What is it with Kiwis and cars? Almost everyone we talk to gives us the same answer when we ask how long they’ve been interested in cars — ‘for as long as I can remember’ or ‘ever since I was very young’ seems to be the standard response
Grant Dean is definitely no exception, in fact he is such a dedicated and avid Ford fan I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he has blue blood.
For Grant, it all started when he was given a subscription to an American hot rod magazine when he was still at school and — given the fact he grew up on a massive West Auckland orchard where he was surrounded with heavy machinery, and tractors of every shape and size imaginable not to mention the array of trucks, pick ups and utes — it’s hardly surprising that his automotive passion has lingered on well into his adulthood.
Grant still remembers his first car, a 105E Ford Anglia, which he ‘played’ around with, doing the usual wide wheels and modified exhaust system tricks, which was about all that needed to done in those days. He also remembers when he first saw this superb 1940 Ford panel van. It was in Queen Street one Friday night, and he instantly fell in love with the van. Over the following six months or so Grant continued to see the panel van driving around, which only increased his desire to own it one day.
As chance would have it Grant got chatting to a bloke in a local pub who turned out to be the grandson of the Ford’s owner. Naturally, the subject moved fairly swiftly to the panel van, and Grant found out everything he could about its history, but unfortunately it wasn’t for sale. For the next 10 years he continued to enquire about the van but the answer was always the same — no, it’s not for sale. That was until one day in 1985, when while on his way to Piha beach the owner’s grandson called into the orchard where Grant lived, and asked if he was still interested. Well, does the Pope wear a funny hat?
After a spot of negotiation a price was agreed upon, and the 1940 Ford panel van was delivered to Grant on a trailer. Obviously it was an exciting time for Grant, as he finally had the vehicle which he had been dreaming of owning. It was the culmination of many years of patient waiting — like the old Chinese proverb; all good things come to those that wait.
By this time Grant was well aware of the van’s history, and knew the Ford was a one-owner vehicle that had spent its entire life at the Sunrise Vineyard in Henderson, where it had served as a faithful workhorse for decades, used and abused as everything from a delivery van to the general vineyard hack. Grant was also well aware that his new prized possession was in desperate need of restoration, so without delay work began on stripping it down — literally the very next day after delivery.
Eventually the panel van was stripped right back, which included the body being removed off the chassis for a full assessment of the restoration work that need to be carried out. The work required was extensive to say the least, and Grant spent the next 20 years searching through swap meets for hard-to-get parts, along the way talking to as many people as he could find with similar early Fords to learn and gather as much information as possible.
The Ford’s chassis was sanded-blasted back to bare steel and painted gloss black. By this time the project had turned into a family affair, with Grant’s two sons and his wife, Antoinette, chipping in to help out as much as possible — not to mention providing much needed moral support.
The suspension was next on the agenda. Its was completely stripped front and back, and also received a coating of gloss black paint, while the brakes were completely refurbished. The drivetrain was thoroughly checked over and Grant decided to leave the original engine alone, as it had been rebuilt by the previous owner and was running perfectly. The original three-speed transmission was also in great shape.
Unfortunately, over the years the van’s body had suffered and it was necessary to replace the timber framing. Originally these vehicles were brought into New Zealand as cab and cowl units in 1940, which basically meant that the body was complete to the front windscreen and Standard Motor Bodies Ltd — based in Wellington — constructed the entire rear portion.
Standard Motor Bodies Ltd was initially formed by the Colonial Motor Company to fabricate Model T truck bodies, and went on to build thousands of trailer pumps, plus fire tenders as well as special vehicle modifications for the New Zealand Armed Forces on contract with the government. The ’30s and ’40s were a time of survival, with no new vehicles available during the war years as well as petrol rationing up until 1950. Service became the key to remaining in business.
This was at a time when world headlines were telling of Germany’s invasion of France, Italy’s declaration of war on Britain and France, and Winston Churchill becoming Britain’s newest prime minister.
For 1940, the line up of Ford pick-ups had adopted the look of that year’s Standard-series cars, and for the first time since 1932 trucks shared car styling. This included a stylish V-shaped grille, pointed hood, and headlights mounted into the front guards, giving these light haulers a modern, classy look.
Ford had evolved its separate front guard design ever since the ’34 model appeared. By 1940 they’d become rounded, and this pretty much set the scene for car design into the next decade. Power continued to come from a choice of two engines, either a 2229cc (136ci) 48kW or 3622cc (221ci) 64kW version of Ford’s flathead V8 coupled to a three-speed manual gearbox.
While once proving affordable and simple transportation for many Americans when new, 1940 Fords soon became a hot rodder’s favourite, as the flathead V8 were not only tuner friendly and reliable, it was easy to extract additional power without too many modifications.
Armed with a new band-saw, Grant went to work rebuilding the timber frame work around the doors and rear body section after carefully piecing together the original pieces and using them as templates. He was lucky enough to salvage the entire steel rear panels, that turned out to be in reasonable shape except for the rear doors, which Grant completely remade due to the fact the elderly owner had previously cut monstrous holes in them so he could see behind him when reversing.
Grant decided bright red was the way to go, and had one of his friend’s sons apply the Vermillion Red colour scheme to the panel van in one of the family’s apple orchard packing sheds. I have to admit, it’s not a bad paint job either — Kiwi ingenuity at its best!
All the exterior trim was meticulously cleaned and repaired where necessary, and a new pair of bumpers was located and purchased from a Pukekohe swap meet thanks to Antoinette, while a set of original style whitewall crossply tyres completed the picture.
Inside the panel van was completely reupholstered using heavy-duty marine-grade dark brown vinyl, strictly in keeping with the original look and feel of the van, as was the rear cargo area which received timber panelling.
Grant and Antoinette comment that it’s definitely one of the most comfortable vehicles they’ve travelled in.
Finishing off the interior, the dash was carefully restored to as-new condition and every effort was made to ensure each original gauge was kept — this was essential, as 1940 was the only year Ford used white faced gauges.
Twenty-six years after that exciting day when the Ford was first delivered to Grant and Antoinette’s house on a trailer, the long hard restoration slog was over.
Over the past two years or so, Grant and Antoinette have enjoyed every moment they have to spare driving this splendid Ford to as many events as possible. And yes, Grant admits he even takes it shopping — after all, as he says — “They’re made to be driven.”
1940 Ford Panel van – Specifications
Engine Flathead V8
Capacity 3622cc (221ci)
Valves Two valves per cylinder
Max power 63kW (85hp)
Fuel system Two barrel Stromberg
Transmission Three-speed manual
Suspension F/R Transverse leaf front and rear
Steering Worm gear and sector
Brakes Hydraulic drum
Overall length 4781mm
Track F/R 1416mm/1479mm
Kerb weight 1223kg
Words: Ashely Webb Photos: Dan Wakelin
This article is from Classic Car issue 220. Click here to check it out.