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The History of the Early V8 Ford & Mercury 1932-48

In late 1929, Henry Ford, considering the production of his own V8 engine, instructed engineer Fred Thoms to acquire as many available eight-cylinder engines as possible. At that time, most of the eight-cylinder engines were found in high-end automobiles such as LaSalle, Cadillac and, acquired by Ford in 1922, Lincoln. Ford intended to study the design of the engines and use his research to develop a cost effective V8 that could be mass-produced.

The 4-cylinder engines that were available in the Model A Fords were losing ground, both in horsepower and sales, to the Chevrolet 6-cylinder. It was Ford’s intent to get ahead of his competitors by leaping to an 8-cylinder engine. Ford’s ambition to mass-produce an affordable, single-casting block design V8 would prove to be quite a challenge for his engineers. After months of trial and error, carried out by as many as four separate design teams, a workable design continued to elude Ford.

Shop from MAC’s vast selection of engine parts, including Ford Flathead V8 parts, today.

Fun Facts

When the V8 engine was introduced in 1932, the price of gas was around 10 cents a gallon.


Henry Ford looks over the first V8 engine off the line.

In 1935, the world’s first coin operated parking meters were introduced in Oklahoma City, OK.


In 1935 the meters in Oklahoma City required only a nickel.

Rose Will Monroe, a real life “Rosie the Riveter,” as portrayed in the “We Can Do It!” propaganda movies of WWII, was an employee of Ford’s Willow Run plant. She appeared in a filmed promotional campaign to collect war bonds and worked a riveting gun until the war’s end.


Rose Will Monroe. Photo credit: www.virginiawestern.edu

Finally, in November of 1930, engineers Carl Schultz and Ray Laird presented Ford with two prototype V8 engines. Both engines featured single cast blocks with a 90-degree vee style piston configuration. The two blocks, a 299 CID and a 233 CID, had intake and exhaust valves located in the block with a flathead design. The hand-fabricated engines would be developed over a period of months as Ford tried to keep an air of secrecy surrounding the project. Getting a consistent quality casting was proving to be particularly problematic. With an initial scrap rate of nearly 50%, mass production of the Ford Flathead V8 seemed distant.

In June of 1931, after months of trail, error, and refinement, four prototype Flathead V8 engines were installed in modified Model As for research and testing. At the same time, engineers were enhancing the 4-cylinder in an effort to increase its horsepower from what had previously been offered in the Model A Ford. An upgraded chassis and frame had been designed that would accept the planned Flathead V8, as well as the new refined 4-cylinder engine, but as the last 1931 Model A came off the assembly line, final decisions regarding what direction the proposed Model B would take were yet to be made.

While Henry Ford was primarily concerned with the development of his new Flathead V8 engine, he left much of the decisions regarding styling and development of the 1932 model to his son, Edsel. Working with designer Eugene T. "Bob" Gregorie, Edsel would not only lay the foundation for the styling direction the Ford Motor Company would take throughout the decade, but he also would establish a relationship with a designer who could translate Edsel’s vision into rolling art. The team of Bob Gregorie and Edsel Ford would bring the car company into a golden age, creating some of the most beautifully designed cars the Ford Motor Company had ever produced. Their success would also carry over to Ford’s Lincoln line with the Lincoln Zephyr and, right before WWII, the Lincoln Continental. A high point of automobile design, the 1940 Lincoln Continental is regarded by many as one of the most beautiful cars of the 20th century.

MAC’s has one of the largest selections of sheet metal parts for your Ford on the market today. Shop here.

In late 1931, workers were preparing to produce Bob and Edsel’s new design, and with the Flathead V8 not yet approved, engineers were working on plans for a 4-cylinder Model B. Not long into the retooling process for the coming year, Henry Ford abruptly decided to put a temporary halt to the Model B and in December of 1931, with a limited amount of road testing, made the decision to go ahead with the production of the Flathead V8 Ford for 1932.

In what seems like an impossibly short time from inception to production, the Flathead V8 Ford was slated to be unveiled and available to the public in late March of 1932. Henry Ford, as he had done previously with the Model A, had effectively used the media to stoke the fires of public interest during one of the worst years of the Great Depression.

Advertisements heralded the many improvements embodied in the 1932 Model 18, beginning with the 221 CID, 65 horsepower, 90-degree V8. The engine was promoted as reliable, quiet, and quick. Combined with design changes that gave the 1932 Ford a lower center of gravity, suspension components such as hydraulic shock absorbers and redesigned springs promised a comfortable, controlled ride.

MAC’s has a variety of springs and shock absorbers for your classic Flathead V8 Ford.

From first impression, the 1932 Ford may have seemed like a warmed-over Model A, but upon closer inspection it became apparent that this was a new design from the grille to the rear bumper. With a lower stance and tasteful sleek lines, the new V8 Model 18 was undoubtedly the best looking car Ford had produced to date. With the promise of performance, combined with styling cues reminiscent of the luxurious Lincoln, and all at a cost that reflected a car more common, the 1932 Ford was a hit with the public.

