Back in the 1950s, Bill Wilkinson’s father drove a very used 1939 Ford coupe as he commuted to work at Camp Springs Field, later to be renamed Andrews Air Force Base. A family friend, John Collins, restored old cars and helped the Air Force officer keep his 1939 Ford running smoothly and reliably.
Bill Wilkinson was too young to drive during the time his father had the Ford and was content with being a passenger. He never thought much about the old Ford until 1998, when his father died. Soon afterward, he began looking for Ford like the one his father had once owned.
Wilkinson discovered that 1939 Ford coupes were popular with stock car racers, as well as the hot rod crowd and customizers. Consequently, cars in stock condition that had been restored were exceedingly rare. Wilkinson’s perseverance was rewarded in August 2008 when he discovered a Ford he wanted in Cincinnati.
During a telephone conversation the seller told Wilkinson he had spent 20 years restoring the Ford starting in 1986, and was reluctantly selling the car. After looking at pictures of the car, Wilkinson told him that he would be out to Ohio in a month and if the car was as-advertised they had a deal. True to his word one month later Wilkinson, with a trailer behind his truck, drove to Ohio.
“When he opened the garage door and backed it out,” Wilkinson said, “That’s it.”
Without even driving the stunning car, Wilkinson quickly paid the seller and told him, “I want to take it off your hands before you change your mind.”
Once Wilkinson had the car back home in Alexandria, Va., he delved into papers that came with the Ford and discovered the vehicle was first sold in Minnesota. When it rolled out of the factory on its 6.00×16-inch tires supporting a 112-inch wheelbase, it was wearing a coat of maroon paint.
Records show that Ford Motor Co. offered 10 body styles in 1939 and a total of 37,326 five-window deluxe coupes were manufactured that model year. Each one had a base price of $702.
Wilkinson is quick to point out that 1939 was the last year that Ford had a floor shift, until the Thunderbird in 1955. Windshield wipers in 1939 were suspended from above the windshield because with a hand crank the windshield could be opened at the bottom to enhance ventilation. That feature also ended with the 1939 models.
Wilkinson gave the coupe a close inspection and found the only part he had to correct was the high beam jewel in the dashboard that alerts the driver when the high beam headlights are illuminated. He fixed that defect and now when he steps on the switch on the floor, the lights switch up or down and the jewel lets the driver know where the headlights are aimed.
Sitting on top of the flathead V-8 engine between the two banks of four cylinders is the two-barrel carburetor which feeds the engine enough fuel to produce 85 horsepower to propel the 12,752-pound coupe.
A couple of non-stock items on the car that Wilkinson is not going to change are the split manifold to make dual exhausts a possibility and blue dots in the taillights. Those items can readily be put back to stock if he decides to be a purist.
The metal dashboard has been restored with a woodgrain finish. In the center of the dashboard is the radio speaker with the controls below. On the left side of the speaker is the hand throttle above the lighter. On the right side of the speaker is the choke above the ashtray. The 100-mph speedometer is directly in front of the driver while at the other end of the dashboard is a clock. The light switch is at the center of the three-spoke steering wheel around the perimeter of the horn button.
When he settles into the saddle-colored bench seat and sees the two visors above the windshield and the armrest on each door, Wilkinson can’t resist saying, “I love this car. This is better than money in the bank.”
Since the completion of the restoration of the 70-year-old Ford in 2006 it has been driven only 234 miles. However, Wilkinson says, “She runs as good as she looks.”
Since acquiring the Ford, Wilkinson has found an item that his father had tucked away. He has attached it to the rear license plate, exactly where his father had it on his 1939 Ford. The treasured item is an identification plate that reads: Camp Springs Field — Washington, D.C. — Vern Parker
Copyright, Motor Matters, 2009