A Couple of Octogenarian Survivors: Bruce Thompson and His 1930 Model A

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber

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Still pretty spry and sharp in his 80s, Bruce Thompson remembers his first ride in a Model A. It would have been 1931 or 1932. He thinks he was four or five years old. A neighbor took him and his brother for a ride. “Fifty miles an hour! I thought that was unbelievable. It was very exciting,” he told me, his eyes lighting up as he remembered. In 1967 he bought his own Model A, a 1930 edition, from the original owner for just $750 dollars. That’s right, it’s a two owner 84 year old car in original condition. It has only about 24,000 miles on the odometer and Bruce still drives it, though not as regularly as he once did.

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There’s something about survivor cars, cars well driven and well loved, that speaks to me. Sure, restorations are nice, but today’s standards mean that a restored car is likely better than it was when it left the factory. Pristine, never registered time capsule cars, with their plastic seat covers and Cosmoline intact, are also fascinating. However, a car that has been driven contains memories of the people who drove it and were driven in it.

Mr. Thompson’s Model A is not a perfect car. The upholstery is worn in a couple of places but it’s so obviously original equipment that it’d be a shame to do anything but let it wear some more. Everything on the car is original, as it left the Ford Rouge plant: original paint, original top (many 1920s and early 1930s cars had tops covered with fabric or artificial leather), and that original interior. It still even has the original clutch and brake and their original linings. Even the spare tire is original, though I don’t know if it still contains original 1930 vintage air.

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Thompson also has the original equipment tool set and Model A “Instruction Book” that came with the car, now housed in a special display case.

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There is something, though, that isn’t original equipment on the car. Under the hood there’s an “Auto Motor Heater” made by the Bunsen Company of Denver. It’s a kerosene fired heater that was supposed to keep the engine warm on cold night to help with starting on cold mornings. My first thought was that it was likely to be a rare artifact since it seems to me that more than a couple likely burned up along with the cars they were keeping warm. However, it was advertised to be fireproof and appears to work similarly to flameless catalytic pocket warmers. Apparently enough have survived to now be valued by preppers and subsistence living enthusiasts since they can be used to heat a small space, assuming there’s ventilation. I’ve read that some people also used them to heat the interior of their cars in the days before engine coolant based heaters became standard equipment.

Still it’s easy to be concerned about safety when those instructions mention the use of asbestos sheeting.

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While the Auto Motor Heater seems to have been sold under a number of different brands, all of them seem to have been made by the Bunsen company. I haven’t yet been able to determine if that firm had any connection to Robert Bunsen and his famous laboratory burners.

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One thing that the Auto Motor Heater does have nothing to do with, the small, gasoline fueled furnaces best known from their use to heat air-cooled VW products, made by Eberspacher in Germany and Stewart-Warner/South Wind in the U.S. Writer Michael Lamm (without whom we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the 24 Hrs of Lemons lo-buck racing series since it was started by his son Jay) covered the history of the South Wind heaters for American Heritage magazine back in 1995. About three million heaters were sold by South Wind, enough so that vintage car enthusiast Larry Lewis remanufactures and refinishes them for folks looking for vintage accessories. Prices start at $200.

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Getting back to Mr. Thompson, I found him and his Model A Ford at the 2014 edition of Greenfield Village’s Old Car Festival. As is the practice at the Old Car Festival, Thompson was dressed in period clothing and he looked rather jaunty in straw hat and bow tie. He looked proud as Punch with his own old car as he posed next to it. When he bought the car in 1968 I’m sure it looked a bit anachronistic to see a young middle aged man driving such an old car (even though the 1930 Model A and Mr. Thompson are actually close in age). Now that he’s got some patina of his own, Thompson and his car are a matching set.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

Ronnie Schreiber
Ronnie Schreiber

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, the original 3D car site.

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  • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Oct 29, 2014

    The first, second, or third owners are the lucky ones. They get to drive these cars. After Mr. Thompson, this car will end up in either a private collection or a museum.

  • -Nate -Nate on Oct 29, 2014

    Oh no ~ I AM SO SORRY ! . I can't delete all the duplicate entries , mea culpa . I'll try to remember that good bit of spelling advice . BTW : 50 MPH in any year 'A' Model Ford is easy and fun . The ' thrilling ' (more like exciting as it's usually not much fun) part is when you do this in traffic and everyone else stops and you're either slowing down fairly quickly with the pedal down as far and hard as it'll go (most Owners) or , you're sliding along with three or four 2" wide tires firmly locked up and sliding on greasy pavement , not sure if you'll halt before you *smack* that vehicle in front of you..... (those who keep everything in proper adjustment . -Nate

  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X The push for EV's is part of the increase in our premiums. Any damage near the battery pack and the car is a total loss.
  • Geozinger Up until recently this was on my short list of cars to replace my old car. However, it didn't pass the "knee test" with my wife as her bad knee makes it difficult for her to get in and out of a sedan. I saw a number of videos about the car and it seems like the real deal as a sporting sedan. In addition I like the low price, too, but it was bad luck/timing that we didn't get to pull the trigger on this one.
  • ToolGuy I agree with everyone here. Of course there are exceptions to what I just said, don't take everything so literally. The important thing is that I weighed in with my opinion, which is helping to move things forward. I believe we can all agree that I make an important contribution (some will differ, that is their prerogative). A stitch in time saves nine. Life isn't fair, you know. I have more to say but will continue at our next meeting. You can count on that, for I am a man of my word. We will make it happen. There might be challenges. I mean, it is what it is. This too shall pass. All we can do is all we can do. These meetings are never really long enough for me to completely express all the greatness within me, are they? Let's meet to discuss. All in a day's work. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day. At the end of the day, I must say I agree with you. I think you will agree. When all is said and done, there is more said than done. But of course that is just one man's opinion. You are free to disagree. As I like to say...(I am working on my middle management skills -- how am I doing?)
  • Golden2husky Have to say he did an excellent job on the C7, especially considering the limited budget he was given. I am very happy with my purchase.
  • Marty The problem isn't range; it's lack of electricity in multi-unit building parking. All you need is level 1 - a standard 120v wall socket - and if you're plugged in 10 hours overnight you get 280 miles per week or more. That's enough for most folks but you can use public charging to supplement when needed. Installing conduit circuits and outlets is simple and cheap; no charge stations needed.