By on June 29, 2013

Tan Brown Model A Coupe Picture by Dave Hester

This year marks the 85th anniversary of the introduction of the Ford Model A. During the week of June 24th, over 800 of them descended on Lexington for the 2013 Model A Restorer’s Club (MARC) national meeting. Despite numerous storms that rolled through Central KY during the week, spirits were high and your humble author, a Chevrolet man through and through, learned a thing or two about the car that replaced the Model T.

Ford Model A Lexington 2013 Photo courtesy of Dave Hester

MARC was founded in 1952 in response to prejudice. In the early ’50s a Model A was just a used car. The organization’s chief founder, William Hall, started the club after being snubbed at an antique car meet where Model As weren’t allowed to park with the classics.

Green Model A Coupe Picture courtesy of Dave Hester

No one would deny a Model A owner the right to park front and center at a local cruise- in today, but there’s still a little bit of a chip on the shoulders of Model A enthusiasts. I mean that in a good way. The whole vibe of the event was one of blue-collar self-reliance and an overall feeling that if a blue- blooded automobile aficionado (as opposed to a simple “car guy” or “gal”) were to wander into the proceedings with high- falutin notions about 100- point level concours restorations and start bossing people around, that he or she would quickly be invited to commit an anatomically impossible act of sexual congress.

Not that any of the MARC members would put it in terms so blunt or insulting. And not that MARC doesn’t have any standards. There were no hot rods. MARC is for original (or original-ish) Model As. The popularity of the Model A for hot rodding enthusiasts over the decades has decimated the supply of “regular” cars.

Grey Black Pickup Picture courtesy of Dave Hester

There was still judging and inspecting to be had, for those that consider such things an amusement. There were flawless trailer queens that would satisfy the effete sensibilities of any blue- blooded aficionado, but there were as many and more drivers parked next to them in the parking lot across from the Lexington Hyatt.

Model A with map Picture courtesy of Dave Hester

It was hard to get even a semi- accurate count on the ratio of queens to drivers because even the queens were being driven. Sure, they’d been trailered to Lexington, but once the convention started they were being used to commute all over town.  One of the many wonderful things I learned in the short time I spent interviewing MARC members is that getting out and driving your Model A is expected. Touring is part of the appeal and being willing to drive a car  eight decades old hundreds of miles is considered normal, not nuts.

Chuck Brown Model A Picture courtesy of Dave Hester

Chuck and Harold, two MARC members from Ohio, were typical. Both of them had driven their Model As down. Chuck, who served as my Virgil and was willing to answer a lot of my stupid questions, had a brown 1930 Coupe. He’d owned it for four years and had kept it close to stock, even continuing to make do with the 6- volt electrical system instead of upgrading to 12- volt like many of his fellows. His car, which he’d paid $8,000 for, was in great shape, but not so great that he was afraid to enjoy it.

Harold worktruck Picture courtesy of Dave Hester

Harold’s pickup truck, a blue 1931 model,  was more worn because it had been much more used. A little battered and beat, with knobby blackwall tires that were half again as wide as the vintage tires on most of the trailer queens and a rubber bed mat the truck had been from Boston to San Diego over the years, but Harold had also used it as a farm truck for years before placing it into semi- retirement.

In order to get that much use out of an antique car a certain amount of leeway when it comes to keeping your Model A “stock” is to be expected. Walking up and down the rows of Model As I observed acknowledgement of reality: If an owner want to keep driving his old car and enjoying it to the fullest, he took full advantage of advances in technology.

It’s the simple things that you notice. A wire framed cup holder accessory that mounted to the dash was one of the most popular. The cars that had been converted to 12- volt electrical systems were easy to spot by the modern GPS units mounted to their windshields and plugged into jerry- rigged outlets.

Model A CHMSL Picture courtesy of Dave Hester

Concessions to safety, particularly the installation of center high- mounted stop lights in the rear windows, were also in abundance as were more CB radios than could be found in the parking lot at C.W. McCall concert. Most of the cars were still being stopped by drum brakes all around, although there were a few front disc conversions mixed in.

