Go Back   The Ford Barn > General Discussion > Model A (1928-31)

Sponsored Links (Register now to hide all advertisements)

Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 12-02-2012, 05:58 PM   #1
Senior Member
M2M's Avatar
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 589
Default Life with the Ford Model A

I received a message from Dane Hawley from Victoria, Australia in which he talks about his experiences with the Ford Model A. It's a great story. With his permission I've posted it below. For some reason I couldn't insert the photos into the text...so they're at the bottom.

In 1965 I arrived in New Zealand and needed a car - a cheap car. A friend (Bill) who was an automotive machinist by trade, but who worked as a mechanic, had a 1930 A for sale and was asking £45 for it. The car had been used and abused over the years, and the owners before Bill had used it for pig hunting. To facilitate shooting from inside the car the rear doors had their tops chopped off.

At that time, a car that had been continuously registered had, as part of the license document, all previous owners listed with date of purchase etc. I canít remember if I was the 28th or 29th owner. The car had first been owned by a taxi firm in Wellington, and they had used it for about 5 years before selling it on. The engine was the original one as on the papers.

When Bill acquired the car it was not running, so he set about fixing it. Unfortunately he could not find another engine block to use and the one in the car had been bored out and had .060 inches oversize pistons and a lot of wear. No 3 cylinder had a crack running from the exhaust port down inside the cylinder. Bill cut and fitted a replacement seat for the valve, then repaired the crack in the cylinder by 'stitching'. That is he drilled a hole in the crack, tapped the hole and threaded in a piece of bronze welding rod. Next he drilled another hole, so that it was alongside the first but part way into the bronze 'plug' and kept repeating drilling and plugging all along the crack. After a light hone that cylinder had .023 clearance so was about .083 oversize. Bill ground the crankshaft to be .035 under, and then set about building up the babbit for mains and rods by melting new babbit onto the old, then hand-scraping to get the correct fit. The result was a good running engine. Noisy but it ran and ran rather well. The piston slap was very noticeable when idling. I bought the car.

Bill, who was a T enthusiast, was quite impressed with the way the car ran, and when I got it so was I. I proceeded to use it as daily transport to and from work, as well as weekend trips of sometimes over 100 miles. As winter came on the draught around my ears started to be a nuisance, and in the mean time, Bill had obtained an A that had suffered from a roll-over. There was no engine in it and the 2-door body was twisted, but together we set to work with wire strainers, block and tackle, hammers and heat we managed to straighten the body to acceptable limits. One weekend we removed the body off my car and swapped the 2-door body onto my chassis. A short time later I painted it a lightish blue with black guards and it looked quite good.

While all this was going on Bill and I started some serious hunting for A's as we were both convinced that they were an excellent car to own and use. Unfortunately I can't find a good photo of the car mentioned above, but it appears in this photo as the second from the left.

The darker blue 1931 car is one that Bill bought with a damaged gearbox and set about restoring, the red utility I bought to re-sell, the grey utility was an early 1928 that I bought (probably built 1927) with a right-hand handbrake lever and the orange one was also Bill's.

As you can see we had been busy collecting. My car was the only one between us that had a tow bar, and Bill got interested in Dodge cars, so a couple of times I used my machine to drag the trailer with a complete Dodge on the back. Incidentally, the A had a very growly gearbox, and one day I decided to take the top off the box. Second gear was so worn that the teeth were sharpened to points. I put the top back on and decided that when the gearbox finally died, I would fit one from another car. Well that gearbox kept going and was still in the car when I sold it.

At that time there were about 7 or 8 A's (unrestored) in everyday use in Wanganui, with a population of about 35,000 people. New cars were very hard to get so a large number of cars from the later 1930's and 40's were very much in evidence.

I tried to find A's, in the hope of coming across a real gem, but also because I could buy one, perhaps off a farm, for £25 or £30, get it going and ready to re-register and sell it for £50. I can't remember how many I dealt with but it would have been about a dozen or so, and Bill did the same thing with similar numbers. We never found a car that had a broken crankshaft, although we came across some interesting non-original fittings from time to time.

