Transport Shortages; Ford’s Popular Answer

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Selling like hot cakes, the world’s lowest priced car at £390.00 on the road even the adverts were cheapFord’s Dagenham plant took just three weeks to get back into production following ‘Victory in Europe Day’ towards the end of May 1945 and by the 21st June the first car rolled off the production line; a pre-war design Anglia 8hp. The Anglia E04A was a revision of models that can be traced back to the Model Y in 1932; Dagenham’s answer to Ford’s lack of a small car for Europe. A price war began with other UK manufactures. Ford produced a basic version of the ‘Y’ and named it the Popular, the only mass produced new production car to be sold for under £100, a trend that would re-emerge after the war.

The Australian’s got Ford Ute Coupe or the soft top version known as the ‘plumbers mate’Revised again in 1948 the Anglia E494A maintained the ‘lowest UK priced car’ label but due to export quotas home buyers found it very difficult to obtain one even if they had the £309 purchase price. Into the 1950s even the government realised that the home market needed to be fulfilled, after five years of war followed by another 8 years of austerity the late used car market didn’t exist anymore. Ford de-trimmed the E494A, fitted a slightly larger engine and brought out the 103E Popular in 1953 and priced at £390 including tax it offered a new car for used car money; this ensured motorists would ‘sit up and buy’. Options included a choice of four colours and a second windscreen wiper, also supplied without indicators; hand signals only.

Better than Buying Used

The Pop came minus any dash just a sheet of painted steel fitted with dialsFord began production later in 1953 at Dagenham and this continued until 1955 when it was transferred to the recently acquired Briggs Motor Bodies in Doncaster where it remained until 1959. Briggs had been building bodies for Ford as well as other manufacturers since 1930 (including Riley and Jowett) and they even had a factory in Dagenham; of the 155k Popular’s assembled, 63500 left the Carr Hill Plant in Doncaster. So what did the discerning motorist get for under £400; well it was more a case of what he didn’t get. No radio, no heater, no chrome trim, just painted bumpers and one In line four 1172cc side valve with single Zenith carb, performance figures are irrelevantvacuum powered windscreen wiper, smaller headlights and a non-opening windscreen. The interior trim screamed budget, the dash was a pressed steel panel and the soft furnishing mainly vinyl. However, you did get 17 inch wheels running cross-ply tyres and the chance to take four down to the coast as long as you weren’t in a hurry. Ford managed to provide transport for the masses at the right price.  It was also a good looking car, minus the luxuries but packed with character and still sought after today often by those who feel the desire to squeeze a V8 under the folding bonnet.

Still so Popular

Straps secure the lid and the fold down number plate allows travel loaded up with boot openOn leaving the garage we turned onto the main road through the town of Storrington and immediately people pointed and waved, some took snaps on their mobiles and the guy operating the car park barrier said that seeing the old Ford had made his day! We had only driven a few miles and the 1954 Popular had created more interest than any modern supercar could have; even though there was a small queue of traffic in the rear view mirror. ‘It takes a while to get up to speed’ reported current owner and my chauffeur for the morning Simon Pope. He had already mastered the three speed Dated maybe but a great looking car so treasured by ‘Hot Rodders’ few remain in standard formatgearbox that offers a rolling start in first and a medium jog in second but quickly into third the 61 year old Pop settled down and we made reasonable progress, albeit unlikely to get any Double sided bonnet opening and silver painted bumpers complete with space for starting handlekind of speeding ticket.

I must admit this little Ford was a joy to spend time in, saying that I think a few hours on a Bank Holiday Monday trip to the seaside may not be so pleasant. Simon is younger than most wizened classic enthusiasts, he appreciates the older car and enjoys learning the quirks and is able to adjust to driving accordingly. The Popular is compact to say the least but that was one of his reasons for the purchase; releasing the car from the confines of his garage took some manoeuvring with care which explains his original desire for an Austin Seven. Having owned several 70’s Ford’s including a Mark 1 Escort his new home in Sussex would not be able to accommodate a classic of such bulk. Previous owner Julian Hakes had drawn a list of tips and advice which Simon followed, including number 8 the cold starting procedure; ‘I normally do this from the passenger side with the window open’ he wrote. This offered a chance to feather the throttle and the choke sometimes susceptible to sticking can be positioned correctly, it worked and within a couple of minutes the 1172cc side valve was ticking over smoothly.

Popular 1st New Purchase

On the move the Pop looks great, at a speed the offers plenty of time to admireFord realised the used car market had become stagnant post war and Government restrictions when ‘selling on’ before three years ensured late low mileage used cars didn’t exist; especially when most new cars were shipped abroad. The Popular would go some way to getting the nation mobile again and this car would have left Dagenham and straight into the hands of Robert Charles Chappell on October 22nd 1954. The original buff logbook tells of a London car that moved to Lincolnshire after three years and remained with the same family until 1966 at least, passed down from father to son; there the trail stops. Future owner Julian Hakes was brought home from the maternity ward in his father’s Ford Popular and it was that same car he learnt to drive in. Julian was honest enough to admit it was also the first car he ever had an accident in. Years later and when living in London he had never felt the need to buy a car of his own but a visit to the Motor Show at Earls Court in 2005 changed all that.

Butler’s lights were not renowned for their brightness most folk drove on full beamThe Ford Sidevalve Owners Club had 649 XUE for sale on its stand, so not surprisingly it became Julian’s first car. Ironically the Popular’s new home was just across the Humber from its Lincolnshire abode, in Hull. Julian confirmed it had been looked after very well over the years, in very original condition and would stay that way in his custody. An internet advert in January 2015 took current custodian Simon on a treacherous journey north to see the Ford; thick snow and towing a trailer behind his Land Rover added to the saga. The new owner is thrilled with his ‘Pop’ and Julian was happy that the car was going to a good home; the kind of classic deal we all enjoy. The future for this 57500 mile much loved Ford is bright, being pampered and driven with care it may well be around in another sixty years; not bad for the worlds cheapest new post-war car.

Ute Beauty

Versions of the Pop were made available for the Australian market and one achieved particular success, the coupe pick up or Ute with a bench seat and shelf behind.  It was capable of carrying 5CWT; a very stylish but extremely rare car today. Chassis and scuttles were shipped down under and assembled as the 103E Roadster Utility or ‘Plumbers Mate’. A step side, soft top pick up along with a two door coupe version of the saloon, both wore the Anglia badge.

Ford Popular 103E 1954 Specification

  • Engine: Four in line side valve 1172cc cast iron block and head
  • Transmission: Three forward speed manual and RWD
  • Fuel: Single Zenith carburettor 8.4 gallon tank 36MPG
  • Brakes: Mechanical drums all round
  • Performance: 30bhp 0-50mph 24secs Top speed 60mph
  • Suspension: Semi elliptic leaf springs fr & rr
  • Weight: 1624lbs Length: 12ft 8in Width: 4ft 8in