I recently caught up with a gentleman named John, an East Hampton resident who is the owner of a beautifully restored, Greenwich Concours d’Elegance-winning 1934 Ford Deluxe Roadster. I had seen his beautiful burgundy convertible around town a few times throughout the past handful of years, and it was one of the first photographs I shared online during my time as a car spotter. When I saw him on the street talking to a curious young family about the car, I approached him and eagerly showed off my article on President FDR’s 1936 Ford Phaeton and persuaded him to meet me at a later date for breakfast and a drive. This was to be my first ride in a pre-war car.
Two weeks later, on a sunny summer morning, I met up with John for breakfast, and he began to give me the rundown on his 1934 Ford (Model 40) DeLuxe Roadster, which he has owned for 24 years. Fords from this era are commonly referred to by the year produced, the trim level (in this case Deluxe) and the body style — Roadster.
This car was introduced in 1932 as a successor to the immensely popular and iconic Model A, and it was equipped with Ford’s brand-new flathead V8, which began production two years prior. Until that point in time, only Cadillac had developed the first modern V8 in 1915, and Chevrolet had dabbled in V8s in 1917 and 1918. Ford’s flathead V8 produced 85 horsepower from 221 cu in. of displacement. This model was equipped with a 3-speed transmission and a single downdraft carburetor, and it weighed a feather-light 2,461 pounds. It sold for $575 when new in 1934 — or almost $11,000 today when adjusted for inflation.
Because of the economic pressures of the Great Depression, Ford rushed the Deluxe Roadster to the market. The car touted a new streamlined design, a departure from the ubiquitous boxy Model A. While Ford was known for utilitarian simplicity, the coachwork of the Deluxe Roadster was quite elegant and was produced by the Murray Body Company, an independent Detroit-based coachbuilder. The Murray Body Company offered in-house design and supplied Ford and many other automakers of the time with complete bodies ready for the assembly line. The Deluxe was assembled at the Rouge Assembly Plant, which is now responsible for the F-150 (and also open to public tours).
Starting with a V-shaped slanted grille, followed by angled slats down the hood, there is an elegant swooping-yet-sleek flow. Beautiful deco-styled "V8" logos emblazon the car, nodding to the engine, a durable one that was produced with limited modifications until 1953. The Deluxe was the quickest car in its time, making it a top choice for infamous bank robbing miscreants Bonnie and Clyde, as well as John Dillinger. Clyde and Dillinger also famously both penned letters to Henry Ford himself, praising the speed and durability of his V8.
Only 5,100 examples of the Deluxe Roadster were produced in 1934. John’s model is quite rare, as many Fords from this era were chopped into hot rods during the decades that followed World War II. John’s Ford is restored to factory specifications, down to its handsome coat of Coach Maroon and metal dashboard with a painted wood trompe l’oeil finish. One of my favorite features of this car is the inclusion of a front-facing extra row of seats in back that fold up from the trunk, known as a rumble seat.
John fired up the Ford so I could hear the nice, deep gurgle of the idling engine. The engine bay is accessed by an upward-opening hinged panel on each side of the hood that neatly rests in a notch on the bodywork when open. The engine is incredibly simple — and outside of the flathead V8, the only other components visible are a radiator and a fan, as well as a carburetor and an air filter. The inside is just as elegantly simple as the engine bay, with a handsomely trimmed interior and cushy bench seat. Interior controls were limited — however, a few highlights are a simple mechanical locking ignition, where the turn of a tiny key reveals or hides the ignition switch. Climate control is managed by a knob that, when turned, allows air into the cabin — and the beautifully chrome-trimmed windshield has a single tiny wiper at the driver’s eye level, although John never drives it with the top up or during inclement weather.
As we sped down the manor-lined streets of East Hampton, the car felt strong and purposeful. From the cabin, the hood was extraordinarily long, with more car in front of me than behind — quite an odd sensation, and a stark difference from modern vehicles. Because the Deluxe Roadster is from a technologically simpler era, it requires a slightly different maintenance regimen compared to a modern automobile. Since the flathead V8 was designed to run on unleaded fuel, John uses a lead additive in every fill-up to protect the seals and prevent engine knock. In addition, the engine predates oil filtration, and therefore the car requires an oil change every 1,000 miles. John uses Shell Rotella oil, a popular choice for gasoline engines without catalytic converters such as the Deluxe’s. All in all, the Ford is driven between 1,000 and 2,000 miles annually.
When caring for the many cars that have been produced throughout the history of the automobile, it takes a decisive and devoted person to hone in on one specific vehicle and maintain it over the years. John first saw his Deluxe Roadster in 1974, and it wasn’t until 20 years later, in 1994, when he acquired it. He then patiently waited eight years to undertake its second restoration and has since then made many memories and logged many miles with his family. I was truly impressed by his devotion and enthusiasm for his Ford. It is a rarity on the roads today, and it’s a nicely preserved piece of automotive history.
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