In 1966 I bought the 1928 Tudor from a Maori chap who was very fond of his ale, and also had a fairly narrow gateway. The car had been off the road for 3 or 4 years and did look rather sad. It was painted all-over green.

I still had the '30 ex taxi as a runabout, so was able to spend some time making the '28 more presentable. It was in particularly good condition as far as the body went, and seemed quite good mechanically. The windscreen had a chip out of it and the passenger's window was non-existent, but I got it running to bring it home.

I spent quite some time cleaning everything, fixing the windscreen, a new side window and then painting it. I was lucky enough to win a prize at a VCCNZ meeting for £25 worth of electroplating so had the radiator shell and headlamps nickel plated.

I sold the ex-taxi, which I had clocked up more than 20,000 miles in, when I got the '28 Tudor on the road.
I started to use the Ď28, clocking up about 10,000 miles. The only mechanical job done was to replace the timing gear after the one in it stripped Then I returned to Australia for nearly 2 years leaving the car for Bill to use, as I certainly intended to re-visit NZ in a couple of years time. So Bill used it and kept it registered and put on another 10,000 miles.

That brought to an end a period of intense Model A hunting, refurbishing and selling-on. As well as our own activities, we got to know several other A owners and operators, so built up an experience of many many cars. We never came across a broken crankshaft. We did find cars that had poor brakes, but they were generally easily set up and fixed. We did find cars that were very very worn but just kept on going, and we came across two 'blown up' gearboxes. One was on the blue 1931 in the pictures above. The previous owner was travelling fast downhill and jammed it into second gear (probably at about 40 mph), and that caused the gearbox to to shatter- case and all. The other one had been bought by a couple of youngsters. They found the car and bought it, then set about driving it about 60 miles home. The gearbox was very grumbily as they set off and a short way into their journey there was a loud bang, and a pool of oil on the road. They bound up the case with some rags, to minimise the oil loss, then found that they could only use first gear and top gear, so drove the rest of the way using just 1st and top.

In 1969 I took my new wife to N.Z. and was reunited with the '28 Tudor. It immediately became our regular transport, used for work and trips, including a few 100 mile plus excursions. In 1971 plans for the International Vintage Car Rally were being set in motion. My wife and I decided that we would like to go on the rally, but in those days a car needed to be restored to a fairly high standard to be allowed entry. We had little money, but a lot of enthusiasm, and my wife, Noreen, worked diligently on the project with me. We did as much as we could ourselves, even things that neither of us had any experience of like the upholstery.

The car was pulled apart. I did nothing to the diff as I deemed it in good order. I checked the gearbox, but again it was in good order so I did not take it apart. I sent the engine away to be re-bored to suit the size of the smallest of a 'set' of pistons. The pistons were second hand and out of a couple of different motors, but they were all of the same pattern even though of slightly different sizes. The re-bore company also gave the crankshaft a light grind (.050 if I remember) and cast new babbit in the mains and rods. I managed to buy from Australia N.O.S. valve guides and gudgeon pins as well as king pins and bushes and some other odds and ends. When it came to assembling the engine, I hand-scraped all of the big-ends first and got them fitting nicely, then set about the mains. In the latter stages of the assembling, a club member who was an auto apprentice came along with 'plastigauge' and checked my bearings. They were all within tolerance which pleased me no end.

I fitted good second-hand valves, checking that all were non-magnetic (supposedly the better steel), and the new valve guides. The valve seats were re-cut and the valves faced, then I lapped them in. I used a set of butcher's scales to 'balance' the piston/rod assemblies by laying the rod end on a knife edge and the piston on the scales. The lightest one was my 'master' and all the others had a little metal taken from inside the skirts until they all weighed the same. A similar trick was done by laying the piston on the knife-edge and weighing the big-ends.

The top of the block was skimmed for true as was the cylinder head, and of course a new copper/asbestos head gasket. I can't remember fitting new camshaft bearings, and I know the camshaft itself was untouched apart from removal and replacing it within the block. I toyed with the idea of doing something about the original multi-plate clutch, but in the end just assembled it into car again as it was.

