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Reminiscing – My old 1950 Ford

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1950 Ford Custom Tudor. Photo courtesy Art Bruns.

[Editor’s note: This “Reminiscing” story, edited by Richard Lentinello, comes to us from Hemmings Classic Car reader Art Bruns of Cohasset, Minnesota.]

Back in the early 1950s I was particularly attracted to the 1949-’51 Fords. When the new 1949 Ford was first introduced I thought it was the most modern, beautiful, stylish car ever designed. Compared to all the postwar models of 1946-1948, it was special and revolutionary.

To my delight, my favorite uncle purchased a new, white 1950 Ford Fordor, and I always enjoyed riding in it. It was smooth, sleek, and powerful with that V-8 engine. Until then, most cars I was familiar with had six-cylinders or straight-eights and were slow and unexciting by comparison, I thought.

On my 15th birthday in 1956, I applied for my driver’s license and finally got it several weeks later. In St. Paul, the driver’s license department often purposely failed young males taking their first road test for their driver’s examination just to keep them from getting too cocky. It happened to me, but I passed it easily the second time. Then the search for that first car began. I was fascinated with the 1949-’51 Ford convertibles, but didn’t have the money to purchase one, so I settled for a 1950 Custom Tudor that was spotted at East Side Ford in St. Paul. It was metallic gray with a V-8 and overdrive; the mileage was close to 100,000. I later learned that the gray was a non-original color but I liked it anyway. The dealership and I (with the help of my father) settled on a price of $300.

The engine tended to smoke a lot and the rust on the rocker panels was getting bad. Of course, this comes with the territory in Minnesota with liberal doses of salt spread during the winters. I soon became fairly proficient with the Bondo and spray cans. Next came fender skirts and used white wall tires along with spinner hubcaps. I removed the big external sunvisor and the bumperettes. The rear end was dropped using lowering blocks purchased from Montgomery Ward. I reversed the trim piece in the middle of the windshield so that the rear-view mirror would be down near the dash, which I thought looked cool. To dress up the engine, I put chrome caps on the head bolts which we all know makes the car faster.

Back in the 1950s, one of the best known waxes was Blue Coral. After some extensive polishing, it was beginning to look good. I fondly remember driving around the streets of East St. Paul those warm summer nights with Marty Robbins, Pat Boone, Fats Domino and Elvis singing those great tunes on that old tube radio with a rear-seat speaker that I had installed. I worked at a bakery on Saturdays cleaning floors, mixers and ovens for one dollar per hour. I got paid in cash at the end of the day and would usually put two dollars worth of gas in the car. Gas was 23 cents a gallon, and two dollars would almost fill the tank half full.

My father did not have the passion for cars that I had, and I had to learn how to fix and maintain that Ford by trail trial and error. I soon learned how to do things such as changing the oil, cleaning and adjusting the carburetor, gapping and installing spark plugs and points, and flushing the cooling system. That all sounds so basic now, but then they were all new learning experiences for me. There were a few times, however, that my limited mechanical knowledge was not adequate. I resorted to taking the car to East Side Ford when I had an engine problem that stumped me. In those days, I could be out in the shop area by the car while the technician solved the problem. He would even put up with my many questions. I was in awe of those technicians but I learned a lot watching them do their work. Try doing that when you take a car into a dealership these days!

That old Ford had a few aggravating flaws. The flywheel or the starter gear must have had a broken or chipped tooth. Sometimes when I tried to start the engine I would only get a “click.” I thought I had a bad battery, but I soon learned by pushing or rocking the car back and forth while in gear, I could move it past the bad tooth so that the starter could then turn the engine over. I also had vapor lock problems in bad weather and learned that this was a common problem on these Fords. The location of the fuel pump may have contributed to this. I remember that the heater did not keep me very warm on 25-degree below zero days in Minnesota. On the other hand, I never had a problem starting that Ford on winter mornings even though it had a six-volt electrical system.

That fall in 1956 I drove the Ford to high school. One of my classmates had a dark blue 1950 Ford Fordor with a six-cylinder engine. He challenged me to a drag race during lunch hour one day. “My V-8 against his puny six?” I thought. Of course I eagerly accepted the challenge. Back in those days, traffic seemed a lot lighter. Today, when I drive what West River Parkway in Minneapolis, I can’t imagine using it for a drag strip. Anyway, that Ford six-cylinder beat me by about a car’s length. What a letdown! I suspect that his Ford engine was in better shape than my high-mileage V-8. I later learned that the Ford six-cylinder engine had almost the same horsepower and could often rev faster. Or, if could be that my classmate had learned to shift faster. Incidentally, twenty three years later at a class reunion, that same classmate challenged me to another drag race on West River Parkway.

That Ford provided some good learning experiences that served me well in later years. It was generally easy to work on and parts were readily available at reasonable costs. I bought good quality tools as needed when I had some extra money, and many of those tools are still in my collection. I became familiar with electrical, suspension, and exhaust systems so that I was pretty confident about my abilities as a kid in my teens.

Looking back over the years, what I appreciated most about that 1950 Ford was its simplicity, good exterior design, and general reliability. Among teenagers I hung around with, the 1949-’51 Fords were usually the car of choice. I kept that Ford about a year and a half, which seemed like a long time then. I traded it in on a 1953 black Ford Sunliner convertible. Three years later, I sold it and bought a 1956 Ford Victoria two-door hardtop. Getting something newer was my goal then and I never looked back. Now I wish I had kept all three of those Fords, but that first 1950 Ford still holds a special place in my heart to this day.