station wagon bodies are prime picks for collectability. Some 1949 models came with optional four spoke steering wheels in white. A black version appeared in the Crestliner as well. The businessman's coupe is a two door variant with shortened rear windows offering cleaner lines and a sporty appearance. Low production makes them hard to find today. In 1950, a sub model called the Crestliner offered two tone side coves and a vinyl roof in an effort to copy Chevrolet's Bel Air hardtop. It is desirable yet not so rare as to be impossible to find. The convertible's very collectable in spite of its high production, and it is hard to find one at a reasonable price.