Sixteen-year-old Lonnie Mathews was living at home with his folks in 1955, going to school in Londonderry, Vt., and was very interested in acquiring a set of wheels. For $50 he purchased an Ivory Green 1939 Ford Deluxe four-door sedan.
“It even had a heater,” Mathews recalls. “It was a pretty good old car,” he says.
The Ford served him well through his high school days and beyond. “You kind of beat on them a bit in those days,” he says. Eventually the trusty Ford was sold and life moved on.
Decades later Mathews had moved to Westminster, Vt., when a friend called him for assistance in hauling a 1939 Ford from Manchester to South Londonderry. The car was a well-worn twin of Mathews’ first Ford.
The friend had plans to restore the Ford, but other projects kept getting in the way. After a decade of being parked in a garage, Mathews asked his friend if the restoration was ever going to begin. He was surprised when his friend, who had lost interest in the car, said, “Take it, it’s yours.”
Before the friend had a change of heart, Mathews hauled the 1939 Ford home. “It was in pretty rough shape,” he recollects.
The Ford sat in Mathews’ garage for a few months while he decided on a course of action. He removed the 221-cubic-inch flathead V-8 engine and discovered that it was from a 1946 Ford. Nevertheless, it was identical to the original engine and Mathews decided to have it rebuilt so it could once more deliver 85 horsepower.
Mathews then tackled the body of the 1939 Ford. “I did it the hard way,” he says. He hand-sanded every part of the car down to bare metal. He found evidence that the car had been repainted three or four times. All four fenders were dimpled with minor dents, which Mathews hammered out. “There is a lot of steel in those fenders,” he observes.
An inspection of the floorboards showed healthy steel everywhere, except in the trunk. “The trunk floor was a mess,” he says. New steel was welded in.
Mathews then selected Washington Blue paint to coat his 1939 Ford. Every one of the 10 windows was replaced, along with the rubber moldings. The wipers hang down from above the two-piece windshield, which can be pushed open at the bottom for ventilation.
Both bumpers and bumper guards were replaced, as well as the rubber running board covers. When it came to the lighting Mathews purchased new headlight buckets to replace the originals that had become riddled with rust. New teardrop-shaped taillights were installed on the rear fenders.
With the outside of the car looking like new while resting on flashy new 6.00×16-inch white sidewall tires, Mathews turned his attention to the interior of his four-door sedan. “It was pretty shaggy,” Mathews admits. He had the door panels, headliner and both seats reupholstered in 1980.
Because this restoration was undertaken on a shoestring budget, Mathews refinished the dashboard in the same color as the original simulated woodgrain finish.
Soon the 2,898-pound Ford, one of 90,551 such models manufactured, was completed. Mathews’ daughter convinced him to drive his restored 1939 Ford some 150 miles to attend an antique car show in Maine.
The uneventful trip was easily completed with the hydraulic brakes functioning perfectly. It was a first for Ford in 1939 to replace the mechanical brakes with hydraulic brakes, three years after Chevrolet had done so, and 11 years after Plymouth.
The speedometer stands prepared to register speeds of up to 100 mph. The number of miles totaled by the odometer, however, remains a mystery figure. Today, the Ford appears and drives like it did in 1939 when the base price for the car was $788. — Vern Parker, Motor Matters