By on October 29, 2014

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.

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.

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.

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.

auto_motor_heater

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

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.

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.

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

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33 Comments on “A Couple of Octogenarian Survivors: Bruce Thompson and His 1930 Model A...”


  • avatar
    petezeiss

    “Fifty miles an hour! I thought that was unbelievable. It was very exciting,”

    Car guy.

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      Lots of stories as I had four different ‘A’ Model Fords and all of them did daily Yeoman Duty here in La La Land .

      The ’29 Tudor was a great primer , I slightly up graded the brakes as the original ” push & pray ” mechanical brakes were weighted 40 % front and 60 % rear bias so you didn’t lock up the front wheels on muddy dirt roads and uncontrollably slide into the ditch .

      This was easy to fix , just drill out the rivets and swap the rear actuating arms with the fronts .

      I also got rid of the terrible rollers on the ends of the brake shoes , replaced with ” floaters ” that are simply toggles holding the end of the shoes to the operating rod instead of the wedge , rollers, ramps and other overly complicated poorly designed brake parts inside the hub .

      At that time , in 1977 (IIRC) there was still one old Woman who worked as a mid wife , she drove her ‘A’ Model Tudor to the occasional home birth she attended ~ she lived off Figeuroa St. right at the corner of Av. 52 or perhaps Av. 53 in Mount Washington , one day I went by and the roof had burned off her house , I never saw her again .

      Henry believed in simple , durable , ” idiot proof ” automobiles so they were built with top quality raw materiels if kinda of basic and stodgy engineering . this is why there are so many left , both Survivor and restored : the raw materiels didn’t wear very much .

      Vanadium Steel was used along with high nickle content cast iron .

      Really good hard woods too in the bodies .

      Oops ~ time to get back to work .

      You can’t put a big torquey engine into an A – Bone because the frame is designed to flex like a stripper ~ you have to replace the frame or box it before it’ll drive decently .

      -Nate

  • avatar
    -Nate

    VERY nice ! .

    My first ‘A’ Model Ford was also a Tudor Sedan , it too was a survivor with 72,000 miles although not nearly as nice as this one , it had been a movie car since the 1950’s and still sported the original pant and top

    This was in the late 1970’s , I used it as my daily driver for several years in Los Angeles .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      petezeiss

      “I used it as my daily driver for several years in Los Angeles .”

      You’re the only guy on all the interwebs I would believe about that.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        I never quite understand why some folks don’t think oldies can handle daily driving ~

        The roads are far better as is the oils & greases , rubber in the tires and fan belts etc.

        When I had that very first ’29 Tudor , I lived in Highland Park and SWMBO worked in The Arco Towers in Down Town L.A. , every morning I’d load her up and rattle down the Pasadena Freeway @ 50 ~ 55 MPH and stop in front of her building to let her pout , all the traffic stopped and folks honked & waved , I’d crank it up and putter out to Montery Park where I was working in an Indie VW garage .

        Folks always look amazed when I show up 2,000 miles from home in some old thing , I tell them ” it’s the same as driving to and from work 200 times , all at once ” .

        Once the brakes are set up properly and over drive added , the ‘A’ Model will happily cruise along @ 80 MPH , when faced with _really_ steep Highway hills , you simply ascend them in second gear overdrive @ 55 MPH .

        -Nate

        • 0 avatar
          petezeiss

          Are they mechanical brakes on that Tudor?

          I’m a slow driver anyway so brakes would be my main concern with taking such an old car out into traffic.

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            Yes and when in good shape and properly adjusted they’ll easily stop the car from 45 MPH on clean & dry pavement .

            Most of the ” restored ” ones I see , have wobbly & loose linkages and the various pivot points must *ALL* be carefully adjusted they they are just reaching a 90° angle as the brakes take up .

            This is the same as in old Motos ~ a simple adjustment gives a HUGE improvement and better safety too .

            Lunch time ! the Boss is taking us out for BEER & SAUSAGES ! German no less .

            -Nate

        • 0 avatar
          pragmatic

          I remember about 15 years ago driving up 3rd Avenue. Made the right on 96th Street to get on the FDR as I approached the FDR a 1926 Buick (according to the plate surround) pulled in front of me. The car was well worn and only had a single rear light with STOP cast into the glass. The driver took it onto the FDR (keeping up with the traffic) got off to go to the Bronx (Madison Avenue Bridge). I continued to the GW. This all happened late (11pm) on a Friday evening.

    • 0 avatar
      PonchoIndian

      Nate
      Any good stories related to daily driving these?

