Filed under: Early V8
What you see before you is something so incredibly rare that there doesn’t seem to be anyone alive that can actually tell us why it was made or for whom. It’s a 1940 Ford cutaway chassis and running gear that is owned and was restored by Rick Rennebohm of Whidbey Island, WA. Rick bought the enigmatic chassis on eBay in 2009 without knowing much about its history. He just thought it was cool… and had to have it.
Of course, as soon as he got the thing home and started restoring it he began to wonder just where in the hell it came from. The obvious place to start was Dick Pierson – the man he bought the chassis from. As it turns out, Dick bought the contraption from Iowa State University in 1994. A friend of a friend of his, Richard Grieve, was working with the school’s industrial engineering department in a space that had been recently abandoned by the university’s veterinarian school. Richard simply walked into the lab one day and the cut-away chassis was sitting innocently in a hall way.
Richard had owned a couple of 1940 Fords in the past and knew instantly what the chassis was and felt there had to be some importance to it. His first thought was that it belonged in a museum, so he called The Henry Ford Museum and pitched them on his new find. They claimed to already have one on premise and declined the opportunity.
A side note here… You would think the fact that The Henry Ford had a cut-away already would be a big break in this investigation. I mean, if they have one they, of all people, would know its history – right? Well, it’s turns out that The Henry Ford Museum does not have a 1940 Ford cut-away in their inventory. In fact, what they have is an Oldsmobile.
Anyway, after striking out with the museum suits, Richard decided to see if any local early Ford guys had interest. A friend of a friend hooked him up with Dick Pierson and Dick was able to buy the car from the University. Once Dick had the car, he cleaned it up a bit and showed it around the midwest. In 2007, he tried to get it into the Peterson Museum, but was rejected. He sold it to Rick soon after.
So we know the car was at one time owned by Iowa State University, but how in the hell did they get it? And why?
Again, we turn to Richard Grieve. Even though he has never owned the chassis, he’s been really instrumental in helping Rick trace its roots. Through some friends of his at ISU, he was able to get a hold of Loren Muench – a trainer and driver’s education instructor at the university that was employed by the school from the 1950’s well into the 1980’s. Loren claimed that he was very familiar with the chassis and that he had, in fact, used the chassis as a teaching tool starting in around 1957. They used the chassis for decades. Incredibly, Loren’s last memory of its usage was sometime in the 1980’s.
But the trail stops there. We know pretty firmly that ISU owned the cut-away as early as the mid-1950’s, but we don’t know how they got it, when/if Ford built it, and why… I called some pals of my own at The Henry Ford Museum and was greeted by a questioning silence of sorts on the other end of the phone.
“Where do you find this stuff Ryan? Hell, I dunno… We don’t have anything on it. Try… I just dunno.”
It’s my guess that this cut-away was created before the war by Ford and used as either marketing material or as an engineering study. Some folks have suggested that it could have been created later by the engineering school at ISU for a study or for other educational purposes. I’d buy that as well if it weren’t for one little piece of evidence. The serial number on the block is ★1 – which I’ve been told is a pre-production serial number. If this was created after 1940 and by someone other than Ford, I can’t imagine that a pre-production block would have been used. In my opinion, this thing was created by Ford.
When? Why? Beats the hell out of me.
Editor’s Note: Just a special thanks to Tom Davison for not only pointing this feature out to me, but also really going the extra mile to shoot it. Thanks Tom!