British cars of the 1920s and 1930s were divided into roughly two classes. There were the supremely expensive, high-performance saloons (sedans for my American reader) and sports cars, such as the Rolls-Royce and Bentley, Lanchester and Daimler and those marques aimed at the lower end of the market, such as Austin, Morris and Ford. Admittedly, some ‘mid-range’ brands (in terms of price, that is) were starting to emerge, such as Hillman and Vauxhall, but the British market for cars tended to be heavily polarized.
Ford had out-grown their original factory in Trafford Park, Manchester, and Edsel Ford came over to London in 1929, to cut the first sod (with a silver spade) on their new 295 acre site at Dagenham, on the eastern outskirts of the city. The piece of marshland Ford had chosen was hard against the River Thames, and ideal for unloading raw materials and loading finished vehicles. Two years later, Edsel Ford recruited a new designer, who had experience in designing yachts as well as cars, Eugene Turenne Gregorie, Jnr., and his first assignment was to design the very first Ford for non-USA production only; Gregorie would later go on to design stunning automobiles for Lincoln and Mercury. The new car was to be a four-seater, powered by a 933cc, 23.5hp, 4-cylinder side-valve engine, with a three-speed gearbox (synchromesh on 2nd and 3rd gear). Called the Model Y, or sometimes the Ford 8 (after its ‘official’ Royal Automobile Club horsepower rating – which was calculated using a wildly inaccurate formula), this small saloon car was aimed directly at the market segment occupied by the Austin Seven. As well as the Ford Dagenham plant, the Model Y was built in France by Ford S.A.F. as the Ford 6 CV – for some reason the French, therefore only rated it at 6 horsepower – and in Germany as the Ford Köln. Assembly from parts took place in Australia, Latvia, Spain and Japan, sometimes under differing, local, names.
Body styles included 2 door and 4 door saloon, 2 door estate (wagon), 2 door pickup, and a rather attractive little 5 hundredweight van (560lb useful load). For a short time, from June, 1935 to June, 1937, Ford offered a very basic version of the Model Y called the ‘Popular’ (a name that would surface again and again in the Ford catalogue). It became the first and ONLY British four-seater hardtop to be offered (ex-works) for the price of £100 (this is roughly equivalent to £8,500 – or $12,750, today). The first series of this little gem had a ‘short radiator’, but after around 14,000 cars a redesign gave it the distinctive ‘long radiator’, with the bend in the front ‘bumper’, to take the engine crank. The car was 55 inches wide and 64 inches tall, which accounts for its ‘tall, thin’ look. It had, as many cars of this era, centrally hinged, ‘suicide doors’; a major failing was also a typical one, 6 volt electrics, powered by a dynamo. Many modern owners fit an alternator, and upgrade to a 12 volt system, thereby foiling Lucas, Prince of Darkness! Nice touches include the wire wheels, and the optional, sliding sun-roof chosen by the original buyer.
Here we can see a fine example of the breed at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre. This is typical of the cheap cars often acquired by RAF aircrew, who regularly burnt out engine valves and blew cylinder heads on the 100 to 150 octane-rated aviation spirit which somehow accidentally found its way into fuel tanks; still it would return 32mpg (27mpg US). The Model Y could be pushed to nearly 60 mph, but I would NOT care to do this as its braking power, even on a dry road, could be be described as ‘marginal to non-existent’. Although the little Ford was usually finished in the traditional ‘Ford black’, I have seen two-tone ‘black over vine green’; this one, however, is finished in a rare colour, ‘Cordoba grey’. The registration plate says ‘JK 5110′. Assuming this is the original, we can narrow it down to just ONE town – Brighton – under the old pre-war system, that is. The two-door saloon was called a ‘Tudor’ by Ford, and the four door, somewhat logically, a ‘Fordor’. This fine example has had modern, well, 60s style, indicators (American – ‘blinkers’) fitted. These are identical to those used on certain styles of Dalek, from the BBC series, ‘Dr Who’!
There is a flourishing ‘Ford Model Y and C Register’ (the ‘C’ was a 10hp ‘big brother’ to the ‘Y’). With over 175,000 built worldwide, it is estimated that the number of survivors – of both types – is in excess of 1,200. The Register runs annual rallies and has a bi-monthly magazine where members exchange information, offer advice and can buy and sell spare parts. You can upgrade the Model Y with 12 volt electrics, and an engine from a Ford 100E (a 1172cc side-valve, last produced in the 1960s), to turn it into a splendidly reliable vintage vehicle. There are a couple of lovely examples on sale in the latest magazine; you’ll get a nice ‘runner’ for about £4,000 and a ‘project’ for half that.
All in all, by the time the production run ended in 1937, Ford had established their dominance in the small car field in the U.K. The Model Y, the Ford 8, the 6 CV, the Ford Köln, whatever you called it, was, and is, a much-loved car!