Not that there is really much you can do to improve the safety rating on an eighty year- old car. Some had lap belts installed, but with a fuel tank mounted right on the other side of a wafer thin dash, almost as many had fire extinguishers handy.

Model A with seat belts Picture by Dave Hester

The bigger threat that I could see to the Model As on display was time. Not for the damage that time could do to the cars. Anything damaged or destroyed by rust could be replaced, although I suppose at some point the owner would end up driving the automotive equivalent of George Washington’s hatchet. Time was doing a number on the enthusiasts themselves.

It’s been pointed out on this website before that automobile collecting is definitely an older person’s game. You need time and money to fiddle with old cars, neither of which is a luxury that a young person can afford. Attend any car show and the demographics always skew towards AARP membership instead of nursery school.

Black Red Model A Picture by Dave Hester

The MARC participants were still wrecking the curve. Other than a couple of younger guys who had trailered a car down for a friend, I didn’t see a single person under the age of sixty during the first four days I haunted the parking lot where the cars were parked.  Okay, maybe I’m taking a little bit of artistic license, but there were definitely no young families with kids that I could see. As I talked to the participants I thought I began to understand why.

I’m never been much of an antique car fan. I can regurgitate obscure facts about postwar classic cars, particularly GM iron from the ’50s and ’60s, all day long, but my knowledge of stuff from the nineteen aughts, ‘teens, and Roaring ’20s is severely lacking. I can pick out the highend stuff, like a Duesenberg, at fifty paces and I can recognize a Model T. But frankly the mid range Fords, Chevrolets, Buicks, Dodges, and other mainline cars all look alike to a member of Generation X. We (and the Millennials) are the ones with kids and we don’t get cars this old.

Green Model A Picture by Dave Hester

It’s because we don’t really have any personal connection to them. My grandfather’s first car was a 1929 Model A, a Coupe model with a rumble seat that he purchased new and eventually turned into a pickup truck. I don’t remember that car because it was sold in 1949 and replaced with a  dark green Chevrolet pickup before my father was born.

I remember the Chevrolet because it was given to Dad when Grandpa bought another new Chevrolet  in ’73. I can remember riding in it and through those memories I have a connection to cars of the ’40s and ’50s. I understand what motoring in that era meant because I experienced it dozens of times as a child.

I also have a  direct connection to cars of the ’60s and ’70s as well through my father. His first car was ’67 Mustang, so Dad was always pointing out early Mustangs and teaching me how to quickly identify the different years by looking at the shape (or lack) of the chrome trim behind the door.  The Mustang was traded for a ’73 Mercury Capri that I can also remember riding in. Beyond that, in 1989, my father purchased a ’69 Camaro, which he and I restored and which was eventually passed to me for a short while.

Black Model A Picture courtesy of Dave Hester

I also had it in my head that pre- war cars were fragile, delicate things. Their skinny wheels, thin fenders, and paper-thin bodywork project weakness to me, compared to models from the ’40s and ’50s with their bulbous fenders, long hoods, and trunks big enough to hold two to four dead gangsters depending on how you fold them.

If I had thought about it for half a second I would have known better. Given the comparatively sorry state of roads in the United States in the first third of the 20th century, those old cars were built pretty tough. The number of Model As at the MARC convention that had been driven there under their own power were a testament to that.

Blue Red Model A Picture by Dave Hester

The people keeping the Model A flame alive view the cars differently because, by and large, they are old enough to have seen and experienced the cars being used as more than “historic vehicles.” A septuagenarian I met named Duane had trailered his green with yellow trim 1931 pickup down from Illinois and admitted as we talked that he had abandoned FoMoCo for his daily drivers decades earlier after a bad experience with a Mercury. But he had learned to drive on a Model A pickup truck, and the one he was proudly showing around town was his second Model A truck of the same vintage of the one he’d first turned a wheel in as a boy.

