The Eifel was a modernised German version of the 10hp Model C Ford, built in Cologne. Jon Pressnell samples the only example in Britain, and is pleasantly surprised.
You can bet that more than a few Ford enthusiasts have done a double-take when seeing the 10hp Ford of London taxi-driver Jim Miles. It looks at first glance like a Model C, but then you notice the duo-tone paint, the elegant V8-like front, the pressed-steel wheels – oh, and the built-out boot. A clever custom? Not a bit of it: Jim’s car is a German-made ‘C’, as produced at Ford’s Cologne works from 1935-’39. That makes it a real rarity: barely 200 are thought to survive, and this is the only British-domiciled example.
Ford had begun assembly in Berlin in 1926 and, as part of its plans for an integrated European operation, had opened a large factory in Cologne in 1931 – just in time for the early-’30s depression. Sales of the big Model A plummeted, and only barely recovered with the Model B. As in England, the modest 933cc Model Y was seen as the plant’s saviour: assembly of CKD kits from Dagenham started at the beginning of 1933.
This was purely a stop-gap, as ever more draconian import restrictions meant that Ford had to source everything it could from within Germany rather than assembling parts brought in from Dagenham, as it wished. The sums didn’t add up. But to stay in the market, management in Dearborn had to accept German manufacture of everything from the body to the engines. The result was the Ford Köln – built between 1932 and ’36. Home-market sales in that period were a paltry 6500 or so cars, out of a total production quoted as 10,050 or 11,121, so the German-flavoured ‘Y’ – available as a saloon, a soft-top and a cabriolet – can hardly be counted a success.
Perhaps the cheap Opel P4 was too serious a competitor. But whatever the reasons, the German 10hp Model C entered production in 1935 – and soon displaced the Köln. Called the Eifel, the Cologne-built ‘C’ was offered only as a two-door. In compensation, body styles encompassed a saloon and a typically German convertible-top saloon (by Drauz), plus a drophead (by Gläser for 1935-’37 and by Deutsch thereafter) and a roadster by Stoewer (1936), by Ford itself (1937) or by Karmann, which made more than 1000 such bodies from the 1938 model-year onwards. There was also a van, while German expert Wolfram Düster has recorded 15 different coachbuilders who gave the Eifel special bodywork.
Local content was calculated at 99.6%. This was good enough for Reichsmarshall Hermann Göring, the strutting Nazi supremo buying himself a cabrio-saloon at the 1936 Berlin motor show – ahead of the Eifel’s 1937 certification as being of fully German origin and thus entitled to carry the Deutsches Erzeugnis (‘Made in Germany’) badge. By 1938 Ford had climbed to fourth in the German market, behind Opel, DKW and Mercedes – albeit with a market share of 11%, well below Opel’s 40%.
At first the Eifel resembled its British progenitor, but for 1937 it gained a restyled front modelled on that of the Model 62 V8. At the same time it was given 16in pressed-steel wheels in place of the previous 17in wires, and that built-out boot. The new front brought with it an alligator bonnet with the side panels rising with the lid, but for 1938 the side panels were fixed – making access to some components less than easy. Electric wipers also made an appearance, in place of the legendarily dreadful vacuum-operated items British sidevalve Fords had to suffer. These various titivations at least modernised the car a little, while Ford tried to amortise its investment: it should be remembered that in March 1937 Dagenham had replaced its ‘C’ with the more up-to-the-moment 7W model.
A founder-member of the Ford Y & C Model Register, Jim Miles found his 1937 Eifel seven years ago, at a Danish classic car dealer. It was sound but pretty rough, having been owned for many years by a local farmer, who only sold the car when he went into an old people’s home: “It had VW Beetle bumpers, big orange flashers, holes drilled in the bulkhead for heater hoses, and the interior had been covered in emulsion paint to make the cloth look like ’50s Bakelite. The farmer had also welded a tin panel over the fabric centre section of the roof, and smothered it with filler. I had to chisel all that off.”
As he examined the car, Miles made other discoveries: “Behind one quarter-panel trim at the front I found a pair of underpants, and on the other side a load of beer-bottle tops, and when I ran my hand around the boot, right at the top a puncture-repair tin was tucked away – inside were a couple of French letters. Hidden away as all this was, I reckon the farmer used the car for his illicit trysts.”
Whatever the Ford’s colourful past, it probably hadn’t done a huge mileage because there was still enamel to be seen under the wings. With parts supplied by the register, restoring the mechanicals was straightforward.
Thankfully the steering needed little attention, because it would have been a challenge to find a replacement left-hand-drive box. Miles drew a blank with the bumpers and has used period Wilmot-Breeden accessories for a Model C, these being as close as possible to the original unribbed German items. The Eifel and Deutsches Erzeugnis badges came from Wolfram Düster, while the brightwork on the bonnet sides is adapted from 2CV door trim-strips. The two-tone paint is correct, being a standard finish for ’37-on Eifels, and Miles has no qualms about the whitewalls because a catalogue shows an Eifel so equipped.
With the Eifel being largely re-minted Model C, the driving experience is familiar. The wide-track ‘C’ has always felt bigger and more mature than the narrow-gutted 8hp Model Y, and the Eifel has a further veneer of refinement thanks to its double-acting dampers: over poor surfaces the car is less abrupt and less prone to pitch. “The Y bounces all over the place,” says Miles. “This is more like a modern car – you don’t have to avoid all the holes in the road.” Helping things is nicely set-up steering that has just the right amount of lost movement at the straight-ahead and is pleasantly light at low speeds.
As ever, the Ford is handicapped by its three-speed gearbox. The gap between the low-ish second and the relatively high top means you need to hang on to the revs in second, and if you’re not careful the loose-limbed lever has popped out of gear before you’ve slotted it into third. Still, at least the synchro is more than reasonable – don’t rush, and you won’t snick the gears – and the clutch is smooth and light.
Master the rhythm and you keep with traffic, with the engine surprisingly sweet at an easy 35-45mph. Pile on the speed and it becomes thrummy, but once momentum has been achieved you can back off and refinement returns. Just don’t expect brakes of Morris Eight hydraulic standard. The Ford’s cable-operated system serves up a long travel at the pedal and a soggy response: although the brakes do slow the car, they are never hugely reassuring.
In the context of late-’30s Germany, the Eifel must have done an honourable enough job. It was a clear step up from the two-stroke DKWs, could make a fair fist of competing with the monocoque but crash-gearbox Opel Kadett, and slotted in neatly below the measurably superior front-wheel-drive Adlers.
Given that the operation was so economically marginal, the chaps at Ford’s Köln works must have been reasonably satisfied with the 61,500 or so Eifels they churned out – ahead of the 47,560 fully built Model Cs and CXs that Dagenham produced. Indeed, you could say that without the Eifel the German arm of Ford would never have got off the ground. Put another way, it helped lay the foundations for Ford-Europe.
This article was originally published in the September 2006 issue of Classic & Sports Car magazine, which retains the copyright to all words and images.
Words: Jon Pressnell; pictures: Tony Baker