10-11 June 2006
1937 Ford Deluxe Panel Delivery
- Chassis no. 183608035
Sold for $170,500
In 1937 Ford built 42 Model 78 Deluxe Panel Delivery vans as an educational fleet to promote sales of Ford parts and accessories to dealers. The Dingman Collection’s example is the only known survivor, the others having lost their identity at the end of their year’s service when they were stripped of their special equipment, painted black and sold as used company fleet vehicles.
The Dingman collections Panel Delivery was conscientiously researched and restored over a three year period by Ford historian Roy Nacewicz. Its restoration included years of searching to find examples of the original equipment and displays that were part of the Parts and Accessories “Instruction Panels”, as they were described by Ford. It is one of a kind.
Far more importantly, it is a unique look at the transition that Ford sales went through in the Thirties.
Henry Ford believed that consumers “pulled” automobiles through the pipeline of raw materials, blast furnaces, assembly plants and dealers based solely upon their utility. He disapproved of selling almost as much as he did of styling and design as a contrived way of “pushing” automobiles on consumers based on fabricated perceptions of value. His famous $5 a day wage endorsed in the most tangible way possible – the firmness of his conviction, by taking money out of his own pocket, as the owner of the Ford Motor Company, and putting it into the pockets of his workers where they could spend it to acquire the advantages of automobile ownership.
Ford’s relationship with its dealers had long been adversarial. In the days of the Model T a Ford dealership had been a license to print money and Ford treated it that way. Field representatives were more enforcers than motivators, reporting back to Ford on transgressions of Ford’s many rules, from appearance and procedures to smoking and language. This began to change when William Cowling was appointed General Sales Manager in 1931, ably assisted by John Davis. Cowling and Davis traveled incessantly, visiting dealers, listening to their complaints and suggestions and exhorting them (in Cowling’s case rather flamboyantly) to emphasize the advantages of Ford products.
Henry did not make it easy. After the Model A’s successful introduction he cut dealer’s discounts from 20 to 17.5%. Cowling got it raised to 22% in 1931. That was above Chrysler’s 21% but still well short of General Motors’ 24%, and dealers for those manufacturers had the advantage of selling more expensive lines that produced greater unit profits. Henry’s widely publicized prejudices offended significant groups of customers. Breweries didn’t buy Fords while Henry was preaching the evils of alcohol. Tobacco companies were equally put off by his campaign against smoking. His anti-Semitic comments did nothing to encourage Ford buying, and neither did his public opposition to Roosevelt’s New Deal or to unions.
Cowling and Davis, with Edsel Ford’s support and encouragement, made immediate strides in creating a favorable public image for Ford. Advertising was vastly expanded, including sponsoring twice-weekly radio broadcasts by Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians. They organized a glittering display at the Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago. On an 11-acre lakefront site of which five acres, the Ford Gardens, were devoted to a park, Ford presented five separate exhibits including a history of industry drawn from the newly-opened Greenfield Village; the Ford Drama of Transportation in the gear-shaped Ford Rotunda building; an exhibit of 40 modern manufacturing operations; an [inevitable] exhibit of the benefits of soybeans; and the Road of the World depicting highways from ancient to modern times that ended with rides in Ford cars on an elevated road.
Cowling and Davis worked constantly and ultimately successfully to rebuild and improve Ford’s dealer relationships. They provided tools and materials for more effective selling. They helped dealers manage the increasingly important challenge of dealing with used car trade-ins, a matter that had become crucial to sales in the Thirties and exacerbated the pressure on Ford’s already-slim new car sales commissions. A $20 loss on a trade-in was life-threatening when the profit on a new car sale was only $130.
They also developed and helped dealers sell profit-enhancing extensions to selling automobiles, like the traveling Parts and Accessories Sales Development program of which this 1937 Ford Panel Delivery was an essential element. It’s hard to stress enough the efficacy of programs like Parts and Accessories Sales Development in improving the health and morale of Ford’s dealers and its distribution channel. $10 or $20 spent on dual sun visors, outside spotlights, “winter front” radiator shrouds and dual windshield wipers could be the difference between success and failure for Ford dealers.
Roy Nacewicz discovered this 1937 Ford Panel Delivery outside a gas station in Springfield, Ohio in 1974 when he stopped for gas. It had been rescued from service as a chicken coop (really!) by some hot rodders who had already chalk-lined the sides in preparation for chopping it. Thinking it deserved a better fate, Nacewicz brought it home where it sat for several years (“I had a real job at the time,” he remembers) until he began to chemical strip the wood framed body in preparation for restoring it. “I found strange colors, indicative of the corporate colors of the era,” he recalled. “I got into the Ford archives to do some research and realizing I’d found something special got more careful as I stripped the ad panel area. Then I found the faint outline of the old enamel sign painting” which had been quickly removed before the Panel Delivery was painted black and sold off.
Restoration continued, now with the additional task of identifying the materials which formed part of the Sales Development program. Many were found at swap meets or through contact with other Ford enthusiasts including the battery display rack which was mounted to the Panel Delivery’s floor with a set of Ford motor mounts turned upside down. The original wooden floor boards still had the motor mount bolt holes in the precise locations. The real challenge turned out to be the file cabinets. “These were standard Ford file cabinets, used throughout the company,” Nacewicz remembers. “In the Fifties or Sixties Ford changed over to Steelcase furniture and sold off all the old oak desks, filing cabinets and other office furniture to employees and others. They had disappeared. I was moaning about it one day and a neighbor asked how many I wanted, a hundred? It turned out his father had bought a garage full, and there they were, right across the street.”
Completed in 1982, the restoration included a complete outfit of promotional, instructional and demonstration materials as outlined in the factory sales department literature that was found in the Ford archives. The 1937 Panel Delivery itself was outfitted with a variety of the accessories featured in the Parts and Accessories Sales Development program, including DeLuxe hubcaps and spoke covers, clock, sun visors, vanity mirror, side mirror and dual windshield wipers.
Carefully and meticulously restored, this 1937 Ford Panel Delivery was first shown at the Early Ford V-8 meet in Kansas City where it won its Dearborn Award. Finished in Ford’s corporate blue-green (a color chosen by William Cowley), with a black accent pin stripe and cream wheels, the interior is upholstered and trimmed in tobacco brown with a carefully wood-grained dashboard and a banjo-spoke steering wheel. It has been carefully and consistently maintained since completion of the restoration and is today in outstanding condition, especially considering the age of the restoration which speaks volumes about its thoroughness and workmanship.
Success or failure of the Parts and Accessories Sales Development program aside, the Dingman Collection’s 1937 Ford Model 78 DeLuxe Panel Delivery offers a rare and revealing insight into the efforts which were being made within Ford to improve its sales and particularly the financial success of its dealers. The only known survivor of the 42 built, its condition and equipment are a certain draw for spectators and judges alike, a unique combination of classic Ford styling, utility and Ford Motor Company history.
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