Duane Green Truck Picture by David Hester

It’s that connection with the past that enthusiasts of my generation don’t have with cars as old as the Model A. You can only connect so much with something you don’t have a personal frame of reference to, particularly with a car like the Model A that doesn’t have a clear line of succession to a modern model the way a ’67 Mustang does.

With my story about the Model A about 85% written, I headed over to the parking lot one last time on Friday morning to take a few more pictures as the MARC participants were heading home. I had planned to close this piece on a downbeat with a nod to Brendan’s excellent piece from Tuesday about “Forever Cars.” I was going to make some sort of half- assed argument that the problem wasn’t that aren’t any “Forever Cars;” the problem is that there aren’t any “Forever People.”

There was only one Model A fixed up as a police car in attendance at the convention. I’d taken about a dozen pictures of it over the week, but I’d never run into the owner. As I rolled down the back row one last time, I finally did.

Model A Police Car Picture by Dave Hester

Mike was about my age and was loading up the car with his wife and two kids to drive 800 miles back to Kansas. He and his family had convoyed down with an older couple for the convention and they were headed back the same way. It would take them about three days. He’d owned the car for about a year and was still learning about its eccentricities. He admitted that the older enthusiasts knew a lot more about the cars than he did and could diagnose problems a lot quicker.

As Mike showed off the lights and sirens on his car for me, I realized that I was going to have to change a lot of what I’d written piecemeal over the previous two days. I’m perfectly okay with that. Happy endings are always better. Maybe Mike and his family are the exceptions that prove the rule when it comes to the aging of the Model A enthusiast base, but I choose to believe that they represent hope that there will always be a group of people shepherding Model As along our roads for the next 85 years.

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28 Comments on “I’m Here to Say, I Was Drivin’ that Model A: The 2013 Ford Model A Restorers’ Club National Meet...”


  • avatar
    50merc

    Good to read about the old stuff. But let’s be fair about that gas tank in the driver’s lap. It’s actually a safety measure to protect against Pinto-style fireballs!

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    My father, who’s first car was a Model “A”, thoroughly enjoyed this article… I did too.

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    You’re spot on about personal connections being behind the ever-changing tastes of ‘car collectors’ as a group. Its why – aside from certain ever-valuable models – the transaction prices of ‘everyday’ cars from the late 40s/early 50s have dropped while muscle car prices have risen unabated and cars once considered absolute scrap fodder like 70s VW Westfalias and early Toyota/Honda models are beginning to increase in value.

    V

  • avatar
    Windy

    Nice piece Dave, I would love to see you do a series on testing police cars of the different periods for the 50s of course it would need to be the highway patrol car from the Broadrik Crawaford. 50s TV show and the 30s a ford v8 is an obvious choice but with the connections of TTAC I expect you could hook up with a lot of fun examples of both prowl cars and interceptors

    I am someone with little exposure to the pre war cars but I confess a fondness of them the father of a friend when I was in my early teens had a nice collection of model A Fords and I can recall him saying that he could have the fun of restoring a dozen model As of various types for the cost of restoring just one AAAA true prewar classic like a big Packard or Cadillac.

    At about the same time (early 60s) the father of another friend had 6 or 7 of his choice of vehicle under restoration. Rolls Royce shooting brakes these were 20s 30s and 40s rolls Royce cars that when worn out were fitted with wooden station wagon bodies by several specialist builders in the UK and by the 60s they were clapped out and dirt cheap for him to track down in the UK and bring to his barn in Litchfield conn. he was originally a wood worker hobbyist by inclination so they really were just the right sort of thing for him to get involved in.
    Quite a few of them I bet (from the 20s esp) have been restored back to what ever coach work that they have started out with… I am thing of a silver ghost model and another would be his favorite which was built on a Phantom 2 .

