By on March 23, 2010

What are the odds of still being married to your first sweetheart from high school? And of still owning your other first sweetheart, the car you bought for $15 about the same time you met her? And what are the odds of me running into him as he was sitting in his 1950 Ford across the street from South Eugene High School, gazing at the very building where the three of them bonded in 1964? (he was waiting for his grandson). Well, luck may have something to do with the last one, but I give this man credit for having a big and unwavering heart and good judgment. But there’s got to be more. Well, I uncovered his secret.

There it is, a necker’s knob with a high school picture of his true love, solidly attached to the wheel of his other true love. Do you think he would ever have wavered  from the straight and true, with her adoring gaze beaming up at him wherever he drove? Unfortunately, I forgot to ask whether his wife wears a cameo or locket with a picture of the Ford on it. It only seems right somehow.

A successful long-term relationship to a car or spouse is an endless work in progress; the minute you lose interest…Well, these two never have, in each other and the car. And its not just that Jerry (I might be wrong with that name, sorry) keeps two parallel relationships going; no this is a genuine ménage à trois . As a perfect example of that, his wife recently gave Jerry the gift of that louver job on the Ford’s hood. How many of your SOs have given you a louver job, recently or otherwise? I thought so.

Please note that came after some forty years of marriage. But what starts with an insignificant necker’s knob grows, with the right nurturing. And it may not end there either; as I said earlier, marriages and old cars always have scope for new growth or louvers. This beloved ’50 Tudor is anything but finished; there’s a paint job down the road, some interior work, new seals and rubber…it never ends, until it does. So all you guys contemplating an old car: maybe its better to get a project that you can both get involved with rather than that perfectly restored red ‘Vette, which might become your mistress, but one that you tire of after it’s too late.

All right, enough of the relationship stuff. Let’s talk a bit about the enduring object of Jerry’s affection. Since love starts with a beating heart, let’s jump right to the Ford’s ticker. I don’t remember all the details, but I know it’s a nicely built 276 cubic inch Mercury engine. That would mean it’s been bored one-eighth over, a safe thing back in the days of non thin-wall castings. The more adventurous souls would go three-sixteenths over, but that’s not exactly for recipe the conservative monogamous types. And I remember that it has Holly carbs; two of them, obviously. And probably all the other goodies to make a nice long-lived streetable ride. Don’t want to get too racy with triple carbs here.

The 1950 Ford was almost totally unchanged externally from the groundbreaking ’49s. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the ’49 Ford was both the most changed and most important new Ford ever. A very young Henry II had to take over the wreckage of a company in 1943 that was losing $10 million per month despite war time contracts, after his father Edsel died. The new 1949 models were going to be absolutely critical in reestablishing Ford. He hired both experienced execs and the “Whiz Kids”, and gave several studios the opportunity to compete for the styling. One by independent stylist Richard Caleal was picked over the various in-house designs, and put into production almost perfectly unaltered.

On our featured love object, the central grille ornament, a sort of ball or spinner with the number “6” or “8” embossed on it to denote what was purring behind it, has been replaced with a novel headlight that swivels with the front wheels. It was a kit that was sold for this purpose, and used cables connected to the steering gear. And who thought that the Citroen’s swiveling headlights were something new?

The 1949 Ford was a handsome, clean and timeless design, not unlike its owner in the picture above giving his beloved a knowing and admiring glance. The original didn’t have the rear wheel cutouts like our featured car (was that a gift from his beloved too?).  Here’s a shot of the original. And it wasn’t just the good looking body either; for the first time ever, a Ford didn’t have the Model T’s transverse leaf springs, or the torque tube drive shaft. It was almost a clean sheet design, except for the power plants. The six and venerable V8 were of course carried on, but lo and behold, the all new Ford actually weighed a couple of hundred pounds less than its predecessor, despite the wider and roomier body.