      I followed the guy online who drove his for 365 days. This is something I’d love to do and write about. I might pick something a few years newer however, but nothing post WWII.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        Lots as I had four different ‘A’ Model Fords and all of them did daily Yeoman Duty here in La La Land .

        The ’29 Tudor was a great primer , I slightly up graded the brakes as the original ” push & pray ” mechanical brakes were weighted 40 % front and 60 % rear bias so you didn’t lock up the front wheels on muddy dirt roads and uncontrollably slide into the ditch .

        This was easy to fix , just drill out the rivets and swap the rear actuating arms with the fronts .

        I also got rid of the terrible rollers on the ends of the brake shoes , replaced with ” floaters ” that are simply toggles holding the end of the shoes to the operating rod instead of the wedge , rollers, ramps and other overly complicated poorly designed brake parts inside the hub .

        At that time , in 1977 (IIRC) there was still one old Woman who worked as a mid wife , she drove her ‘A’ Model Tudor to the occasional home birth she attended ~ she lived off Figeuroa St. right at the corner of Av. 52 or perhaps Av. 53 in Mount Washington , one day I went by and the roof had burned off her house , I never saw her again .

        Henry believed in simple , durable , ” idiot proof ” automobiles so they were built with top quality raw materiels if kinda of basic and stodgy engineering . this is why there are so many left , both Survivor and restored : the raw materiels didn’t wear very much .

        Vanadium Steel was used along with high nickle content cast iron .

        Really good hard woods too in the bodies .

        Oops ~ time to get back to work .

        You can’t put a big torquey engine into an A – Bone because the frame is designed to flex like a stripper ~ you have to replace the frame or box it before it’ll drive decently .

        -Nate

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        Lots of stories as I had four different ‘A’ Model Fords and all of them did daily Yeoman Duty here in La La Land .

        The ’29 Tudor was a great primer , I slightly up graded the brakes as the original ” push & pray ” mechanical brakes were weighted 40 % front and 60 % rear bias so you didn’t lock up the front wheels on muddy dirt roads and uncontrollably slide into the ditch .

        This was easy to fix , just drill out the rivets and swap the rear actuating arms with the fronts .

        I also got rid of the terrible rollers on the ends of the brake shoes , replaced with ” floaters ” that are simply toggles holding the end of the shoes to the operating rod instead of the wedge , rollers, ramps and other overly complicated poorly designed brake parts inside the hub .

        At that time , in 1977 (IIRC) there was still one old Woman who worked as a mid wife , she drove her ‘A’ Model Tudor to the occasional home birth she attended ~ she lived off Figeuroa St. right at the corner of Av. 52 or perhaps Av. 53 in Mount Washington , one day I went by and the roof had burned off her house , I never saw her again .

        Henry believed in simple , durable , ” idiot proof ” automobiles so they were built with top quality raw materiels if kinda of basic and stodgy engineering . this is why there are so many left , both Survivor and restored : the raw materiels didn’t wear very much .

        Vanadium Steel was used along with high nickle content cast iron .

        Really good hard woods too in the bodies .

        Oops ~ time to get back to work .

        You can’t put a big torquey engine into an A – Bone because the frame is designed to flex like a stripper ~ you have to replace the frame or box it before it’ll drive decently .

        -Nate

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        Lots of stories as I had four different ‘A’ Model Fords and all of them did daily Yeoman Duty here in La La Land .

        The ’29 Tudor was a great primer , I slightly up graded the brakes as the original ” push & pray ” mechanical brakes were weighted 40 % front and 60 % rear bias so you didn’t lock up the front wheels on muddy dirt roads and uncontrollably slide into the ditch .

        This was easy to fix , just drill out the rivets and swap the rear actuating arms with the fronts .

        I also got rid of the terrible rollers on the ends of the brake shoes , replaced with ” floaters ” that are simply toggles holding the end of the shoes to the operating rod instead of the wedge , rollers, ramps and other overly complicated poorly designed brake parts inside the hub .

        At that time , in 1977 (IIRC) there was still one old Woman who worked as a mid wife , she drove her ‘A’ Model Tudor to the occasional home birth she attended ~ she lived off Figeuroa St. right at the corner of Av. 52 or perhaps Av. 53 in Mount Washington , one day I went by and the roof had burned off her house , I never saw her again .

        Henry believed in simple , durable , ” idiot proof ” automobiles so they were built with top quality raw materiels if kinda of basic and stodgy engineering . this is why there are so many left , both Survivor and restored : the raw materiels didn’t wear very much .

        Vanadium Steel was used along with high nickle content cast iron .

        Really good hard woods too in the bodies .

        Oops ~ time to get back to work .