  • avatar
    olddavid

    My memory of these cars was that they had cable brakes, not hydraulic. But I could be mistaken. Stopping distances in yards, not feet. But they would run at -30 as well as at +80, at which point clothespins were needed to dissipate heat to prevent vapor lock. Did the participants have to put additives in their cars to compensate for the ethanol content? The additional perspective regarding the age of the participants was a nice coda. Your ongoing growth as a writer will soon necessitate you changing your appellation from officer/writer to writer/officer. Now, will we see you at an ACLU convention?

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      The factory brakes were actuated by rods, not cables. Over the years some owners have retrofitted these cars with hydraulic brakes. I think someone sells a kit to do just that.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    These are gorgeous! I think absolute design went into the crapper after the thirties until the mid sixties. Even the pedestrian bread and butter cars were just brilliant.

    BTW Dave, what was the driving like? How does it compare to the modern car?

  • avatar
    Summicron

    Several of those have more colors on a single car than are offered across entire product lineups.

    Is this this entirely anachronistic to the era or were originals that varied?

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I do believe they were that varied, because after thirteen years of “give them any color as long as it’s (Japan) black” (Japan Black was the actual name of the color chosen, not because it was black, but because it was the fastest drying color and helped speed-up production) DuPont came out with a fast drying paint in any color, so Ford, once again, offered variety to a color-starved buying public

      • 0 avatar
        skor

        Yup, when the Model T went on sale, you could get it in various colors. As demand for the Ts increased, the primitive paints of the day caused bottlenecks in production. Black was the quickest to apply, so black it was….like it or not. After DuPont developed cheap, synthetic paint pigments, you could again buy a Ford in any color you wanted.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          The odd twist on this is up until the all black decision in 1913 you could get a Ford in various colors EXCEPT black, which was not a choice prior to 1913

          • 0 avatar
            50merc

            My Model A Town Sedan is much like the one shown in the second picture: green body, black fenders, lime wheels. All colors that were available from the factory in 1931.

            Chevrolets from that period were snazzier and sold as well, but relatively few have survived. GM was still using a lot of wood in the body structure. When the wood rotted, the car fell apart. The Model A is a tough car, well suited to an era of awful roads and slow speeds.

          • 0 avatar
            Summicron

            “an era of awful roads and slow speeds.”

            People were smarter back then. Now it’s awful roads, 300HP, an inch-thick strip of rubber around metal wagon wheels and 3″ of ground clearance.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    I’m more of a Model 40, a.k.a Model B, aficionado – It’s a bit more modern, with an 80 horse V-8 and the fuel tank relocated to the chassis.

    I don’t know if the Model A Club in Denver still does it – but they used to do a run to Leadville during the summer. – That’s a climb to 10,000 ft. above sea level. – It was quite a sight – to see all those Model A’s chugging through the mountains.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    That’s a really neat story, Mister Hester. I too am a Chevrolet (GM, really) fan, but I can appreciate these Model A’s, and other monumental Fords…like the 2013 Fusion. What makes me sad, though, is that today’s cars probably won’t be nearly so preservable as these early ones.

    But who knows? Maybe someone will invent a process that makes it economical and easy to make replacement computers for your eighty-year-old 2013 Fusion when the original computers inevitably go kaput…

    • 0 avatar
      Flybrian

      There is a cottage industry out there of folks who rebuild CRT displays and digital dashes for 1980s GM products like the Reatta, Riv, and Trofeo. Never say never.

  • avatar
    pentek

    Good writeup. Nice pics. Oh and since no one else mentioned it, I hadn to laugh at the Hot Rod Lincoln Reference.

  • avatar
    Scribe39

    What the h— is a Chevrolet man doing writing about Fords? Come to think about it, that’s a good idea. And make all the Ford men write about Chevrolets.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      It’s the 21st century. Ford and Chevy is a sibling rivalry.

      The real rivalry is GM, Toyota, and VW.

