This is a long story but stick with it - there is a happy ending.
My parents bought a house in the Thames-side village of Cookham, Berkshire, England in 1947. I was born 1948 and lived there till about 1974.
My brother is 7 yrs older than me, so I was 10 when he got his licence and 11 when he got his first car. I was allowed to be assistant mechanic i.e. pass tools and keep quiet. After a Hillman & a Morris, in 1961 he bought a '37 V8 Club Cabriolet for £5 - it had been stolen and he had to pull it from a duckpond, but it fired right up and went like stink!. I thought this was the best car I had ever seen - I became obsessed with Ford V8s.
My best school-friend was John Brice who lived in School Lane, Cookham Dean, just up the hill. It was 1962, we were in his kitchen discussing building a go-kart when Mrs Brice said “You two car-mad boys should meet Zoe and ask to see her old car” and that is how I met Zoe and her sister Maudie, near neighbours to the Brices. Zoe was a vivacious outgoing blonde about 60 years old who obviously was a very fashionable lady before the war. Maudie was a quiet spinster rather in her sister's shadow.
We were treated to home made cakes & tea in the kitchen & learnt that her doctor husband had died in a fall from a ladder in 1940. Then we were shown The Car, which is the star of my story.
The Car was a 1935 Ford V8 3 window coupe with rumble seat. Gorgeous original condition with 19,500 miles on the clock - it had not been used after the doctor died. The doctor had bought it new from Ford - she said it was the actual car from the Motor Show stand and was very proud of the fact he ‘ordered the special engine’. The Car, while in original condition, was looking a bit sad. Behind the house was a paved courtyard and a separate garage block with flat above (which used to house the gardener/handyman and cook/housekeeper), but The Car had been moved to a rather cramped damp garage beside the house, so the chrome was starting to tarnish and the paint was a bit flat.
We begged to be allowed to clean The Car up for Zoe. So our summer became devoted to The Car. We borrowed polish and chrome cleaner from our fathers and soon had the paint gleaming, chrome
bumpers and rad shell buffed up, and tyres pumped up. We pulled out the battery, got it charged up and got the engine turning over, put in fresh petrol and water and fired the engine up.
And every day we got home-made cakes and tea, but only in the kitchen. We got an occasional peek into the elegant hall but never went any further. Mrs Brice had visited Zoe once when she was ill and said the bedroom was fit for a Hollywood star, with a beautiful scallop-shell design headboard and a wardrobe of glamorous dresses. One vivid memory I have is Zoe feeding the birds – we had to look through the window while she stood in the courtyard throwing crumbs and calling in a high voice – soon she was surrounded by chickadees, finches, sparrows etc and the bolder ones would take food direct from her hand.
After all our work it was decided to move The Car back into the motor-house. I think it had been moved out when the flat was let out to someone who also got use of the garage. A lot of junk had to be cleared out first. We didn't drive it, but just pushed it round the corner with my brother and John's dad.
This is where tragedy strikes. John & I were at boarding schools so we went back to school while the weather was fine. Then the winter of 62/3 arrived, the worst winter since 1795 it is said. The Thames froze, farm animals froze to death in their stalls and The Car's cylinder block cracked - we had forgotten to drain the water.
We didn't get a hard time for it – in a normal winter it would probably have been OK in the motor-house. We felt really guilty but were told not to visit Zoe, she was obviously seriously upset and I believe her family were blaming her for letting 2 lads play around without supervision
I did think about trying to buy the car when I was 18, but Mrs Brice told me to back off in no uncertain terms - Zoe was too ill to be pestered. So I bought a '38 Club Cabriolet (which was a ‘dog’) and went on to a succession of other Fords, mainly English models until, much later, I got my Model A & 09 T.
In 1978 Zoe was finally forced to sell: the car went to Sotheby's and was sold to an American for £5000, a big price for a V8 then. At that time I was buying my first house and couldn't even scrape £50 together, so couldn't think of buying it.
The Car disappeared. No one knew where it went. I thought it had disappeared forever. I have over the years tried to find it at various times, but it had just gone off the radar. I found the man at Sotheby’s who took the winning phone bid and got the buyer’s name – Bill Bass – but couldn’t trace him. The Vehicle Licencing Authority computer showed the car had been put on the database in 1979 and gave the impression it was still in the UK but not currently licensed, but I suspected it had been exported. I assumed the worst- if it had gone to the USA, the odds were on it being hot-rodded by now, or converted to LHD and restored to US spec.