        You can’t put a big torquey engine into an A – Bone because the frame is designed to flex like a stripper ~ you have to replace the frame or box it before it’ll drive decently .

        -Nate

  • avatar
    mtr2car1

    I hate the term “bucket list” but owning a Model A feels like something I need to do.

  • avatar
    challenger2012

    My grandfather was born in 1898 and later became a state licensed Auto mechanic. He got his training at Pierce-Arrow, in Buffalo, New York. I remember his stories about working on cars. He would refer to a Ford, not as a car, but as to the man, Henry Ford. I remember one time my grandfather telling me that Henry could never build good brakes. Maybe someone should ask Mr. Thompson, how good his brakes are to verify if my grandfather was correct. By the way, my grandfather never owned a Ford, always a GM or Chevy truck. But I sure wouldn’t mind owning this Ford, no matter what he said.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    I’d swap in an LS6 and M12 6-speed from a junked 2002-04 Z06 Corvette and surprise a few folks!

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    Survivor cars are way more interesting than anything restored. I also have a soft spot for survivors. It proves that nearly anything can last if you take care of it, even just a little bit.

    There’s a car lot near me who seems to have a knack for finding survivors. Mainly he sells stuff for 2995 and under. Many are old Mopars of various ages, as the dealer seems to be a Mopar lover. But usually there’s a survivor of any make or model in need of a new home and TLC. I looked at an AMC (Renault) Alliance convertible there once.

    The last one that piqued my interest was an 86+ Buick LeSabre coupe. Base model, not a T-type or anything. I liked the styling of those cars, especially the hood hinged at the front and not the back. Only 46k or something less than that. Before that, it was a basic mid 80’s Lebaron coupe with 35k on it. Again, the car your grandmother or aunt would have been sold on in the mid 80’s.

    Great story and a great piece of history here, both the guy and the car.

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      FOURTH TRY ! :

      Lots of stories as I had four different ‘A’ Model Fords and all of them did daily Yeoman Duty here in La La Land .

      The ’29 Tudor was a great primer , I slightly up graded the brakes as the original ” push & pray ” mechanical brakes were weighted 40 % front and 60 % rear bias so you didn’t lock up the front wheels on muddy dirt roads and uncontrollably slide into the ditch .

      This was easy to fix , just drill out the rivets and swap the rear actuating arms with the fronts .

      I also got rid of the terrible rollers on the ends of the brake shoes , replaced with ” floaters ” that are simply toggles holding the end of the shoes to the operating rod instead of the wedge , rollers, ramps and other overly complicated poorly designed brake parts inside the hub .

      At that time , in 1977 (IIRC) there was still one old Woman who worked as a mid wife , she drove her ‘A’ Model Tudor to the occasional home birth she attended ~ she lived off Figeuroa St. right at the corner of Av. 52 or perhaps Av. 53 in Mount Washington , one day I went by and the roof had burned off her house , I never saw her again .

      Henry believed in simple , durable , ” idiot proof ” automobiles so they were built with top quality raw materiels if kinda of basic and stodgy engineering . this is why there are so many left , both Survivor and restored : the raw materiels didn’t wear very much .

      Vanadium Steel was used along with high nickle content cast iron .

      Really good hard woods too in the bodies .

      Oops ~ time to get back to work .

      You can’t put a big torquey engine into an A – Bone because the frame is designed to flex like a stripper ~ you have to replace the frame or box it before it’ll drive decently .

      -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      jimbob457

      Enjoyed your comments, esp. your interesting mention concerning the Renault Alliance. Not a bad car in its day, and it actually sold pretty well in the US for a while.

      Trouble was that it could not be sold as a Renault since that company had earlier ruined its US reputation by selling junk. Neither could it be sold for long as an AMC since that company was seen as a soon-to-be orphan.

      The car business is pretty complicated. Just having the better mousetrap may not be enough.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        I know everyone hates Renaults and i know why having worked in an Inde French Garage (mostly Peugeots) .

        However in 1973 or so I paid $75 for a 1963 (?) Dauphine Sedan , it was a nice little car that’s only real fault was the wretched ” Ferlic Clutch ” ~ an electro – magnetic thing that was hooked to the throttle linkage and the field circuit of the generator…..

        Tom McCahill said it was great , I never got it to work right and the one ex Renault Dealer mechanic I met , told me it was impossible to make right .
        Who knows ? .

        -Nate

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Where did my comments go ? THIRD TIME ! :

    Lots of stories as I had four different ‘A’ Model Fords and all of them did daily Yeoman Duty here in La La Land .