      I have to say that I like the One Ford vehicles quite a bit, though, and would own one voluntarily if I needed to own a new car for some reason.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Thanx David ;

    When I were a lad , ‘A’ Model Fords were _everywhere_ as $25 beaters and fully restored ones too .

    The mostly Elderly Club Members is because you were at a MARC Meet , MAFCA (my old club) has a very strong out reach to younger folks , even a free kids newsletter .

    I always loved ‘A Model Fords as a child and in time, owned four different ones , all made good daily drivers , commuters and work rigs in Los Angeles Metro area .

    The rod operated ” Push ‘N Pray ” brakes are actually pretty good when in good nick (a rare thing indeed) up to about 40 MPH , after that you need to up grade them to ” Brake Floaters ” the they’re quite good although you run out of tire adhesion for really fast stops after 60 MPH or so .

    The good thing is : they’re easy to maintain and parts are dead cheap .

    Overdrive is fairly easy to fit and results in easy 75 MPH cruising speeds , to climb hills @ speed , simply by pass or disconnect the governor and climb hills in 2nd gear overdrive .

    They drive very nicely but have heavy steering due to the worm & peg steering box , using a ’53 ~ ’56 F-100 steering box is the solution to smooth and light steering , most Hot Rodder’s toss this item in the scrap , making it cheap and easy to find .

    In time , my penchant for unsafe speeds caused me to sell my last one , I miss it still .

    For the record , I too am a Bow Tie Guy to my shoes .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    carr1on

    I recently inherited a ’29 Model A truck from my father. It runs (sometimes), but needs a lot work. I have fond memories as a child of him tinkering with it on weekends in his garage. He also loved to drive it in parades in my little home town in Oklahoma. Sometimes he would take us to drive-in movies, where he would back into the spot, hang the speaker on the bed railing, and we’d all lay in the truck bed watching the movie.

    It’s sitting in my garage now, with a stack of parts and manuals and tools that I have no idea what to do with. It’s like I’m paralyzed with fear: I don’t know where to start.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      There’s a Model A club in my town.

      I’ve talked to the Model A owner who lives across the street from me, and I bet a club like that love to help get you started.

      The Model A isn’t my thing (unless someone has an electric conversion kit), but I totally see how much fun it would be for other car guys.

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      Carrlon Wrote : I’m paralyzed with fear: I don’t know where to start.

      Easy ~ just like any old vehicle , oil change & basic tune up , get it running and then address the brakes , wheels & tires , then you can *gently* drive it ’round the block and keep the interest up whilst you address the rest of it , the weeps & seeps , dead speedometer , leaky water pump TIP : every time you park it , open the hood and push the fan _back_ until the shaft touches the inside , this will *instantly* stops the coolant drips .

      Along with the spare condenser , you’ll be wanting to carry some spare water pump packing ~ all hardware stores sell the thread typ of faucet stem packing . the square nib on the bottom end of the original ‘A’ Model adjustable wrench , is designed to adjust the packing nut , I always adjusted it with the engine idling ~ *just* enough so it isn’t dripping .

      Look through the boxes of parts & junk , in one should be a tire spoon with a square hole in one end , this is Unobtanium and is used to adjust the brakes .

      DO NOT mindlessly take it all apart ! this is how old cars get ruined .
      Have fun with it and teach your kids or the neighborhood kids what old car fun is all about .

      I miss my ’31 DeLuxe Dual Sidemount ‘A’ Model Pickup truck the most of all four of them .

      -Nate

  • avatar
    Andy D

    There is a guy grafting a 4 cylinder Ranger drive line into his Model A pickup. He posts his progress.

  • avatar
    v8-1

    Too bad Dave did not visit the “repair tent” at the MARC Meet, he would have seen why the Model A remains a favorite ….. everything on the chassis can be rebuilt and can be rebuilt by the owner.

    The utter simplicity of the Model A is why it made it through WW II and not scrapped as were most other brands.

    carr1on wrote: he did not know where to start on his AA truck restoration. Find a club in your area and ask them for a little guidance.


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