- A row of 1934 Fords at the Goodwin Cruise, Lynchburg, TN Photo by: Chris Breeden

Spotting Guide: Fords from the Model A to 1941

The major differences in each year from '28 to '41

The automobiles that Ford produced in the 13 years between 1928 and 1941 are some of the most sought after for Antique(Stock) and Street Rod enthusiasts. The coupe, in both 3 and 5 window types, is the most popular, with roadsters from the early years coming in a close second. This period of time is responsible for multiple different body styles, including: roadsters, coupes (both 3 and 5 windows), sport coupes, business coupes, two-door sedans (both flat and humpback), four-door sedans (both flat and humpback), town cars, sedan deliveries, touring cars, phaetons, roadster trucks, enclosed cab trucks and Crown Victorias. To keep it as simple as possible we will stick with 3 and 5 window coupes in our picture examples. Like always I'll stick to the easiest differences to notice while out spotting!

1928 & 1929 Model A

Above: (left) A brown 1928 Coupe (right) A gray(?) 1929 Sport Coupe

1928 was the first year of the Model A. While there are a few subtle differences between the '28/'29 first run Model A's and the '30/'31 second run of Model A's the easiest way to tell a '28/'29 from a '30/'31 is to look at the cowl. Pay attention to the part of the cowl in front of the door. The raised post area was only included on the '28/'29 years.

1930 & 1931 Model A

Above: (left) Blue 1930 coupe (right) Red 1931 Coupe

The '30/'31 cars are easily noticeable by their smoother appearing cowl. Also, the top of the grille shell on the '30/'31 years are only rounded on one side. There is no curvature on the top going forward, this gives the grille shell a flat appearance. Other differences in the years include tire sizes, but that's an unreliable way of determining year as one size wheel will fit on another year.


Above: (left) a black 1932 3-window coupe (right) a brown 1932 5-window coupe

One of the most popular cars in the history of both the Hot Rod and Street Rod scenes is the Deuce Coupe. The most noticeable aspect of a '32 is the distinctive grille shell. This was the first year Ford would include a grille insert that was a substantial piece of metal work. You can also see a difference from the Model A in the windshield area. The area where the bottom of the windshield fades into the A-pillar is more sculpted than a Model A. Also, the '32 has no visor above the windshield. The '32 had it's gas tank in the rear of the car, below the body and between the frame rails. That allowed a cowl vent on '32's something Model A's, with their cowl mounted gas tanks, did not have. '32s were also a little bit larger car, but only by inches. This was the first year for Ford's famous Flathead V8 engine.

1933 & 1934

Above: (left) A black 1933 3-window coupe (right) a red 1934 5-window coupe

The new touches to the '33/'34 years are obvious. The grille comes to a sharp point at the bottom and the bumper also has a dip in the middle. As far as I know the only way to tell the difference between the two years is to look at the external hood latches. In '33 they only had one per side. In '34 they decided to install 2 per side. They must have had some sort of a problem with the earlier design, but not enough to change it before the new year. 1934 would be the last year Ford would make a touring car style body.


Above: (left) a tan 1935 3-window coupe (right) a black 1935 5-window coupe

1935 would mark the coming of the larger cars of the '30s. While the bumper on the '35 in theory looks a lot like the '33/'34 it is much larger. Other than size the grille in the '35 is also farther forward in the center, this is a aspect the '33/'34 didn't have. Please note the dual horns on both pictured cars, wasn't standard equipment. In reality no cars produced by Ford would come standard with a horn before WW2. The horns pictured here are aftermarket, something that a dealer or a place like Western Auto would have installed for the new owner shortly after purchasing the car.


Above: (left) a green 1936 5-window coupe (right) a blue 1936 3-window coupe

The dead give away on a '36 is the small round grilles in the fenders at the front of the car on either side of the grille. In the above pictures the green 5-window coupe has a set of aftermarket fog lights in place of the grilles, but you can get a good look at them on the blue 3-window coupe. In order to make room for these round grilles the center grille was made narrower at the bottom. 1936 was the last year Ford made a coupe with a rumble seat, 3-window coupes and a roadster body.


Above: (left) a black 1937 coupe (right) a tan 1937 2-door flatback sedan.

