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FOUR YEARS OF THE MODEL A FORD couldn’t match the Model T’s 19 years. But tidbits still abound. Here in Part 2, we continue with R&T’s February 1957 discussions, together with Peter Egan’s and my 1988 experiences.
Anything But Modern…. “The model A engine,” R&T said back in 1957, “has been praised and lauded to the skies, but it was anything but a modern design, even in 1927.” Its cooling was compromised by siamesed cylinder walls; water jacketing was skimpy. Its crankshaft was light and, as R&T observed, “They also predicted that the ultra-light pistons would collapse—which they frequently did.”
The Model A four-cylinder side-valve engine displaced 200.5 cu. in. (3287 cc), had a compression ratio of 4.4:1, and produced 40 hp at 2200 rpm. It had gobs of torque: 114 lb.-ft. at 1200. (R&T called it “ft-lbs.” in those days.)
A Farmer’s Tale. R&T cites, “One farmer found out some of the foibles of the machine when he lost the oil filler cap and stuffed a corn cob into the pipe to eliminate the fumes. This caused a pressure build-up which forced all the oil out the rear main bearing. Subsequently he suffered two complete engine bearing failures before the cob was discovered.”
A Used Car Dealer’s Tale. The 1930 Model A featured in R&T 1957 belonged to Claude Grow, a Burbank used car dealer. “He readily admits that he originally bought it for resale, but after it sat on his lot for a few days, it began to recall nostalgic moments,” R&T recounted.
“Restoration began,” R&T said, “but as work progressed the ultimate goal was set higher. No longer was it enough just to have a clean looking model A; Mr. Grow wanted the car, with every accessory available in 1930, to be flawless in the smallest detail.”
The sport coupe’s stylish canvas did not convert like a roadster’s. Rather, only its rear portion folded for ventilation and communication with rumble seat passengers.
The “Tuxaway” Top. Caught in the rain, Grow’s rumble seat passengers benefited from a Tuxaway top, its aftermarket nature something of a controversy among some concours judges.
Ride Not a Virtue. “With no suspension changes [in its 1934 variant],” R&T reported in its Classic Test, “the ride is as before—rather firm but satisfactory in the front seat. The rear seat passengers in sedans do not fare so well and are subject to severe pitching over moderate bumps.”
And, no doubt, rumble seaters fared even worse.
Peter Egan’s Model A Odyssey. In R&T March and April 1988, Peter Egan and his pal Chris Beebe reported on driving a restored Model A sedan from Wisconsin to California. Key stops along the way included Okemah, Oklahoma, home of folk singer extraordinaire Woody Guthrie. Peter subtitled the saga “A ballad of foggy mountain breakdowns, Oklahoma hills, and that ribbon of highway, played in four-five time, hummed in the key of A.”
“The Model A…,” Peter wrote, “struck me as looking just right, lean and flinty as Henry Ford himself and I felt the time had come to drive one.”
My Brief Model A Memories. We had the Egan/Beebe Model A around the offices for awhile. I enjoyed tooling around with it, though I respected Egan/Beebe expertise on a modest downhill after crossing the 405 next to South Coast Plaza: The Model A’s mechanical brakes, though likely in fine fettle, left something to be desired in terms of retardation.
I guess when most cars had mechanical brakes, it didn’t matter….
My own cross-country adventure came in a couple of years; see “From Sea to Shining Sea”—by Mini Moke. Its hydraulic brakes worked fine.
An Aircraft Analogy. Peter quoted author Richard Bach about old airplanes living forever. “The good ones—simple, honest designs—can be rebuilt over and over again.”
“The Model A, I think,” Peter said, “is like those old planes…. When Henry Ford built the Model A, he ignored his accountants’ pleas to use lower-grade materials and make the car cheaper…. Ford was a visionary who wanted to build something permanent, a machine with lasting worth and value.”
“After all these years,” Peter concluded in 1988, “the vision is still a good one and the Model A remains a fine car. Like a Woody Guthrie song or a good guitar, it doesn’t get old, it just gets better.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2023
One of the foolish co$t cutting measures Ford did was to not use a balanced crankshaft ~ under acceleration they didn’t vibrate much but letting up on the accelerator button at 40MPH *instantly* made the entire car buzz with vibration .
The simply fix was to install a ‘C’ Model crank, don’t get me started on ‘there ain’t no ‘C’ model’ .
I remember that Peter Egan article, that car wasn’t restored, it was a hot mess with connecting rods installed backwards and whomever assembled the engine didn’t know the standard and easy tricks to prevent head gasket failures and oil weeps & seeps from same .
‘A’ Model Ford brakes were designed for _dirt_roads_ with a 60 % bias to the _rear_ wheels to reduce front wheel lockup and skidding, this is another easy fix , the brakes in any properly set up ‘A’ will easily lock the wheels meaning; you can moderate them to the available tire traction .
The raw materiel and initial build quality was terrific and why so many are still around .
Did Model As retain the vanadium steel Model Ts used, and if so, as widely? Re: the crankshaft vibration, the Napier Six of the teens was so plagued. The company’s chief, the irrepressible Selwyn Edge, sold it by calling it the “power rattle.”
I don’t know enough about steel to know but I do know the materials used were top quality, far better than GM’s at the time .
Still life in the ol’ A bone. San Diegan Pete Aardema has twisted and tweaked to make it the basis of his 238mph salt flats racer.