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The First New Postwar Production Car – The 1946 Ford

The Ford Motor Company shut down its automobile production line in Detroit and at its assembly plants across the country early in February of 1942. In the three month period after the US entered WWII due to the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, a stockpile of cars was set aside for essential uses during the war; military staff car production continued.

It would not be until three years later in July of 1945, when the first 1946 Ford would roll off the production line ahead of its main competitor, Chevrolet. In the meantime the driving public that was able to purchase rationed gasoline and tires had make do with used cars.

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  • 1946 Fords on the production line halted due to a steel mill strike – The Old Motor photo.

The only notable mechanical change to the new 1946 Ford was the adoption of the larger 239 c.i., 100 h.p. V-8 engine used in prewar Mercurys and Ford trucks. The outward appearance of the revamped 1942 model was essentially the same except for a newly designed three-bar horizontal grille capped with a heavy tapered trim bar below the hood. In the rear, the deck lid received two added horizontal trim strips below the license plate. Roughly 450,000 of the new Fords were manufactured during the production run.

The lead photo was taken in October 1945 showing the new 1946 models, and an enlargeable version of it below are courtesy of the Wayne State University Archives. Learn more about postwar auto transport trucks similar to those seen below at Moving the Metal an interesting five-part series here on The Old Motor.

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28 responses to “The First New Postwar Production Car – The 1946 Ford

  1. All of the cars loaded on the transports look to be Super DeLuxe tudor sedans. It’s nice to see assembly line photos. Interestingly when I do a restoration on an early Ford I mount the body to the chassis before I install the front clip.

    • The first cars produced tend to be the higher profit ‘loaded’ models Other interesting things in the lead picture of the shipping yard. See two cowl and chassis trucks with the hood up; in later days that flagged a no-start. Also I see that shipping trucks piggy back was also done back then, see middle right hand of picture.

      • Speaking of piggy back, do you think the cars on top dripped oil on the car below? I’ve never had an early Ford that didn’t drip even just a tiny bit of oil!

        • Probably did. Maybe that is why the cars are loaded face to face. The drips would always hit a slanted surface and roll off.

  2. It would be interesting to know the truth re whether the early production cars of different makers were high option or low specification. My 1965 Pontiac Bonneville was built in the California plant, probably on the first day of production, in September 1964 – it is body number 143 (I think the 143rd four door body) – and it is quite basic. My theory is that they did basic models in order to have them in the showroom at a low price. The original owner told me mine was $3995.

    • I worked in new car dealerships for a number of years. When the new models were delivered, they were high end loaded models. The plain janes came later as ‘dealer stock’.

  3. Bad crank seals? I had that on both my 292 and 390 Ford V-8s. My buddy’s 289 Cobra Hi-po (in a 1964 Fairlane) never leaked. My 406 never leaked though, so maybe they finally fixed it for their ‘race’ engines.

  4. That is a fascinating photo. I like the Ford branded rail cars at the top of the photo. Also interesting is the different details of the haulaway trailers being loaded and the one trailer with nose and chassis trucks loaded on it.

  5. My Dad was a rural mail carrier in Whitesburg, Ga., and all the country roads were dirt, and in very poor condition especially in the winter. It was low and second gear just about all the way . He got a new 46 Super Deluxe. That was his first v8. Prior to that he did not like the v8, he thought that slanted engine would cause the pistons to wear more on low side, but after driving that 46 he changed his mind. He said it handled those dirt roads much better than the 42 model 6 cylinder he bought before war stated. The 46 was one of the best cars he ever owned

  6. Hold on. Hudson history buffs for many decades has claimed that HUDSON was the first new car available for the 1946 model year. So I’m issuing a challenge here.

      • I’d go with the Ford being first. I’ve seen the pictures of HF II presenting the keys to HST on the White House lawn and being labeled as the first postwar production car.

  7. All the Ford cars visible are of a body style no longer available in this country, the two door, full size sedan, Coupes and rag tops are the only two door cars around now.

  8. Has no one noticed ‘The Old Motor’ sign on the front of the second car in the production line? Clever. And fun. Thanks for the always enjoyable information and pictures.

  9. I owned two 1946 Fords. My very 1st car was a ’46 convertible I bought for $40 with no top. Fixed it all up, added new canvas, front wood top bar and painted the car. But sadly had a run in with a guard rail so then I was able to get a ’46 coupe for $50 and fixed that up. Wish I had either one today for the return on investment.

  10. Looks like at least the top deck of the transport trucks is set up to take cars with a narrower track also—-Crosley?

  11. “First by far with a postwar car” was Studebaker’s advertising line when it introduced its 1947 models. They sold a 1946 Skyway Champion soon after the war ended, but the ’47 was the first new body. Kaiser-Frazer also beat the Big Three with new bodies. Of course, little runt Crosley had a full pontoon body before the war.

    • All prewar Crosleys were based on the 1939 body. The full pontoon body postwar Crosley was designed by Sundberg and Farrar in late 1945 and the first photograph of the full-scale wooden mock-up was published on January 19, 1946. The first completed production line model rolled off the line on May 9, 1946.

  12. I didn’t notice the rail cars until they were pointed out. It’s hard to tell but I believe those are yard diesels in Ford livery.

  13. Those railcrs are Locomotives used in the Rouge complex. I believe these locomotives were built by Alco out of NY. When originally built, these locos had much chrome. Also thee locos are “center-cab” type.

  14. My family’s first car was a ’46 Ford Coupe’ , grey with the six-cylinder engine. I rode in the cardboard space behind the seats in a nest of feather pillows. We had it until 1950 when a pea-green Ford wagon (later they were called a Country Squire) took its place.

  15. My Dad bought one of the earliest ’46 Fords available, a medium blue 4 door sedan. I think he got it by paying extra, perhaps under the table. The next year he bought a new Chevrolet 4 door and gave the Ford to his mother. She kept it for years, even though she didn’t drive. We all drove her in it, and it was the first car I drove with my brand new driver’s license in 1955. Later Dad bought a ’46 Ford coupe and used it as a shop car; that large trunk came in handy! These Fords were very dependable and seemed to accelerate well, especially in second gear. But they had a lot of bounce in the back seat! It was still pretty much over the rear axle.

  16. Curious mixture of chassis/cowl running gears; some with Tacoma cream grille & trim and some solid. Seem too short for school bus bodies.

  17. ONE particular part of Post-War Ford Production was stuck in 1941: All Commercial Ford Vehicle Patterns were a continuance of 1941 Ford technology AND styling (with probably some exceptions due to available materials : 1941 and 1946 & 7 Trucks are in many ways identical. 1948 Year Models began to Progress in this matter! This is probably why the Flathead V-8 engine faded in 1953, with 1954 introducing the “Y-BLOCK” OHV engine in year Model 1954 !!! As a youngster, I remember the excitement of CARS! AGAIN, in 1946>— except it was difficult to tell the BIG BOYS from us little boys!!! Ford’s Ads had: A “Crystal Ball” AND the phrase: “There’s a Ford In Your Future !!!

  18. I have a Crystal Ball saving bank with Ford logo save to buy a car.
    It came from the areas of Ketnersville, Winston Salem NC. I think it is part of the Fords. “Crystal Ball Promotion”. I have had this ball since the mid fifties.

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