Then Bill Bass died in 2012 and The Car surfaced in Chicago on Craigslist! It had been sitting in his collection virtually unused all these years. An American dealer bought it then an Englishman spotted it and thought ‘This has to repatriated and carefully re-commissioned’
So earlier this year I saw the coupe again. Since 1962 it had done a mere 152 miles. The damaged motor had not been properly repaired but attempts had been made to seal the damage with various sealants – unsuccessfully. It had suffered a bit in storage, flat tyres, some dents, moth damage to the interior, but it was dry, solid and shiny. It was almost the same as when I last saw it in 1962.
So what about the ‘special engine’? In several European countries, annual road tax for private cars was by horsepower, calculated from cylinder bore, which made American cars almost as expensive to run as a Rolls. It crippled Model T sales in the UK and they tried a small motor for the Model A which was gutless, so the A bombed. Ford UK survived by selling trucks until Dearborn designed a whole new small car in 1932 for Europe.
So by 1935, Ford had good sales with the small car and the big V8 sold to the sporty set who wanted a fast V8 and had the cash to pay the annual tax (equivalent to about $2500 per annum in today’s money!). So they needed a medium range car, and again designed a special car for the European market, the Model 62. The car wasn’t ready for 1935 but its motor was, so they put it into the big car. Enter the V8-60, put into the 1935 Model 48 and renamed the Model 60. When Dr Shepard saw this Model 60 Coupe de Luxe on the Motor Show stand it was all-black with silver wheels; before delivery he had the all-black car brightened up with a cream panel down the side and cream wheels.
Coming back to the present, the motor which John and I had ‘wrecked’ was a ‘tin-side’ V8-60 with steel sides to the water jacket – the steel had been pushed out but the iron block was undamaged. New sides were welded on, the block rebored, new heads (the aluminium originals were severely corroded) new water pumps, and rebuilt carb fitted.
So the Coupe was back on the road in England, and new owner David Acon brought to my house. We took it back to Cookham and photographed it outside its original home.
And the happy ending? David’s circumstances changed and he had to sell, so I am now the owner of the car that I have been obsessed with for 52 years. Mileage when I took it over was 19,893, now it's just over 20,100.
Great story,thanks for sharing!
Fun read! I'll bet you can't help but smile every time you look at it.
Great story Jem!
I wish I could find my 1923 Coupe that I had as a Youth--All I know is that it was shipped to Ireland and then disappeared
John has it right, I have to keep going out to look at it and smile.
John has it right, I have to keep going outside to look and smile.
I'm smiling and it's the first time I saw the car.
Great story and I'm glad it had a happy ending
Thank you so much for sharing a very special part of your life with the rest of us. So glad you were able to secure the car. How special!
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I love a story with a happy ending. Congratulations, Jem!
Jem, I just read your story to my wife and we both sighed with relief at the final sentence knowing your childhood dream had come true. Truly a great car probably more rare in England than a Model T!
Good on you Jem! So many of these have been ruined by hot rodders. It is a rare thing to find a good one, and I hope you enjoy it for a long time.
Wonderful story, Jem. Thank you for posting it. I hope you enjoy the car for many more years and miles.
That's a helluva story!
That is one very beautiful Ford! Sure glad that it didn't "suffer any improvement" during its time Stateside. You have a great story and should buy a sweepstake ticket with your good luck!
Is John Brice still close by so you can give him a ride?
Great car! Was it repainted while in the USA? (looks very shiny, might be unique among english built Fords if it's still in original paint?)
Thank you for sharing the tale.
Drive carefully, and enjoy it for a long time!
Roger, the paint is original. It's a '20 footer' - looks great in the photo but up close you can see the lacquer is peeling on the fenders, there are dents on the fenders and the hood, the wheels are showing some rust and the original silver shows in places.
The Dr paid £5 in 1935 for the cream cellulose job, but got it discounted to £2 10 shillings because it wasn't too good a job, it's obviously a one-coat blow-over. He paid £215 total, after £30 trade in against a Ford two-seater. I know this because Zoe his widow handed his papers to the local Heritage Centre and they have the original registration, insurance and bill of sale. But they refuse to release them to go with the car.
Oh, and to pick up on a topic from previous threads, this is a case where I have a genuine Doctor's Coupe.
I forgot to add that I have msde contact with John Brice, he's not too near but we will get together sometime so he gets a ride.
Great story and a sexy Ford!!!
Jem, what a great story and wonderful car. Thank you for taking the time to share it with us!