Ford V8

The man who saved the Ford V8

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All Ford V8 fans ought to take a moment to remember Chase Morsey.

It was Chase who, in April 1949, aged just 29, risked his career to convince Henry Ford II not to scrap the Ford V8 in favour of an all-six cylinder line up.

When Morsey joined Ford in 1948 as a trainee manager he was given Ford’s future product plans to review.

These plans had already been approved by the Board and Henry Ford II himself (also known as HF2 or Hank the Deuce) and implementation had already begun.

These plans called for Ford’s famous flathead V8 to be discontinued and replaced with a six cylinder motor across the Ford range, beginning in 1952.

There was no empirical evidence for this decision.

Ford V8

Chase Morsey

Ford’s senior executives, many of whom were ex-GM men hired by Hank, simply had a “gut feel” about it all.

And, because Chevrolet only used six cylinder engines at that time, they thought Ford should do the same thing.

Being a real car guy and having hot rodded flatheads in his teens, Morsey thought that getting rid of the V8 was a crazy idea.

He believed the V8 was part of Ford’s DNA and offering only a six would be a sales disaster.

So, working up the courage, he did what few others had ever done – he spoke truth  to power.  In this case, the power was Hank the Deuce.

More to shut him up than anything else, Ford’s senior management gave the young Morsey just three months to prove his claims . . . which he did.

So compelling was his consumer based, analytical research, and subsequent presentation to the boss that the V8 was reinstated.

Plus, Morsey was given a promotion and tasked with setting up a product planning department based on detailed research – no more “gut feel” planning in Ford.

When Chevrolet released the Corvette in 1954, some Ford managers wanted to make a similar car.

Morsey thought differently.

His new department identified a much bigger and more profitable market for a luxury sporty automobile for which he invented the term “personal car”.

It became the Thunderbird.

Ford V8

Top down . . . a 1955 Ford Thunderbird.

He was instrumental in the consumer-driven development of the 1957 Ford which was so successful it came within a couple of hundred cars of beating Chevrolet.

Morsey was a member of Lee Iacocca’s legendary Fairlane Committee which identified the Mustang’s market potential and championed its development.

The research that Iacocca used to convince Hank the Duce to invest in the Mustang program emanated from Morsey’s department.

In 1964 Morsey was the boss of marketing the Mustang and developed the famed Six and the Single Girl advertisement.

It was ironic, given that he had advocated for the V8 15 years earlier.

Morsey later left Ford and opened his own Ford dealership.

Ford V8

Indy Testing in 1963 . . . Jim Clark sits in the car.

In 1970 he established his own oil company and was great mates with President Ronald Reagan.

Morsey passed away just last year, aged 96, leaving Iacocca and Hal Sperlich as the two surviving members of the Fairlane Committee.

His book, entitled “The Man Who Saved The V8”, is a must read.

And I’ll argue that Ford’s success in motor racing from the late 1950s right through to the 21st Century can be traced back to Morsey saving the Ford V8 from extinction.

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos.com.au


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David Burrell is the founder and editor of Retroautos.com.au, a free online classic cars magazine. David has a passion for cars and car design. He's also into speedway, which he's been writing about since 1981. His first car was a rusted-out 1961 Vauxhall Velox. Prior to starting the magazine, David worked as an international executive in a Fortune 500 company, in Australia, NZ, Asia, Latin America and the UK.