While all Ford woodies are popular, the most revered of all are certainly the Sportsman convertibles. The Sportsman was reportedly inspired by a Model A that Henry Ford II had built up with a wood body created by chief designer E.T. “Bob” Gregorie, for use at his Long Island home. In the early part of 1945, Gregorie and his lead illustrator, Ross Cousins, worked up drawings for a wood-bodied 1946 convertible. A prototype was built at Iron Mountain by taking the skin off an early production convertible and fitting wood in its place. Using standard convertible parts to the extent possible simplified manufacture and helped restrain costs.
Sportsman seats were upholstered in genuine leather facings in tan or red, with French stitching. The front floor mats had color-keyed carpet inserts, and power windows were standard. Announced in September, the first Sportsman was completed in December 1945 and presented to actress Ella Raines at Christmas. In all, 3,629 were built over three years, including 205 Mercurys for 1946 only.
From January 1947, all cars were designated ’47s, Model 79A, and were given serial numbers accordingly. There was, however, no change in the cars’ appearance. In April, Ford rolled out new “spring models.” Keeping the same 79A model nomenclature, they had new round parking lamps below the headlights and a new hood medallion. The hub cap design, too, was changed, as were the bumper guards. Gone were the red accents. Early experience with the Sportsman had shown that the crosspiece on the trunk lid, mounted high, where the lid was almost horizontal, collected water, to its detriment. For 1947 the crosspiece was lowered somewhat and beveled on its upper edge, to better shed moisture.