AFTERMATH AND REQUIEM
Edsel Ford’s 1932 speedster was apparently wrecked at some point after its 1934 sale and by the mid-forties had somehow ended up in a junkyard in Bridgeport, Connecticut. A new owner subsequently rebuilt it and kept it until the mid-eighties. He briefly sold the car, but had second thoughts and later bought it back. After his death, it was purchased by another collector, who took it to Knoxville, Tennessee’s Barillaro Speed Emporium to be restored to its original condition.
The 1934 Special Speedster was bequeathed to Eleanor Clay Ford after Edsel’s death. It was resold several times in the next few years, acquiring an array of period hop-up equipment. An owner in Los Angeles offered it for sale in the May 1948 issue of Road & Track, apparently without success. The speedster remained in Hollywood until around 1957, at some point acquiring a new coat of lipstick red paint and matching leather upholstery.
In 1958, a young Navy sailor named John Pallasch found the speedster on a Pensacola, Florida, used car lot and persuaded his father to buy it for him for the princely sum of $603. According to Bob Gregorie, the speedster’s Mercury V8 led Pallasch to the erroneous conclusion that the car was an early Mercury prototype; when Pallasch contacted him, Gregorie told him the real story. In the early sixties, Pallasch tried to rebuild the flathead V8, but he left for a tour of duty overseas before finishing it and when he returned the engine would no longer turn over. The speedster was left to languish in storage.
In 1999, Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance founder Bill Warner persuaded Pallasch to sell him the speedster. Warner repaired it, but did not attempt to restore it, although he did show it to Bob Gregorie prior to Gregorie’s death in November 2002. In 2008, the speedster was sold at auction to Houston, Texas, collector John O’Quinn, for a reported $1.76 million, but O’Quinn was killed in a car accident the following year. Edsel’s grandson, Edsel Ford II, bought the car from O’Quinn’s estate and donated it to the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. RM Auto Restoration in Ontario was commissioned to restore the speedster to its 1940 condition, while the much-modified V8 was replaced with an NOS engine from a 1940 Mercury.
The fate of the four-seat Special Sports phaeton is less clear. Bob Gregorie owned it for some years — it was one of several cars Edsel gave him — but eventually sold it to a friend for $500. It was last seen, somewhat modified, in an article in Old Cars Weekly magazine, whose editors hadn’t known what it was. The car’s current whereabouts, if it still exists, are unknown. So too are the fates of the various other one-offs built for Edsel over the years; we would hesitate to guess how many there were, much less what happened to them all.
There’s little doubt that Edsel Ford’s professional life was stressful and often difficult, but it appears that the styling studio became a refuge, one of the few places within Ford where he could express himself freely. Gregorie later recalled that in the cloistered environment of the studio, Edsel — by all accounts a very private man — might even relax enough to indulge in a bit of non-professional small talk, something to which he was not normally inclined.
We don’t talk a lot about hot rods and custom cars on Ate Up With Motor because they tend to be the products of individual tastes rather than broader cultural phenomena. However, the speedsters, the Continental, and Edsel’s other one-off personal cars offer an important perspective on the collaboration of Edsel Ford and Bob Gregorie, the people who set the style for some of America’s most popular cars just as surely as Henry Ford shaped those cars’ mechanical character.
In a sense, almost all the Ford vehicles developed between 1935 and 1943 were designed for Edsel, but the customs were the purest expression of Gregorie’s skills and Edsel’s sensibilities, undiluted by marketing pressure or the compromises of mass production. Gregorie was justifiably proud of these projects and it’s clear that Edsel took considerable satisfaction not only from the cars themselves, but also the process of their creation, which afforded him a brief respite from the weight of his various responsibilities. They were personal cars in the truest sense and a unique part of their creators’ collective legacy.