That made it the lightest and most powerful of the Big Three, which of course means the fastest. Ford maintained its old reputation first established with the ’32 V8, and was the police car of choice, especially when the bigger Mercury engine was installed. But despite the popularity of the legendary flathead V8, the six was probably the better choice for most drivers. It only gave up five horsepower to the eight’s one hundred, but had a much better torque curve. That all becomes irrelevant the minute one lifts that louvered hood: one of the most iconic engines, dressed to kill with those Offenhauser aluminum high compression heads and the two-carb setup. And when that unmistakable Ford burble starts streaming from the twin pipes, it’s suddenly springtime 1964 again. Cupid has shot his arrow well.

The new Fords were a big hit, and people lined up to plunk down their war earnings for one. Not surprisingly, like with so many all-new cars, the first year was plagued with various maladies. Ford proudly proclaimed that the 1950 models were improved “in fifty ways!”, and apparently they were. But the lesson was not lost on this owner: he knew a keeper when he saw it, given that his Ford was some fifteen years old already when he shelled out his $15 for it.

The new ’49s saved Ford’s and Deuce’s bacon; the company that was almost taken over by the government during the war (Bail Out!!) was now again on firm footing, and within a few years the Fords would take the company public, keeping a special class of stock exclusively for themselves. These went on to be popular with the hot-rod crowd for the obvious reasons, and it wouldn’t be stretching it to say that the ’49-’51 Ford WAS the ’55-’57 Chevy, until it came along. That is for some. For the loyally committed, Chevys were the hot young new seductresses in short(er) skirts and with bigger boobs. Some fell, others didn’t.

Now that I’ve revealed Jerry’s secret to a long-lived relationship, you might well be tempted to take it up too. (I’ll pass; I’ve managed 32 years without one, but don’t let that stop you). No problem; necker’s knobs with a clear removable top to display your true love are available at e-bay, for a mere $8.99 (Buy It Now Price). Much cheaper than all the couple retreats and counseling, by a long shot. And all that money saved from nasty divorces will get you enough louver jobs to keep your Ford well ventilated. If you picked well, that is.

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38 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1950 Hot Rod Ford – A True Love Story...”

  • avatar

    Great clue for this one Paul……

    One of my all-time favorite Fords, and you stumped us all……but one.

  • avatar

    I had an AMT model of that very car when I was a kid-the best kit I ever built because it actually won a contest.
    But without the happy ending of this story-it was stolen right out of a display case at my junior high.
    Funny how this car still brings back memories like that (mine even had similar wheels with the beauty rings)-they were great looking cars and that is a great story behind the car.

  • avatar

    Wow, and I thought I was doing well with my $12 Rambler. This guys got me beat, even though he paid $3 more. He’s driven it more years.

  • avatar

    My grandpap had a poop-brown 1953 Coupe with the “Ford-O-Matic” tranny. Not as clean of a design as the ’50, as it was adorned with a big jet hood ornament, and “fast” vents (don’t know what they were called) down the sides behind the doors. But I do remember the flathead V8 in that thing, with a single-barrel carb and oil-filled air cleaner sprouting like a metal mushroom from the center of that iron lump.
    My mother once borrowed the car to take my sister and I to a state park – at my insistence, Mom put the pedal to the metal on a downhill section of Rte 22, and we hit the century mark. Wow. We were lucky that day.

    • 0 avatar

      Learned to drive on a ’54 Ford Customliner. Had the 6 cylinder engine with three (3) on the column. It was a four (4) door in metallic green paint. My Uncle Bob, an engineer @ Ford, drove it off the assembly line to PA for my Dad. I remember the oil bath air cleaner and the car had no power steering or power brakes. The “Old Man” said if you learn to drive on this car – it would be a small step to driving a Tractor-Trailer because it handled & drove like a truck.

  • avatar

    My first car was a 54 Chrysler New Yorker DeLux. The DeLux meant that it had a 4 barrel car and dual exhausts, and a chrome gas cap. It was a terrible car. Every now and then I see one at a show, and I’m reminded once again how bad it was.

