The 1932 Ford Model B and Model 18 was seen as Dearborn’s response to the Depression.
After a 19-year run and a production total exceeding 15 million units, the Model T – upon which the Ford empire was founded – almost caused that empire’s collapse. The car, though still surprisingly good even in 1927, had nonetheless been upstaged by its contemporaries, and the director of this epic, Henry Ford, was not blameless. His dogmatic resistance to change allowed Chevrolet to beat Ford to the number-one position in 1927.
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The DeLuxe V-8 1932 Ford Fordor sedan, here in Washington Blue with black fenders, enjoyed a production run of 20, 471 units. It sold for $645. See more classic car pictures.
That first body blow came in a year when new car registrations were down by nearly one-million units. Chevy not only outsold Ford, but did it to the tune of a quarter-million vehicles. Of course, Ford Motor Company had been shut down most of that year, throwing 60, 000 workers onto the street while Henry labored to rush his new Model A into production. The cost had been extremely heavy: hundreds of millions of dollars, plus the loss of market leadership again in 1928, when Chevy outsold Ford by another quarter-million units.
A good turn of speed and plenty of acceleration were qualities that soon endeared the Model A to the general public, putting Ford back on top in 1929 by over half-a-million registrations. The firm earned a handsome profit of $91 million.
Unfortunately, the economic boom ended abruptly as the Wall Street crash of October 1929 devastated the industrial world. The following year, helped by $29 million worth of advertising, Ford’s market share rose by over five percent – but sales actually fell by a quarter million. If anything, 1931 was even worse, with sales skidding another half million, and for the third time, Ford lost market leadership to Chevy. In fact, Ford’s production had plummeted nearly 50 percent, whereas Chevrolet’s drop was negligible.
Henry Ford knew that something had to be done, something that would catch the imagination of the buying public just as forcefully as his beloved Model T had done two decades earlier. Of course, Henry knew all along what was going on, but being a secretive man he disclosed few of his intentions. Engine development, for example, had been in progress all through the Twenties, and various configurations – even an unsuccessful X-8 motor – had been tried. But in the main, Henry liked fours: “I’ve got no use for a motor that has more spark plugs than a cow has teats.”
Nevertheless, Henry had said in 1929 (to a very select few) that “We’re going from a four to an eight because Chevrolet is going to a six.” As he revealed his plans to engineer Fred Thoms, he also instructed him to “Get all the eight-cylinder engines that you can.” Thoms duly acquired nine V-8s, most of which were of multiple-piece construction from high-priced cars such as Cadillac, LaSalle, Cunningham, and Henry’s own Lincoln, which sold for a towering $4, 600.