It was a bit of a rush to finish the car in time for the February 1972 start of the rally, but we got there. We put on about 6 or 7 thousand miles during the International, as we went off on our own a couple of times on side trips. The rally entailed (for us) leaving Wanganui to the nearest starting point of Palmerston North, then on to Wellington and across on the ferry to the South Island. The second day was Picton to Greymouth on the West coast. Our journey was then across through Arthurs Pass to Kaikoura on the East coast. Next day took us North again and after another overnight stop we met up with all 500 or so competitors in Nelson. This was our 'running in' of the new engine! One day of the week in Nelson was a swap day, and the following one a free day, so we decided that as we might never visit New Zealand again, (We had already decided to return to Oz), we would like to see Christchurch so set off retracing our steps to Kaikoura, on to Christchurch and then the next day, back to Nelson. A round trip of over 500 miles. One of the events near Nelson was a 'One Make' day, and I was asked to organise the event for the Ford owners. I arranged a tour with cryptic questions and a meeting at a tobacco farm- There were about 100 Fords on the rally, but we accepted along any other locals as well, so the paddock was filled with 120 Fords. With the exception of a 1933 V8 they were all T's and A's. The end of the rally was a big dinner to be held in an aircraft hanger (no other venue big enough!) but the cost was, for us, fairly high at about $7 per head, so we opted to miss that event and do an extra tour of our own. We went down the West coast to Franz Joseph glacier, then returned to Picton for the ferry back to the North Island, another 500 plus mile excursion. Overall our 'running in' was a trip of in excess of 1,500 miles, probably closer to 2,000.

We brought the car back to Australia in April 1972, and again it was used as our general transport. I got a job as a salesman/collector and for a few months the A was my transport. As well as daily use, we did quite a few trips from Melbourne, several to Sydney, a couple to Adelaide and quite a few within Victoria. We were members of the Vintage Car Club and for a while attended all of their rallies too. 1975 was our long trip to Perth and back, going via Kalgoorlie and returning via Esperance. The following year we booked to go on the National Rally on the Sunshine Coast, then found that Cairns was having a rally for its Centenary, only a week after the National, so as Cains was only another 1,000 miles or so further on, we decided to go on that too.

Video of the Nullabor crossing:


Before we went to Perth (5,000 mile round trip) I had acquired a gearbox, clutch and flywheel from a 1930 car, so took the opportunity to at last change from the original multi-plate unit to a single plate one. After Perth and before Cairns (1976- another trip in excess of 5,000 miles) I decided to check the engine thoroughly, so lifted it out of the car. There was nothing to be done in the bottom end- all bearings were virtually just as they had been when assembled. I did give some top-end attention, a de-coke and valve grind. That was the last time I opened up the engine. It completed that trip and just kept running and running with only regular servicing.

In 1980 we moved to Hepburn Springs and regularly drove to Melbourne to visit with my wife's family. Of course we also continued to use the car daily and for tours, and using the trailer it carted many tons of firewood out of the bush too. The car got a lot of use locally and frequent trips to Ballarat, Castlemaine etc.

The odometer stopped working after we had clocked over 120,000 miles after the re-build, and we had not long returned from Cairns. The 200,000 overall is rather a guess, but with 30 or so thousand before restoration, and a measured 120, then a lot of motoring after that, I would think that 200,000 would not be an exaggeration.

We sold the car in 1990 prior to moving to South Gippsland. It had reached a point of needing a full restoration again. It was not burning oil, although it did lose a bit with drips here and there. The engine had got a bit rattly too. The new owner repaired the fabric on the roof, did some tidying up on the inside, gave it a cut and polish and was rallying it in less than 2 months after he bought it. I decided not to be involved with historic cars any more. Well that idea lasted for a few years, but instead of Fords, I turned to Rovers. In some ways I regret parting with the A. I will never be able to afford another one, and I proved its worth as both a commuter car and a long-distance traveller. Properly restored and maintained they will give reliable service over many many miles.

On our long trips we would cruise along at 50 to 55 mph wherever the road conditions would allow. We could do that easily even with the trailer behind. With one driver, 400 plus miles in a day was our usual aim and we frequently exceeded that.

