Happy Friday! We’ve made it to the cusp of a three-day weekend, here in the U.S. anyway. Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer for most folks, but it’s also a time to look back and remember how we got here, and who we have to thank. In that spirit, we’re going to look at a couple of uncommon ’50s sedans, perfect for summertime cruising and guaranteed to help you strike up conversations with the oldtimers outside the VFW hall. But first, let’s see where we ended up with yesterday’s wagons:
Looks like the immortal diesel Benz lives to fight another day. Lots of folks sounded scared off by undiagnosed overheating issues with the Scion, and I don’t blame them. Apart from electrical gremlins, cooling system issues are my least favorite car problem to troubleshoot.
Today’s choices are dead-easy to troubleshoot compared to modern cars. There’s just not that much to them. Even the engines have lower parts counts, because these are both flathead engines. The valves, instead of being above the piston tops, are alongside them, and open upwards into a sort of elongated combustion chamber. It’s not as efficient as an overhead valve design, but it has half the moving parts. Better yet, both these engines run perfectly already, so all you have to do for now is enjoy them. Let’s check them out.
Engine/drivetrain: 239 cubic inch flathead V8, three-speed manual with overdrive, RWD
Location: Kennewick, WA
Odometer reading: 113,000 miles
Ford’s legendary flathead V8, introduced way back in 1932, was already a dinosaur when this car was built. Oldsmobile and Cadillac had wildly popular overhead valve V8s out, and Chrysler had just introduced the FirePower V8, precursor to the famous Hemi, two years earlier. Ford’s flathead may have been the king of the hot rod scene, but it was outclassed in showrooms. The rest of the car was all-new in 1952, and already beginning the trend towards lower, flatter, wider cars that would dominate the next two decades of car design.
Cars of this era won’t win any safety awards, however. Someone added seatbelts to this one, a token gesture to keep you away from the non-collapsing steering column and steel dashboard if the unthinkable happened. Ralph Nader may have been a killjoy when it came to the Corvair, but he wasn’t wrong about the auto industry’s safety-last track record. But in this day and age, you’re not taking the kids to daycare in something like this, so it doesn’t matter as much.
Someone has put a lot of work into this old Ford to get it ready for summertime cruising, however. The flathead runs like a top, and rumbles through dual exhausts with glasspacks. They also upgraded the braking system to a dual-servo power master cylinder, and added front wheel disc brakes. Strangely, they’ve left the original six-volt electrical system in place.
Condition-wise, it looks pretty good. The interior is nice, and the paint is mostly shiny, and I don’t see any signs of serious rust, though the seller notes that there is a little in the bottoms of the doors. It does have some cracked windows (flat plate glass in these, no tempered safety glass here), but plenty of glass shops can help you with that.
Engine/drivetrain: 232 cubic inch flathead inline 6, three-speed manual, RWD
Location: Stony Point, NY
Odometer reading: 57,000 miles
Runs/drives? Sure does!
Hudson’s flathead inline six was every bit as far behind the times as Ford’s flathead V8. 1954 was the last year before Hudson merged with Nash-Kelvinator to create American Motors, and the Hudson nameplate, and its line of flathead sixes dating back to 1916, wouldn’t make it past 1957. But in 1954, Hudson was going out in a blaze of NASCAR glory, with this car’s big brother, the Hornet, winning everything in sight. Hudson’s big flathead six was part of that winning formula, as was the low center of gravity from a body sitting inside the perimeter of the frame, rather than being perched atop it. This design was copied by every other carmaker in short order, and made the “longer, lower, wider” era possible.
This Hudson Wasp doesn’t have the Hornet’s big race-winning 308 cubic inch engine. It makes do with 232 cubic inches and a single-barrel carburetor. This was good for only 112 horsepower, but like all low-revving sixes back then, approximately nine zillion pound-feet of torque. This one runs very well, the seller says. The car passed a New York state inspection test, which is a good sign.
Inside, it’s in good honest shape, with one popped seam on the seat and a little bit of wear and tear, but it all looks original, which is impressive for a 69-year-old car. The seller says it was garaged for decades, which accounts for the low mileage as well.
The car was repainted sometime in the ’70s, and while it’s not the shiniest thing around, it also isn’t rusty. There are a couple of underside photos in the listing, and it’s nice and clean underneath as well. And it looks like the blue is its original color. The chrome all looks good, but the seller says some replacement pieces are included.
If you go to a car show with a lot of ’50s American iron, it can be easy to assume that nothing before the ’55 Chevy and its small-block OHV V8 matters much. But that obviously isn’t true; here we have the last gasp of the very first affordable V8 – the engine that launched the entire hot-rodding scene, and the first engine to dominate stock-car racing – a simple old-fashioned valve-in-block inline six. Even better, the cars that these two legendary engines are installed in are good-looking and ready to roll. Which one will it be?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)