1945 Model A

Ford Garage

Custom Woody Sportsman

Pictured below are archive photographs of the 1945 Ford custom woody 'sportsman' designed by E.T. 'Bob' Gregorie for Henry Ford II.

The vehicle was built by Ford Engineering using a 1931 Model A Ford chassis. This car is often referred to as the last Model A built by Ford, though it was not a production vehicle, and there is no remaining evidence what actual chassis and engine number the car carried in 1945.

This prototype became the inspiration for the the 1946 Ford Sportsman Convertible, which was okayed for production based on the favorable public feedback Henry Ford II received while driving this car.

Please read the interview excerpt below for Bob's own words on the history and development of this interesting car.


Reminiscence from the 1985 Interview with Eugene T. Gregorie
Automotive Design Oral History, Accession 1673
Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford

The oral history excerpt below is from a series of interviews with Eugene T. Gregorie by David R. Crippen during the month of February, 1985, in St. Augustine Beach, Florida. These interviews were held under the auspices of the Edsel B. Ford Design History Center, Archives & Library Collections, The Edison Institute (now named the Benson Ford Research Center).

Crippen: I wanted to ask you about what turned out to be the first Sportsman. How did that come about?

Gregorie: Why we had a Model A chassis on the engineering laboratory floor, just for reference. Mr. Ford wanted it there, and when number two [Henry Ford II] came in there, he said, “Aw, what’s this thing doing here?” He didn’t have any sentiment for anything like that.

He said, “I’d like to have a little car to use down at the beach at Southhampton,” his summer place down there, and his wife and kids were very young, and he said, “Can you do me up some kind of a little beach wagon, something to use down there, take the kids to the beach?”

So, I sketched up this thing, and on that Model A Chassis we had, and they built it down in the old airplane [building] which became an experimental body shop down at the airport, and they used the plywood—the [exterior] paneling that came from the glider plane up at Iron Mountain.

Q: Oh, the left-over plywood.

A: Beautiful, mahogany plywood. So, we built it up, and little khaki top, and Evie and I had it down here in Florida for years. We used to drive it down to Palm Beach.

Q: He gave it to you eventually, didn't he?

A: He gave it me. Well, that's another story.

Q: Tell me that.

A: When we finished the car up, and we sent it down East for him. I said, "Mr. Ford, when you get through with this little thing, I'd like to acquire it." Like I'd done with his daddy, you know, see. I'd always come by cars that way. I didn't want to put him on the spot or anything, I said, "You know, anytime you lock the garage or something or burn it up." We used to destroy some of those cars--just crush them up.

It so happened that the very day that he sent his driver out there with it to my office, Ernie Breech was there, and there was a group standing around--John Bugas and Ernie Breech, and two or three others, and we all got talking about the car.

Ernie Breech said, "I've got to have this, I've got to have this, oh boy, I've got to have this." I said, "I'm sorry, Mr. Breech, it's already mine." Oh boy, you know, from that day on ...

Q: He never forgave you?

A: No, no, no, no. I said, [Mr. Breech], I spoke for that [with Mr. Ford] several months ago," and I said, "his driver is just sending it out for me so I can take it home." Well, anyway, that's that story.

Q: That's good, yes.

A: So, I had it, in Grosse Ile, and when I came down South in '47, why I brought it down, and we used it back and forth. We had it in Daytona, and stored it in the garage in the Summer when we went North with the boat, and we took it down to Palm Beach , and we used it down there.

So, finally, it became a problem, you know, keeping it under cover. I had to rent a garage to keep it in. You couldn't leave it outside. Mr. Greiner came to me one day, a wealthy guy in Ormond Beach, he and his brother owned the Ohio Springfield Road Roller Company--you know, made steam rollers and all, and he was a collector of antique cars and a couple of Rolls Royces and whatnot.

He came over one day dressed in some old khaki clothes. I tried to trade it in Palm Beach with a Ford dealer down there for a regular station wagon, and I told him it had Mr. Ford's little license thing on the steering column. I still have it. I said, "Gee, this thing is worth a hell of a lot of money. It's the only one ever built like this regardless of what it cost, I imagine it cost $50,000 to build it--all hand built.

Well, anyway, I sold it to Mr. Greiner for $1500, and he had it all repainted and retrimmed. We drove it over six/seven years, I guess.

Q: What's happened to it?

A: The last time I heard, it was up in Tennessee somewhere-- Marysville, Tennessee. A fellow has it up there, yes. It doesn't look very good. We saw a picture of it- , -it was in a barn, and there was dust on it.

Q: Would you like to get it back?

A: I don't know what the hell I'd do with it. It rode rough, and...

Q: You're really not a sentimentalist in that regard?

A: Well, I am. I'd rather have had that speedster--that other one.

Q: The boattail?

A: No, the that one that I built out of those airplane parts, you know, but this is a cute little car. I mean, gee, if it was somebody out in the country, you know, and just wanted to go to the village in the morning or get the mail or something like that, it rode rougher than hell.

We didn't have a house, living on the boat, and we had to have a place to store it, and it was fragile, you know, you couldn't leave it outside. It had a folding khaki top, and it was too nice a little car just to hack around with. That was the last Model A the Company ever built as such.

Q: It says here that you cut out the Model A cowl without making the hood look short. Is that correct?

A: Well, the hood panel was new, but we made a one-piece hood--came right back to the windshield with a cowl here. That was all hand built. There was special floor pan, and outside of the fenders, there wasn't much of the standard stuff you could use on it, but the old Model A frame was so light, it was like a couple of bed rails. Like a Model T, you know--just a little channel about three inches deep.

We found that when you dropped the tailgate down, and somebody jumped on the tailgate or sat on it, the doors would pop open. Fortunately, we found that out before we turned it over to Henry, and we reinforced the frame.

Q: How current was this to the Sportsman that you turned out in the [late 'Forties]?

A: Well, that came along right after this.

Q: Could you say that this was sort of an inspiration for it?

A: I'd say so, yes. The idea of a wood panel to a convertible. Yes, that's right. Yes, we made up the first--we made a hand-made one, and this would have been in '45, in the Winter of '45, say, right around the first of year.

We sent it down, and "number two Ford" used it down in wherever he was-- Palm Beach or someplace down there. Then, instead of sending it back to Dearborn , I had them take it up to the branch in Jacksonville , and I came down in April, 1946.

The wife was staying in Fort Lauderdale for a month or so, and I came down for a vacation, and I picked it up in Jacksonville and drove it back to Fort Lauderdale , and we drove it around down there, and I drove it back up to Dearborn again. They were quite popular--those wood-bodied cars.


More related information on Ford Garage:

  1. Model A Edsel Ford's Sport Phaeton
  2. Model A Gordon Buehrig's Custom Cabriolet
  3. Model A Prototype Three Window Coupes
  4. Model A & AA US Body Style Numbers & Body Builders Chart

July 2015