It wasn’t long after the 1932 Ford’s debut that extensive problems with the Flathead V8 became apparent. Overheating and block cracking were common. The new Ford Flathead V8 had a reputation for consuming oil, and nearly every component of the engine experienced some failure or issue. Of the first 2,000 engines produced, almost all of them needed to have their camshafts and valve components replaced. Swamped with Flathead V8 failure issues, Ford began installing the readily available, refined 4-cylinder Model B engine into many of the early 1932 cars. Perhaps the result of bringing the engine into production without adequate testing and development, the issues with the Flathead V8 would unfortunately have to be solved by way of customer complaint.

Despite Ford’s initial growing pains with the new engine, the production of an affordable single cast Flathead V8 engine remains one his most significant achievements, and would create ripples throughout the auto industry in the years that followed. In time, the Ford Flathead V8 would become a favorite with hot rodders and to this day, the 1932 Ford, or “Deuce,” in all its forms, from full fendered five window coupe to unhaltered highboy, is considered by many to be the definitive hot rod.

MAC’s carries chrome and custom parts for your Street Rod, Hot Rod, and Customized classic.

The Flathead V8 continued to be refined, and Bob Gregorie and Edsel Ford would also continue to refine their designs throughout the decade. As the economy improved, the Ford Motor Company would build on their success, introducing new successful car designs and by the end of the decade, a new car line with Edsel’s launch of Mercury in 1939.

The 1940’s would be an era of significant changes for the Ford Motor Company and by the decade’s end Ford would position itself as a company to be reckoned with for the future, taking automotive production, development, and design to new levels.

MAC’s own Cartouche brand upholstery offers an extensive selection of authentic and non-authentic fabrics for your vintage Ford.

The first significant change for the company occurred in 1941. After years of refusing to recognize and cooperate with organized labor unions, Henry Ford signed a contract with the United Automobile Workers of America, making the Ford Motor Company the last of the major American auto manufacturers to unionize.

In 1942, production of civilian vehicles was halted to allow the car company to retool for the WWII effort. Ford would spend the next few years producing B-24 bombers, as well as a variety of military vehicles including tanks and jeeps.

In 1943, Edsel Ford, Henry Ford’s only son and the president of the Ford Motor Company since 1919, died of cancer at age 49. Henry Ford temporarily stepped in as president while Edsel’s son, Henry Ford II, was released from military service to return home and help run the Ford Motor Company. Henry Ford II would officially be named president of the company in September of 1945.

We carry plenty of accessories and novelty items for the Flathead Ford V8 lover at MAC's Antique Auto Parts. Check out our newest item, the Ford Flathead V8 Piston Desk Lamp. It would make a great gift for the Ford restorer who has it all.

Young, and conscious of his inexperience, Henry Ford II began hiring experienced help from outside of the company. His hiring of a young group of 10 recently released military statisticians, a team that would come to be known as the “Whiz Kids,” would change the way the company operated.

In April of 1947, Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, died at age 83. An era had come to an end. As the decade closed, his grandson, Henry Ford II, would bring the company into a new era. With a new business model and direction, the Ford Motor Company would continue to innovate and introduce groundbreaking designs, beginning with the F Series trucks in 1948 and a redesigned Ford and Mercury in 1949.

PARTS FOR 1949 ARE NOT INCLUDED IN THIS CATALOG, BUT ARE AVAILABLE IN OUR 1949 - 1959 FORD & MERCURY CATALOG.

Let MAC’s help you make the most of your restoration. Whether you need a few finishing touches for your completed classic or are just beginning to sort through your collection of vintage parts from your soon to be Concours, Custom, or Cruiser, we have what you need to complete your dream car. MAC’s has been serving the Ford restorer since 1978 and we carry an extensive collection of Ford flathead parts, accessories, supplies, manuals, and literature. Our fully illustrated 1932-1948 Early V8 Ford parts catalog lists 15,318 parts. You will easily find what you need including part numbers, prices, descriptions, number of parts required, and the years of application. Our catalog is free if you have a 1932-1948 Early V8 Ford. Outside the U.S. we do require a payment of $5.00 U.S. to cover the cost of postage.

Restore your Ford Standard, Special, Deluxe, Super Deluxe, Roadster, Phaeton, Coupe, Sport Coupe, Sedan, Cabriolet, Victoria, Convertible, Station Wagon, 3 Window Coupe, 5 Window Coupe, Convertible, Business Coupe, Sportsman, passenger car or, Pickup, Open Cab Pickup, Closed Cab Pickup, Standard Panel, Sedan Delivery, Commercial, Light, Platform, Stake, Express, Panel, ¾, 1 ton, 1 ½ ton, C.O.E. truck with classic, vintage car and truck parts from MAC’s Antique Auto Parts. We have parts for 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1946, 1947, and 1948 cars and trucks.