At the end of World War II, Ford Motor Company, which had just resumed peacetime automobile production, was in serious trouble. The company was in organizational disarray and losing money at a frightful rate. Because the war had prevented it from designing and developing any new cars for several years, Ford could only offer warmed-over cars of pre-war design to a car-hungry American motoring public.
However, all was not lost at Ford. On September 21, 1945, at the tender age of 29, Henry Ford II assumed the presidency of Ford Motor Company from his aging and ailing grandfather Henry Ford. Surrounding himself with a crack team of executives, engineers, and designers, Henry II set out to modernize the company and its product line. In 1946, as part of this modernization program, he ordered the development of a brand new car that would “make or break” the company. The end result of Ford’s labors was the car that is credited with saving the company from its post-war troubles: the 1949 Ford.
The 1949 Ford was the company’s first completely new car of the post-war era. Designed by a team of engineers led by Henry Youngren, it represented a significant technological upgrade from the company’s earlier offerings. The car was built on a modern box-frame chassis and rode on a 114-inch wheelbase. The 1949 Ford also boasted a brand new suspension system, featuring coil springs with hydraulic shock absorbers in the front and longitudinal leaf springs in the rear, which gave the car better handling and a more comfortable ride than its predecessors. Customers could choose between 2 well-proven Ford power plants: a 226 cubic-inch inline-six (good for 95 horsepower) or a 239 cubic-inch Flathead V-8 (good for 100 horsepower). Both engine choices were mated to a 3-speed manual transmission, which was offered with automatic overdrive as an option.
The new Ford was clothed in a sleek and rigid new body. Designed by stylists George Walker and Richard Caleal, the car’s “Lifeguard Body” featured slab-sided styling, which eliminated the rear fender bulges seen on previous Ford cars. The body was also given distinctive looking chrome moldings on the front, which included Ford’s now-iconic “spinner” nose positioned in the center of the car’s grille. The car’s interior was designed for greater comfort over the previous year’s model, featuring “Mid-Ship Ride,” in which all of the passenger seats were placed between the front and rear axles. Passenger visibility was improved by increasing the window area and giving the driver and passengers a higher seating position.
The 1949 Ford made its public debut at New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on June 10, 1948. Happily for Ford, the car was a smash hit with the motoring public. The car’s fresh new styling was very well received and drivers appreciated its overall improvement over the previous year’s model. Because of its popularity, the new Ford put the company back on the road to prosperity. On the strength of the car’s sales, Ford beat out Chevrolet as America’s best-selling make for the 1949 model year. It also helped Ford Motor Company overtake Chrysler Corporation and regain its position as the number two producer of the American Big Three automakers.
The 1949 Ford was replaced by a slightly revised successor for the 1950 model year. More than 1.1 million 1949 Fords were built.
The ’49 Ford!, Ford: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Ford Range, 1942-1949, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.
Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 563, p. 568.
It’s Here….the ’49 Ford, The Car of the Year, Ford: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Ford Range, 1942-1949, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.
Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 382, p.387-389.