Ford’s Flathead V8 Fueled the Hot Rod Revolution
Due to its ready availability and relative stealth and speed, the Model 18 also found immediate success with bootleggers and gangsters, most famously with Bonnie and Clyde. Though some question its authenticity, a letter attributed to Barrow thanked Henry Ford for the V8’s contributions to his criminal success:
While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got ever other car skinned and even if my business hasen't been strickly legal it don't hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8.”
Clyde Champion Barrow”
Ultimately, the two would meet their end in a V8 Ford on May 21st, 1934 in Shreveport, Louisiana, when a posse of six lawmen ambushed the moving car, unloading more than 130 shots from various automatic rifles, shotguns, and handguns, stopping only when they’d run out of ammo.
Later, these early V8s would play an instrumental role in the dawn of hot-rodding, as soldiers returning from battle in WWII quickly snatched up what was then only a cheap, but fast, secondhand car. As these veterans and their friends quickly discovered, there was always more power and speed to be extracted from tinkering with fueling, exhaust, and by stripping away extra weight.
Soon, an entire industry sprang up around the scene to supply hot-rodders with aftermarket performance parts, fueling a tradition which lives on today in the garage workshops of millions of guys—and girls—equipped with old muscle cars, secondhand tools, and Jegs catalogs. This DIY culture of home-brewed performance eventually spilled over our borders, spreading across the globe as Europe, South America, Australia, and Japan each took hold of the hot-rodding bug, a worldwide phenomenon directly and inextricably linked back to Ford’s humble, bone-simple Flathead V8.