In 1945, Henry Ford II took over the family business from his father, finding the company in complete disarray as war production was coming to an end. He hired 10 Harvard graduates and former Army Air Core logistics officers known as the “Whiz Kids” to create a crash program to get Ford back on track. The result was a masterpiece of post-war styling.
The 1949 Ford Shoebox is Introduced
The all-new 1949 Ford introduced “pontoon” styling, a precursor to modern car design. Whereas pre-war cars had running boards and separate fenders, the new car had integrated fenders that fit flush with the doors. Although the front and rear of the car were curved, the new integrated fenders and doors were flat-sided, earning the car the “shoebox” nickname. Chrome accents including the “bullet” grill were flush with the body panels, giving the car a uniquely streamlined look.
Thanks to the short design time, there was a mix of old and new technology underneath that radical styling. The front suspension was now independent and used coil springs.
Ford’s pre-war, flathead 6 and V8 were a far cry from the new overhead valve engines making their way onto the market, but they were still competitive. Automatics were already on the market, but Ford wouldn’t have its own until 1951.
As with other manufacturers of the era, Ford expected this one model to handle almost the entire market. Numerous trims and body styles were available from the basic business coupe to the Custom convertible. Woody station wagons were sold with two and four doors, and either version came with a middle row seat that folded into the floor, much like Chrysler’s “Stow-n-Go” minivan seats. Ford Australia even produced a UTE version, essentially a coupe with a truck bed.
Far less visible was a change in how the car was built. Previously, Ford estimated by weighing the invoices that came into the accounting department. Under the Whiz Kids, a cost analysis system was added to every division at Ford, finally giving designers and engineers a way to know exactly how much each part of a car cost to build. Using this new model, the ’49 Ford was built in a way that was as well-equipped as possible while still remaining profitable, earning them sales of over a million cars that year and cementing the company’s success.
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