    On the other hand, I met my wife in 1969, and we’re still married.


  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Thanks, Paul, for a really great piece. Do you mind my suggesting the ’57 Chevy coupe for your next big effort? BTW, mine came with that steering wheel knob too, though I soon found that I could neck and drive without it, so out it went. And on went the three two-barrels, new cam, Hurst linkage, etc. Had the car until I left for graduate school in NYC. Then sold it to a kid in my old neighborhood who wrecked it inside of six months. Nice guy, too.

  • avatar

    You shot a very nice hot rod. Patina included. 2 months ago Automobile Magazine ran a collectible classic article on those cars.

  • avatar

    Even though I picked the Ford Pickup, I knew there was something that just was not right about the picture. All of the truck pictures has an additional chrome bezel around the light, that the clue did not have, so I kept looking in vain. When one of the other comm-enters mentioned a center light in a 50 Ford, I just knew he had to be right. Congratulations.

  • avatar

    The first thing my eyes gravitated towards when I saw the top photo of this article was the light blue first generation Toyota Camry sedan in the background. Could you possibly do a CC on one of those some time? They are close to impossible to find here in the rust belt, especially in good shape.

  • avatar

    Bravo, a true curbside classic!

    (You should come up with some other term for cars like a Charade that doesn’t use “classic” in the title, maybe something like Curbside Crap)


  • avatar

    Glad you drew the comparison to the Tri-Five Chevies. If I were a Ford guy, this is what I’d own instead of my ’57 210 Handyman.

  • avatar

    Oh, I forgot to add, my father bought a black ’49 two door (Tudor?) new. He still has the receipt, it cost $1,500 and some change. He paid extra for a spare tire and a heater.

  • avatar

    Two of my wife and my best friends have a similar story focused around a 50 coupe. Though they did not keep theirs. Makes me want to keep my Mustang all the more. I like that it hasn’t been over done with a big V8 or bucket seats, but it does appear that a paint job is in the future.

    PS “A louver job.” Never heard it put quite like that before.

  • avatar

    I thought I knew all about 49 Fords, but have never heard of the center headlight. Great write up. My high school ride was a 49 Merc lead sled.

  • avatar

    Fantastic, I hope he leaves it in primer.
    I had a 51 that was not nearly as nice.

  • avatar

    Congrats on another excellent CC article! This car is a great find, even more-so with the history behind it. For a car guy, I know that having an understanding wife is very important… which reminds me that I’m probably overdue to buy my wife some flowers.

    I’ve never heard the name “necker’s knob” before. I know this as a “suicide knob” because, if your hand slips off of it while you’re turning, you’re going to hit whatever you’re trying to avoid.

  • avatar

    This is easily my favourite era of automotive design. Nice, clean, slippery shapes, lots of passenger room, restrained detailing, purposeful but not ostentatious. Of this era I still prefer the Chryslers, but this is nice.

    The long/low/wide plague that affected automobilia from about 1955 through to 1980 was a travesty.

  • avatar

    Not knowing much about such vehicles from the era, but was this one originally a sedan? What’s with the gap between roof and rear side windows where one would expect them to open via a door?

    And to really show my lack of knowledge, did car companies only have one model per year and thus alleviate the need for model names? Hence a “1950 Ford.”

    I remember the 1949 Ford from “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.” Guys bouncing around in the trunk during the chase through the drive in movie theater.

    • 0 avatar

      The gap is there because it looks better to have a continuous window line that is even with the window in the front door.

      There was one Ford until 1955, when the Thunderbird debuted. Prior to that, Ford (and Chevrolet and Plymouth) sold the same basic car in different trim levels. Unlike Chevrolet and Plymouth, Ford did offer a choice of engines – I-6 or V-8 – during this time. Prior to 1955, all Ford cars used the same basic body shell.

