Photos by Trace Taylor, courtesy RM Sotheby’s.
In 1932, Henry Ford once again silenced his critics by launching a line of affordable, V-8-powered automobiles. Dubbed the Model 18, Ford’s flathead V-8-propelled lineup offered buyers in the United States and Canada a range of models, but some consumers wanted more. At least one Model 18 chassis, in right hand drive, was shipped to London for reworking by the Carlton Carriage Company, and next January, this 1932 Ford Model 18 drophead coupe by Carlton, also known as the Ford Model 18 Carlton Special, will cross the auction stage at RM Sotheby’s Arizona sale.
As coachbuilders go, Carlton isn’t among the industry’s better-known firms. A small outfit that began in 1925, the London company began showing its wares at the Olympia Exposition in 1927. The first products demonstrated were a rebodied Chrysler and a rebodied Hotchkiss, and while both wore solid-top coachwork, Carlton soon became known for its drophead coupe and coupe de ville body styles. British automakers Talbot and Humber were its most frequent customers, though the firm also supplied bodies for a variety of American brands (including Buick, Essex, Hudson, Oldsmobile and Pontiac) as well as domestic premium brands Rolls-Royce and Bentley.
Fed by a single-barrel carburetor, Ford’s 221-cu.in flathead V-8 produced 65 horsepower and 130 pound-feet of torque, impressive numbers for the Model 18’s price segment and introduction date. The sole transmission choice was a three-speed manual, with synchromesh gears in second and third. A clean-sheet design often seen as Henry Ford’s last significant mechanical contribution to the company that bore his name, the 1932 flathead engine was plagued by reliability problems. Early examples reportedly had a voracious appetite for oil, and bearing failures, cracked engine blocks and cracked pistons occurred with some regularity. Cold-weather fuel delivery was an issue with the camshaft-driven mechanical fuel pump, but despite the teething pains, Ford delivered over 180,000 examples in the Model 18’s introductory year. For 1933, Ford changed the name of its flathead V-8 lineup from the Model 18 to the Model 40.
The Model 18 drophead coupe to be sold in Arizona was a right-hand-drive chassis assembled in Ford’s Ontario, Canada plant. Shipped to London, England, it was bodied as a drophead coupe by Carlton and remained in-country, but little else is known about the car’s early history. Circa 1958 it was purchased in England by an officer in the United States Navy, who kept the coachbuilt Ford until it was sold to the consignor in 1986.
Upon taking delivery of the unique Ford, the consignor began a multi-year restoration and quest to return the car to its as-built state. Over the decades, the original flathead V-8 had been replaced by a later unit, perhaps in an effort to address reliability problems with the first engine. Other components suffered a similar fate, so returning the Ford back to its original condition (and date-correct flathead) proved particularly challenging. The end results were worth the effort, as the Carlton-bodied Ford took second in its class at Pebble Beach in 2003, then returned to the Monterey Peninsula in 2011 to capture another class ribbon at the country’s most celebrated concours d’elegance event.
Thanks to the consignor’s persistence, the coachbuilt Ford was also recognized as a Full Classic by the CCCA, and in 2011 was judged at 96.75 points at the club’s annual meeting. As a show car, the Ford gives its next owner the best of both worlds, blending familiar (and now, well-sorted) mechanicals with a British coachbuilt body, a combination that’s sure to stand out in concours d’elegance competition. RM Sotheby’s predicts a selling price between $175,000 and $250,000 when the Ford Model 18 Carlton Special crosses the auction stage in Arizona next month.