Planning a long trip in an historic car? Why would you choose anything but a model A Ford? Everything on our Tudor was stock standard except for a slight increase in compression from the block/head skim. I had tried out some after-market accessories like different distributor and carby, but settled for original in all things. The Zenith carby gave best running at both high and low speed, and if a jet got blocked it was one bolt to separate it, clean and replace- job done in 3 minutes. I made a minor modification to the distributor so I could change the points in under 2 minutes- I did that because I had several new points that were causing problems and it took a while to work out the cause.

I sincerely hope that helps you in your plans Constantine. I regret parting with the '28 Tudor, especially as I will never be able to afford another one again, but if I had the money I'd buy another tomorrow.

There are probably lots of things I could tell you about the car and our adventures but at least now you know why I believe that the A is ideal for your needs.

Very best wishes,

Dane Hawley.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg ATT00000.jpg (47.1 KB, 313 views)
File Type: jpg ATT00001.jpg (56.5 KB, 301 views)
File Type: jpg ATT00002.jpg (33.8 KB, 274 views)
File Type: jpg ATT00003.jpg (56.1 KB, 330 views)
File Type: jpg ATT00004.jpg (47.0 KB, 311 views)

M2M is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-02-2012, 06:15 PM   #2
Senior Member
jr-41ford's Avatar
Join Date: May 2010
Location: Pasco, Washington (USA)
Posts: 241
Default Re: Life with the Ford Model A

Great story and pictures too.
jr-41ford is offline   Reply With Quote
Sponsored Links (Register now to hide all advertisements)
Old 12-02-2012, 10:57 PM   #3
Senior Member
Join Date: Nov 2011
Location: B.C. Canada
Posts: 1,746
Default Re: Life with the Ford Model A

Many people think that when an A gets to 50,000 miles,its time for a rebuild.You should be able to go 100,000 miles with proper servicing-even without air or oil filters.Sensible driving helps too.
columbiA is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-03-2012, 12:40 AM   #4
Senior Member
Tudortomnz's Avatar
Join Date: May 2010
Location: Canterbury, New Zealand
Posts: 1,080
Default Re: Life with the Ford Model A

What a great story. It rings so true of how the old car scene was in NZ in those days.
Almost every street had at least one clapped out Model A Tudor or Open pickup.
Great to see a '31 sedan ; not many of these late Model A's ever came to NZ.
Tudortomnz is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-09-2012, 05:08 AM   #5
Junior Member
Join Date: Nov 2012
Location: 100 miles from Melbourne Victoria Australia
Posts: 1
Default Re: Life with the Ford Model A

Hello Everyone, I have been a lurker on the site since Constantine asked if he could post my reply to him on here.
As you can see from the above, I was into A's for a long time and covered many miles. While I doubt if I can help any modern A operators I hope to enjoy reading about members cars.


Roverdriver is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 05-22-2018, 01:18 PM   #6
Senior Member
M2M's Avatar
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 589
Default Re: Life with the Ford Model A

I'm bringing this thread back to life in order to help newbies understand what a stock Model A is capable of.

Last edited by M2M; 05-22-2018 at 01:30 PM.
M2M is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 05-22-2018, 01:54 PM   #7
Senior Member
Join Date: May 2010
Location: Kaukauna, Wisconsin
Posts: 377
Default Re: Life with the Ford Model A

Thanks for bringing this thread back to life. What an amazing story. Those tours must have been great. Don/WI
Don/WI is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-20-2018, 05:27 PM   #8
Senior Member
woofa.express's Avatar
Join Date: Jan 2018
Location: Tocumwal, NSW, Australia
Posts: 767
Default Re: Life with the Ford Model A

I enjoyed that. the movies with accompanied music were great. thankyou, gary
I know many things,
But I don't know everything,
Sometimes I forget things.

But at times I have a long memory.
woofa.express is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-07-2018, 08:13 AM   #9
Liberty Garage
Liberty Garage's Avatar
Join Date: May 2015
Location: Columbia County, Oregon
Posts: 64
Default Re: Life with the Ford Model A

What a great story, thanks for sharing!
Liberty Garage is offline   Reply With Quote

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump

Sponsored Links (Register now to hide all advertisements)

All times are GMT -5. The time now is 03:18 PM.