I’ve always managed to find opportunities to drive, ride, fly or float interesting vehicles. Some beautiful, some fast, many unique- but each was a hoot in its own way. One thing I’d never experienced was a true “antique” car, something from the earliest days of motorized transportation. While not quite as old as the beginning of cars, my neighbor’s 1930 Ford Model A is a fine example of our earliest days of automobile mass production, and a seriously cool car. Needless to say, I jumped when John offered a ride!
Walking around the car, the beautiful tan body sits above flowing black fenders and running boards. Skinny tires on bright red spoke wheels complete the picture, taking the imagination to days of straw boaters, scarves, bonnets, and a picnic basket in the back- or gun molls and gangsters, if that better fits your library. Studying the car, I was educated in the various styles of Model A- and promptly forgot most of the nuances. In 1930 alone, there were over a dozen variations of the Model A, including convertibles, coupes, sedans and pickup trucks! John’s Model A is a 2-seat “sport coupe” with the ability to carry two additional passengers in an exposed “rumble seat” (next ride is definitely in that seat) that opens where one would expect a trunk While the car appears to be a convertible, the brown cloth and steel top does not open, and the fully-framed side windows mark this car different from a Cabriolet (which, strangely, is also not the convertible). The back window does open though, enabling some degree of communication with the rumble-seaters. The subtle addition of turn signal/ running lights gives a nod to modern safety concerns on an otherwise mostly original car.
Climbing in for a ride, the most noticeable thing is just how tight the interior is for what seems such a large car (only a few inches smaller than a Subaru Forester, in all dimensions). The single bench seat is reasonably comfortable, though lacking in much adjustability. The dashboard is remarkably empty, filled only by a centrally located chromed cluster of three small gauges and ignition key- and a huge steering wheel. The model A still has a place for an external starter crank, but this car has electric start (with generator charging), and, much to my surprise, a very aircraft-like starting routine. One starts by making sure the parking brake is set, and the fuel is turned on with the petcock that hangs beneath the dash. Next step is to retard the spark with a lever to the left of the steering column and adjust the throttle lever (which works in conjunction with the gas pedal on the floor). Not done yet, we still need to turn the carburetor adjusting rod (or gas adjusting valve) under the right side of the dash, then pull the same adjusting rod to set the choke. Once the approx. 40 horsepower 4-cylinder engine fires, everything needs to be adjusted again before driving, and, as we pulled away, we still weren’t done!
The model A has a non-synchromesh 3-speed transmission. These requires “double clutching”, meaning pressing the clutch, shifting to neutral, then clutching again before moving to next gear. Once up to speed, all the previous adjustments may need to be fiddled with again (and again), depending on conditions. Much to be said for the “turn the key and drive” convenience of modern fuel injection and automatic transmissions! On the road, the car is slow, coarse, harsh, and the steering looked to be a bit vague and in need of constant correction, but for a car just over a decade away from 100 years old, this Model A is still surprisingly quiet and capable on streets few could imagine in its heyday. The view over the multi-hinged hood and out between the big chrome headlight buckets is a joy, and double-takes from folks in other cars are priceless. Plus, it’s a gas to realize we are driving an actual piece of American history!
Modern automobiles are amazing, but it’s fun to experience where we started and remarkable to see how far we’ve come. Put in perspective, one realizes that driving any vehicle made in the last 25 years can still be totally reliable, with few compromises, and vastly safer than a 1930 Model A. But somewhere along the way, much of the character was sanitized out of our vehicles to make them so much better. That’s why it’s wonderful that folks like my neighbor are passionate about keeping a small part of the past alive and are willing to share the experience with the rest of us. Thanks for the ride, John- looking forward to the next!
Keep Riding Local, Dreaming Global, and we’ll see you on the road. Enjoy!