Henry Ford’s great achievement was to give the world the Model T, but from its demise in 1927 he was never again to dominate the American market. But he had one great, final contribution to make to the evolution of the motor car, and that was the low-cost mass J produced V8 introduced in 1932.
Until then the V8 had been F confined to the exclusive end of the car market, as the superlative L designs of Cadillac and Lincoln bore witness. These, like I practically every other V8 of their day, were built up by bolting I two cast iron cylinder blocks to an aluminium crankcase. But a PJ team of Ford engineers, working in the unlikely surroundings of a replica of Thomas Edison’s famous laboratory, came up at Henry’s insistence, with an iron V8 that could be cast in one piece, cheapening and simplifying the production process.
The 195 cid (3.2 liters) head V8 sold for $460, which was only $50 more than the four cylinder Model B, introduced the same year. In June 1934 the millionth V8 was produced and such was the appeal of this smooth, reliable engine that the two millionth example was built the following year. This helped Ford to pull ahead of General Motors’ Chevrolet as America’s top selling make (though GM, with its variety of designs, was in front overall). Nevertheless, the Corporation was back on top in 1936 and it was not until 1959 that Ford again inched ahead.
The V8’s chassis retained the Model Ts archaic transverse leaf suspension and mechanical brakes though these were changed to hydraulics in 1939. The faithful L header soldiered on until 1954, by which time the rest of the industry had produced its own popular V8s, a good 20 years after Henry Ford had shown them how.