      Special models might get a special name – Ford offered a coupe with special two-tone paint and a covered roof called the Crestliner during these years. When Chevrolet offered a two-door hardtop for 1950, it was christened Bel Air. Plymouth’s two-door hardtop was called the Belvedere.

    • 0 avatar

      I thnk the Thunderbolt and Lightfoot car was a 1949-51 Mercury.

      Anyway, a great story Paul, and a great original survivor.

  • avatar

    That’s a handsome car.

  • avatar

    IIRC, the wagon version was the last woody. I am especially fond of the Merc version.

  • avatar

    My Dad had a ’51 Tudor, Hawaiian Bronze, with V-8 and 3 speed on the tree. It was his first new car. He had bought the “tudor” so my sister and I wouldn’t fall out the rear doors: it was long before the child proof locks or any seat belts. We lived in NYC, but for some reason, picked it up at the factory in Detroit. What a great vacation driving through Canada on the way home!! It was long before inter-states, chain restaurants or chain motels. The world was “Mom and Pop” everything. On lightly traveled highways my Dad did have it over 100, after a proper break in period. The bumpers lost their chrome plate in about a year, something about the Korean war and shortages of materials. He drove it for years and pretty much repaired everything himself.

  • avatar

    I believe Fords came ion 2 varieties in 1950, Standard and DeLux. They also came as 6 or 8, which gave 4 permutations.

    The car shown is a 2 door sedan. It shares the roof with teh 4 door sedan, and the drip rail as well. The drip rail coves a seam between the roof and the quarter panel. That’s why it looks like it should be a 4 door. The coupe version has a shorter roof and a longer trunk. The coupe has swing out rear windows, the 2 door sedan had roll down windows.


  • avatar

    The 1949 Mercury was the intended design for the ’49 Ford, at least by Ford’s then lead stylist. Too heavy and too costly.

  • avatar

    It never ceases to amaze when I go to a cruise night, how many cars I’ll spend time looking at, and how many cars I’ll just pass right by. My theory being that I don’t have the time to look at EVERYTHING. At a cruise night I would probably give this car a cursory look. But if I met it on the street I would definitely stop and truly admire it it for what it is. The story behind the car makes it even more interesting. I’d love to see it in flat black primer with some minimal red pinstriping to highlight those wheels.
    Great find!

  • avatar

    I was a little tad of five or six, playing in the front yard at sunset, when a primer black 49/50 Ford roared past on our nearby country road. No hood, loud exhaust, pointed a little high in the front because the bumper was off. One of my earliest memories and best memories of noticing a car.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    Can’t believe I recognised it from the clue. I had a toy one of these when I was small , and when I actually saw one (they were rare in 50’s London) I was delighted.
    I think the stock model looks better than your CC , tho’ the motor looks good.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Fannntastic! I saved up 5$ from my paper route and bought a 53 Ford from Paul Ardagna. He bought it tolearn how to drive. It was pretty much gone, the accessorys had been ripped out. I was 11 yrs old and had to sit on a pillow to see over the dash. I got it running, barely, by re-installing the carb, the fuel pump radiator and generator. I never got it out of first and reverse. I didnt have to mess with the brakes, ’cause there weren’t any. I ran it on the dirt trails for about a month before the clutch let go.

  • avatar

    Funny, when I was a kid I thought these things were plug ugly. Touching story. I really like the last photo.

  • avatar

    Another great CC article Paul … and a great subject vehicle.
    The changes to the car all seem like well considered edits.

    Looking at the pictures, I had a sense of deja vu … reminds me of the ’50 Cadillac CC. There are a lot of parallels … the same signature.

    Could it be the same owner? If not, you should get them together for a beer.

  • avatar

    The Ford shown is a Custom Tudor with rear vent windows. Trim is missing and headlights frenched. Similar to the 50 Ford Custom Tudor which collided with a Porsche driven by James Dean 30 September 1955, Cholame Ca. Cost difference Delux Tudor to Custom was $87. Cost difference Custom Tudor to Fordor sedan was $47.

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