The '37 is also distinguishable due to it having headlights set into the fenders. Those headlights were also covered with glass. The grille was very tall, with no filler strip between it and the hood. In an effort to bring more styling to their 2-door sedan line, (that was starting to out sell the coupe line), Ford introduced the Slantback sedan body.


Above: (left) a light gray 1938 coupe (center) a black 1938 coupe (left) a red 1938 truck

The '38 model year has been long maligned as one of the least desirable years in what was an otherwise excellent design line up. '38 would see glass covered headlights return. The grille would become a fairly bubble looking thing. I do not hold the belief that these were ugly cars. I think the design fits in nicely with the other pre war designs. However, the 1938 truck grille design is another story. I included it here only to show why people are not very enthusiastic for this particular year of Ford products. In my opinion the truck is pretty horrible, but the car is perfectly fine.


Above: (left) a black 1939 coupe (center) a blueish green 1939 coupe (right) a green 1939 two-door sedan

The 1939 year would be one of the most famous designs Ford would ever produce. The one piece grille and glass covered headlights would be the hallmark of that beautiful design. 1939 would also be the first year you could get hydraulic brakes on a Ford. That's right,get your adjustment wrenches out, all of the previous cars on this list had mechanical brakes.


Above: (left) a black 1940 coupe (right) a blue 1940 coupe

Some people argue that this was the high mark for Ford design pre WW2. The 2 piece grille and headlights with rings instead of glass covers is one beautiful piece of work. When you add in the fact that the horsepower rating for the flathead V8 went up to 90 in 1940 over 80 HP previously the 1940 Ford was a very desirable car.


Above: (left) a dark blue 1941 coupe (center) a light blue 1941 convertible 2-door sedan (right) a custom 1941 coupe

The last design that didn't suffer from WW2 meddling was the 1941 model year. As you can see this year is thought of along the same lines as the '38 model year. I guess whoever was responsible for the '38s was given a second chance? The almost flat center grill and the actual flat two side grills are not very well regarded by collectors. Customizers have gravitated to this year car mainly because they are relatively cheap compared to other pre war Fords and they can make really nice customs when done correctly.

1936 Ford Roadster Photo courtesy of: The Hot Rod Network

1936 Ford Roadster Photo courtesy of: The Hot Rod Network


Beginning in 1936 someone from Ford's marketing or engineering department started a sort of gimmick. They made a number of 1935 models and called them "Standards". They then started calling the new 1936 model a "Deluxe". Ford did this until the 1941 model year when they finally dropped the Standard and Deluxe naming scheme. So all 1941's look just like the above examples. When applicable, all of the cars I've presented here are the Deluxe models. Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about: You could correctly identify a car as a 1939 year, but find out that it wasn't a 1939 Deluxe, but was instead a 1940 Standard. This type of thing really only bothers Antique(Stock) guys, because they are usually the only people that keep the "Standard" and "Deluxe" badging on the cars. Hot Rodders, Street Rodders and Customizers don't usually mind the minor mistake. But it's a good idea to look for the badge on the grille after you've figured out what year you think it is. If it says "Deluxe" then go with what you think it is, if it says "Standard" add a year!

So head outside and start spotting vintage Fords. Just remember to: Keep on Cruisin'!

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Comments (10)

  • i have a 1941 ford car frame..will a 1936 ford 5 window coupe body fit it in stock bolt holes

      1 year ago
    • Off the top of my head I'm not really sure, RD. I'd say probably not, since the '41 was a much larger car. You could check with places like Fatman Fabrication, TCI or Bob Drake they would be able to tell you.

        1 year ago
  • I was actually looking at this article when I was doing my last one. Obviously I didn't pay enough attention, ha.

    Very interesting and well put togather!

      2 years ago
  • Ha! I needed this ...shared to the D_TRB USA facebook page!

      2 years ago
  • I didn't know there were anymore old antique Ford fruitcakes left in the world ! I knew most those details when I was younger and the AACA? and other clubs were so popular. The judging of correctness process was so intense because there was no internet to check facts! haha No fistfights that I know of but things got serious sometimes, but it was all good. Thanks for the tutorial.

      2 years ago
    • There are plenty of us old car lovers around... I think... That's the story I'm going with!

        2 years ago
  • This is a very useful guide!

      2 years ago