The Ford Popular was happy only on the crown of the road, and steering one was likened to stirring jam with a rubber spoon


The British must truly love their Fords, since the models produced after the end of World War II appear so frequently in popular media.

One definition of "icon" is a symbol conveying deep and complex cultural meaning. By that measure, the Ford Prefect, Popular, and Anglia must be considered icons, since they have been used in so many satirical forms as symbols of the great British middle class.

Slightly modify a Ford Popular and its anonymity made it the perfect vehicle to transport Dr. Who. Cast a magic spell on a Ford "notchback" Anglia in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," and it was perfectly suited to the head of the Weasley family, a mid-level clerk in the Ministry of Magic. A Ford Popular was also the proper transportation for the Monty Python series to spoof epic journey documentaries.

In their original incarnations, these cars were the transportation of choice of the growing British middle class after World War II. Their owners had the income necessary to afford a basic automobile, which placed them out of the laboring class, but they would never even dream of owning one of the sport or luxury cars that made the British auto industry known throughout the world.

Not intended for export

With their common-as-dirt characteristics, the Prefect, Anglia, and Popular were never intended for export, so we've seen very few on our shores until recently. Their tall grille, flanked by headlamps perched on the tops of the separate fenders, is often called the "sit-up-and-beg" style of automobile design, and was outdated in America only a year or two after their introduction in England in 1938.

The few that did appear in the United States, usually post-war Anglias and Prefects, were sought by hot rod builders since they were dirt cheap but still had the upright grilles that brought to mind pre-war American cars. The NHRA cutoff of 1948 made these Anglia and Popular two-doors naturals for stylish dragsters, although they were made until 1962. All the hot rod builders wanted was the lightweight body, anyway; the 1,172-cc flathead 4-cylinder engine, beam axles, transverse leaf suspension and mechanical brakes made the stock vehicle a liability on American roads. The Popular was finally dispatched in England by the revolutionary Mini, which debuted in 1959, even though it cost £399 ($1,000)-almost twice the venerable Popular's £215 ($537) selling price.

Editor Duchene recalls owning a 1948 Anglia back in 1980 with a 327 Corvette engine, 6-pack carburetor setup, tilt nose, with the not-so-subtle name "Old English" on the door in Gothic script. Unaccountably, this former C-Gas dragster was street-registered in Idaho, with green Perspex windows (which rendered all traffic lights white) and rear brakes only. At least the previous owner removed the Hilborn fuel injection, though it was still capable of an 11-second quarter mile at 121 mph. He eventually sold it before it killed somebody, most likely himself.

Many come from Canada

There's still a huge English cult group hopping up these "Dagenham Dustbins" as the British equivalent of American hot rods. Now, a few more stock cars are starting to trickle into North America, and they are showing up occasionally at U.S. British car field meets. Many of these may have come from Canada, where they were originally owned by sentimental English ex-pats who had brought them in when they emigrated or were assigned to government posts in Canada. Go to a British car meet in Victoria, British Columbia, for example, and you'll see 20 to 30 English Fords on the field. Victoria, "where old people go to visit their parents," as the Canadians say, is the perfect museum for these time machines.

Ford of England was founded in 1911 as part of the young Ford Motor Company's efforts to expand its technology and product reach overseas. Established as an independent company with its own manufacturing plants-first in Manchester and later in Dagenham-Ford of England did draw on the U.S. for technology, but was free to adapt and even design its own products to suit its own market, as it first did with the AF in the mid-1930s, a smaller variant of the 1933 and 1934 U.S. Ford.

Until the British auto industry fell on hard times in the 1960s, Ford of England was one of the major players in the home market, with sales exceeded only by Austin and Morris.

The first Ford Prefect-the E93A-was designed in 1938, right on the eve of the war with Germany. A four-door sedan, it was soon joined by a two-door version, dubbed the Anglia E03A, but the Dagenham plant was already being converted to aircraft production, so the tooling was shelved until 1946.

In 1948, the Prefect styling was updated somewhat, with the headlamps moved into the fenders as the four-door E493A, while the two-door Anglia E49A maintained its pre-war look.

Ford in the U.S. dropped the separate-fender body style in 1949, and by 1953, Ford of England followed suit, with a squared-off "three-box" design for the Anglia and Prefect 100Es, still using the model names to designate the two-door and four-door bodies.

Cheapest car in the world

However, there was still a huge demand for basic automobiles in Britain, and that's what they got. Touting it as the cheapest car in the world, Ford was able to produce a stripped-down "sit-up-and-beg" Anglia as the Ford Popular all the way into 1962. The desperate motorist who bought one, even in the final year, bought a tin box with no instruments other than a speedometer and gas gauge, one vacuum wiper, no heater, and six-volt electrics. The car was happy only on the crown of the road and steering one was likened to stirring jam with a rubber spoon. The brakes remained mechanical to the end.

Happily, the Anglia was updated for 1959, incorporating a reverse angle in the C-pillar and diminutive tail fins. At the same time, it finally got an excellent, oversquare 997-cc, overhead-valve engine to replace the prewar side-valve unit.

In 1962, the new Cortina finally put an end to production of the 100E Prefect.
Estimates of the value of these cars is difficult, since few of them have shown up at auction, except to say they're cheap. The vertical grilled versions produced right after WWII might have more cachet. Throughout pre-1953 Anglia production, there were a handful of rust-prone convertibles and even an Australian "ute" pickup version.

If you enjoy thumbing your nose at the MG/Triumph/Healey crowd and think even the Nash Metro is a little common, you can find a good restored Anglia or Popular in England that will be exempt from U.S. import and smog restrictions and cost well under $10,000, including shipping. Of course, then you'd have to drive it....

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