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This or That – Season 3: 1931 Ford Model A Panel or 1933 International D1 Pickup?

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1931 Ford Model A Panel (top); 1933 International D1 Pickup (bottom). Images by the author.

[Editor’s comment: Please note that the This or That column is not a comparison report between two or more vehicles (in the original spirit of the Hemmings Special Interest Autos/Hemmings Classic Car/Hemmings Muscle Machines articles), but rather a feature that enables us, in an idyllic world, to add a collectible vehicle into our dream garage on a regular basis — with a catch: We can only pick one vehicle from this group, and it has to be for enjoyment purposes rather than as an investment. So let’s climb into the ultimate automotive fantasy time machine and have a little fun.]

It’s hard not to mention the state of the economy when referencing the early Thirties. The obvious lack of working capitol had far-reaching ramifications, including the truck market increasingly tasked with transporting goods. Like their passenger vehicle counterparts, the truck industry had been evolving, and the market downturn did little to quell its continued development. In this installment of This or That, let’s take a look at two half-ton examples from this era: a 1931 Ford Model A Panel and a 1933 International D1 Pickup, both of which we spotted at the annual AACA Hershey meet.

The 1931 model year was hardly a kind one to Ford. Lack of significant mechanical advances and only minor visual refinements did little to attract a superior number of able-body buyers. Coupled with stiff competition from Chevy and Plymouth – which cut deeply into Dearborn’s passenger car output – Ford fell from the top of the sales chart. At season’s end, Chevy had manufactured the best-selling American car. Ford’s truck sales, meanwhile, also saw a dramatic reduction, yet they were able to retain a tight grip on the top rung of the sales ladder. This was accomplished, in part, with the introduction of no less than 20 new models, several of which were managed in part by Briggs, Murray and Budd, coachbuilders who were all too happy to have commercial work as custom-body orders dwindled. Among Ford’s litany of trucks was the pictured Model A Panel.

As was the case with Ford’s passenger cars, truck development was more of refinement than advancement, meaning that the baseline half-ton Panel (Deluxe models had chrome trim, including the headlamp buckets and radiator shell) was still powered by the company’s L-head four-cylinder officially rated for 40 hp. Working in conjunction with a three-speed manual transmission linked to a transverse-sprung torque tube and rear differential assembly, the standard-issue power team was secured to the basic Model A’s 103.5-inch wheelbase chassis featuring a solid I-beam axle with a single transverse semi-elliptical leaf spring up front. While the front end, including the cowl/cabin, had the same styling as the Model A passenger cars, the prominent cargo area, with coachwork completed by Murray, was capable of accepting a little more than 80 cubic feet of product. Obtainable – without options – for $535, Ford ushered 8,287 examples from their assembly plants.

Just one year later, International Harvester Corporation was still contending with its own plight of dwindling sales. Production had already plummeted from 51,000 trucks in 1929, to an alarming 17,399 units. Meanwhile, Willys-Overland was embroiled in their own fiscal collapse, which had put the storied company on the brink of receivership. So troubled was the company that their front office had agreed to reduce their truck production from five models (in a single series) to just one. The decision to do so would have forced a massive round of layoffs and effectively put placed the bulk of their light-duty C-113 line into recycle bins. IHC, seeing a company-saving opportunity to enter the light-duty field against Ford and Chevy, reached a contractual agreement with Willys that would theoretically benefit both companies. The result was the introduction of the D-1 line to IHC’s 1933 sales catalog.

The D-1, a modified version of Willys-Overland’s C-113 series, was the much-needed half-ton that proved to be both affordable to build and to buy. Offered as a bare chassis, or with pickup, canopy, screen, panel and sedan delivery body styles, the D-1 was built upon a 113-inch wheelbase chassis featuring a contemporary suspension system. Power came from a L-head six-cylinder engine that boasted a 70-hp rating upon introduction (it was later reduced to 66 hp), which was backed by a three-speed manual transmission. Production was managed by Willys in their Toledo, Ohio, plant, while the product carried the IHC logo. Prices ranged from $360 (bare chassis) to $630 (sedan delivery), with our featured pickup slotted in at $475 (without options). The combined effort delivered 12,200 D-1 trucks to the market (a model breakout is not available). To put that number in perspective, IHC built a combined total of 17,551 medium- and heavy-duty trucks during the 1933 model year. The D-1 effectively saved IHC, and although the half-ton kept the Willys plant open for business, it could not thwart the company from going into receivership.

Which of the two would you add to your dream garage and why?