Special thanks to Pat McLaughlin, Dave Miller, Jim Barillaro of the Barillaro Speed Emporium, and Leslie Armbruster of the Ford Archives for their help in obtaining photos for this article; Peter Holman and Rashid Lilaoowala for their kind invitation to see the newly restored car at the Petersen Automotive Museum on 14 September 2011; and Ann Fitzpatrick of the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House for providing the press kit on the restoration of the Special Speedster. (All photos marked “courtesy the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House” are from that electronic press kit.) In the interests of full disclosure, the author did a brief spate of temp work for the Petersen back in 2008, but has no other affiliation or business relationship with the museum other than being a frequent visitor and occasionally being invited to events like this one. For the record, the author passed on the reception’s complimentary hors d’oeuvre and cocktails, but did avail himself of a Diet Coke, a dozen or so grapes, a piece of cheese, and possibly a cracker.
NOTES ON SOURCES
Information on the standard Fords of the 1930s came from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996); Arch Brown, “1932 Model B Ford: Son of Model A,” Special Interest Autos #130, July-August 1992, reprinted in Terry Ehrich, ed., The Hemmings Book of Prewar Fords: Drive Reports from Special Interest Autos Magazine (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2001), pp. 30-35, and “Dominant Rivalries: Chevrolet or Ford: Which was the better car of 1934?” Special Interest Autos #174, November-December 1999, reprinted in ibid, pp. 52-67; Ken Gross, “1940 Ford — The Deliverer,” Special Interest Autos #33, March-April 1976, reprinted in ibid, pp. 100-103; John Katz, “Fabulous Flathead,” Special Interest Autos #178, July-August 2000, reprinted in ibid, pp. 86-91; Michael Lamm, “Two Look-Alikes: Ford & Citroën,” Special Interest Autos #9, January-March 1972, reprinted in ibid, pp. 44-51; “The Life Cycle of the Ford Flathead V8: 1932-1953” (May 2002, Flathead Ford V-8, www.35pickup. com/ mulligan/fhtime.htm, accessed 26 September 2011); and Josiah Work, “1935 Ford Model 48: The Sleeper Among Flatheads,” Special Interest Autos #114, November-December 1989, reprinted in Terry Ehrich, ed., The Hemmings Book of Prewar Fords: Drive Reports from Special Interest Autos Magazine (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2001), pp. 68-75.
Other information on Bob Gregorie, Edsel Ford, and the design process at Ford came from Gregorie’s interview with C. Edson Armi in Armi’s The Art of American Car Design: The Profession and Personalities (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988); Arch Brown, “1941 Lincoln Continental: Edsel Ford’s Legacy,” Special Interest Autos #122, March-April 1991, reprinted in Terry Ehrich, ed., The Hemmings Book of Lincolns (Hemmings Motor News Collector-Car Books) (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2002), pp. 28-35; David R. Crippen, “Reminiscences of Eugene T. Gregorie,” 4 February 1985, Automotive Design Oral History Project, The Benson Ford Research Center, www.autolife.umd.umich. edu/ Design/ Gregorie_interview.htm (transcript), last accessed 26 September 2011; “Edsel Ford’s Hot Rods” (no byline, but likely written by Michael Lamm), Special Interest Autos #2, November-December 1970, pp. 36-38; “Eugene T. Gregorie, 94, Designer of Lincoln Continental for Ford,” New York Times, 3 December 2002; Kit Foster, “Edsel’s Third Special” (26 March 2008, Kit Foster’s CarPort, www.kitfoster. com/ carport/ 2008/03/ edsels-third-special/, accessed 30 September 2011); Nick Georgano and Nicky Wright, Art of the American Automobile: The Greatest Stylists and Their Work (New York: SMITHMARK Publishers, 1995); Michael Lamm and Dave Holls, A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design (Stockton, CA: Lamm-Morada Publishing Co. Inc., 1997); Michael Lamm and David L. Lewis, “The First Mercury & How It Came to Be,” Special Interest Autos #23, July-August 1974, reprinted in Richard A. Lentinello, ed., The Hemmings Book of Mercurys: Drive Reports from Special Interest Autos Magazine (Hemmings Motor News Collector-Car Books) (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2002), pp. 4-11; Ron Osborn and Harry Bradley, “Edsel B. Ford” (1989, www.edsel. com/ pages/edslford.htm, accessed 22 September 2011); “The Missing Speedster (UPDATE II Special Sports)” (10 March 2008, Prewar Car, www.prewarcar. com, accessed 22 September 2011); Dan Scanlan, “Pioneer auto designer Gregorie, 94, dies in St. Augustine; He won praise for his work at Ford,” Jacksonville Times-Union, 3 December 2002; and comments by users Chris Casny, Rik Hoving, and “Bad Bob” on The H.A.M.B. (27 January 2007, Jalopy Journal, www.jalopyjournal. com/ forum/showthread.php?p=1751354, accessed 22 September 2011).