    The ’29 Tudor was a great primer , I slightly up graded the brakes as the original ” push & pray ” mechanical brakes were weighted 40 % front and 60 % rear bias so you didn’t lock up the front wheels on muddy dirt roads and uncontrollably slide into the ditch .

    This was easy to fix , just drill out the rivets and swap the rear actuating arms with the fronts .

    I also got rid of the terrible rollers on the ends of the brake shoes , replaced with ” floaters ” that are simply toggles holding the end of the shoes to the operating rod instead of the wedge , rollers, ramps and other overly complicated poorly designed brake parts inside the hub .

    At that time , in 1977 (IIRC) there was still one old Woman who worked as a mid wife , she drove her ‘A’ Model Tudor to the occasional home birth she attended ~ she lived off Figeuroa St. right at the corner of Av. 52 or perhaps Av. 53 in Mount Washington , one day I went by and the roof had burned off her house , I never saw her again .

    Henry believed in simple , durable , ” idiot proof ” automobiles so they were built with top quality raw materiels if kinda of basic and stodgy engineering . this is why there are so many left , both Survivor and restored : the raw materiels didn’t wear very much .

    Vanadium Steel was used along with high nickle content cast iron .

    Really good hard woods too in the bodies .

    Oops ~ time to get back to work .

    You can’t put a big torquey engine into an A – Bone because the frame is designed to flex like a stripper ~ you have to replace the frame or box it before it’ll drive decently .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    -Nate

    FOURTH TRY ! :

    Lots of stories as I had four different ‘A’ Model Fords and all of them did daily Yeoman Duty here in La La Land .

    The ’29 Tudor was a great primer , I slightly up graded the brakes as the original ” push & pray ” mechanical brakes were weighted 40 % front and 60 % rear bias so you didn’t lock up the front wheels on muddy dirt roads and uncontrollably slide into the ditch .

    This was easy to fix , just drill out the rivets and swap the rear actuating arms with the fronts .

    I also got rid of the terrible rollers on the ends of the brake shoes , replaced with ” floaters ” that are simply toggles holding the end of the shoes to the operating rod instead of the wedge , rollers, ramps and other overly complicated poorly designed brake parts inside the hub .

    At that time , in 1977 (IIRC) there was still one old Woman who worked as a mid wife , she drove her ‘A’ Model Tudor to the occasional home birth she attended ~ she lived off Figeuroa St. right at the corner of Av. 52 or perhaps Av. 53 in Mount Washington , one day I went by and the roof had burned off her house , I never saw her again .

    Henry believed in simple , durable , ” idiot proof ” automobiles so they were built with top quality raw materiels if kinda of basic and stodgy engineering . this is why there are so many left , both Survivor and restored : the raw materiels didn’t wear very much .

    Vanadium Steel was used along with high nickle content cast iron .

    Really good hard woods too in the bodies .

    Oops ~ time to get back to work .

    You can’t put a big torquey engine into an A – Bone because the frame is designed to flex like a stripper ~ you have to replace the frame or box it before it’ll drive decently .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    sirwired

    What’s that tool on the far-left of the center panel of the display? And I’m also curious about the silver-colored one that looks like a small bee smoker. (The rest are pretty easy to figure out…)

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      The vertical tool is the folding jack handle .

      The horizontal silver thing is the grease gun .

      On the left panel you’ll see a small adjustable ‘ Monkey ‘ wrench , it has ” FORD ” casted into it’s handle but what makes it a Gen-I-U-Wine ‘A’ Model adjustable wrench if the square ‘ spud ‘ on the very bottom end of it , this was used to adjust the water pump packing nut .

      The tire spoon isn’t a real ‘A’ Model one ~ they’re shaped differently and have a square hole broached in one end to fit the brake adjusters .

      I have a similar tool display I got for $10 at a Ford ‘T’ Model annual Club Swap Meet in Van Nuys at the old (now long gone) Chevy assembly plant on Van Nuys Blvd.

      The ‘A’ Model tire gauge has a circle around the 35 # mark on it’s dial and is *very* hard to find these days .

      -Nate

  • avatar
    petezeiss

    All Right!

    TTAC, Now With MOAR NATE!!

    Keep it comin’ =:-D

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Note to Nate: Avoid words that contain “s*d”, like “sunny s*de of the street”, and “cons*deration”. I’ve come to the assumption that either the program was written by a guy named S*d, who included the hook as a joke or the code writer didn’t like a guy/boss named S*d.

    You may think that’s far-fetched, but I knew a code writer who wrote a text program that would insert (had a little lamb) automatically whenever anyone wrote the name Mary. He was fired, but it took months to find the code (he was really good).

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    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.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    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

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