Information on the history and restoration of the Model 40 Special Speedster came from “1934 Ford Model 40 Special Speedster” (no byline, but possibly written by Ken Gross), Automobiles of Amelia Island, 8 March 2008, RM Auctions, www.rmauctions. com, accessed 22 September 2011; “Edsel Ford’s 1934 Model 40 Speedster” (31 August 2011, 53 Deluxe, www.53deluxe. com, accessed 21 September 2011); Ken Gross, “Edsel Ford’s 1934 Model 40 Special Speedster Review and Buyer’s Guide,” Sports Car Market, June 2008, old.sportscarmarket. com, accessed 22 September 2011; Daniel Strohl, “Edsel Ford’s hot rod – of course there’s no pre-auction estimate,” Hemmings Blog, 21 February 2008, blog.hemmings. com, accessed 21 September 2011; David W. Temple “History of Automotive Design: Buick Landau: GM Motoram Masterpiece and Courtesy Car,” Hemmings Classic Car #72, September 2010, pp. 54-59; and four press releases from the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House, dated 19 August 2011 and provided to the author as part of a press kit at an event at the Petersen Automotive Museum on 14 September 2011: “Edsel Bryant Ford’s 1934 Model 40 Special Speedster Restored,” “History: The Life and Owners of the 1934 Model 40 Special Speedster,” “Edsel Ford’s Style and Design Blended Elegance with Engineering,” and “Restoration of the 1934 Model 40 Special Speedster Confirms Custom Design and Engineering: Design helped shape the styling of future Ford vehicles.”
Additional background came from “1936 Jensen A” (no date, Autofiles.org, accessed 26 September 2011); “1936 Jensen-Ford Tourer” (27 June 2008, RM Auctions, www.rmauctions. com, accessed 29 September 2011); David Donald, The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft (New York: Orbis Publishing/Aero Publishing/Barnes and Noble Books, 1997); John C. Dillon, “Ford Tri-Motor N414H History” (October 2007, ValleAirport.com, www.valleairport. com/ fordtrimotor/ N414H%20history.htm, accessed 28 September 2011); Ford Motor Company, “Fact Sheet: Ford Motor Company History Intertwined with Aviation” [press release], 2 April 2003; Timothy Gerber, “Built for Speed: The Checkered Career of Race Car Designer Harry A. Miller,” Wisconsin Magazine of History, Spring 2002, pp. 32-41; “Henry Ford, Ford Motor Company Founder and Aviation Pioneer” (17 December 2002, EAA’s Countdown to Kitty Hawk, Experimental Aircraft Association, Inc., www.countdowntokittyhawk. com, accessed 21 September 2011), based in turn on information from the National Aviation Hall of Fame; “Jensen Motors Ltd: Two Brothers with Vision” (no date, The Jensen FF Museum & Archive, www.thejensenff. com/ ffstory.htm, accessed 22 September 2011); “Jensen 1936” (no date, Classic Car Catalogue, classiccarcatalogue. com, accessed 22 September 2011); “Jensen S-type” (8 July 2011, MyCarBlog, mycarblog. org/ 2011/07/08/jensen-s-type/, accessed 26 September 2011); comments on the 1936 Jensen-Ford by user “50Fraud” on THE H.A.M.B. (18 January 2010, Jalopy Journal, www.jalopyjournal. com/ forum/showthread.php?t=437752, accessed 26 September 2011); Richard Calver’s Jensen website, www.richardcalver.com, accessed 26 September 2011; and the Wikipedia® entries for the Ford Trimotor (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Trimotor, accessed 21 September 2011) and Model Y (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Model_Y, accessed 29 September 2011).
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