How can anyone not like this issue’s car? It’s a 1929 Model A Ford Roadster that has been restored and is period correct. This was Henry Ford’s second big automotive success. The first, of course, was the Model T Ford of which more than 15 million were built and sold between 1908 and 1927 with very few changes. It was the car that put Americans on the road.
The Model A Ford was a much more refined car. It had a standard three-speed, floor-mounted transmission with the clutch, brake and accelerator pedals arranged like most competitors and as they are still today. Different colors such as green, blue, brown and maroon were available, as compared to the Model T, for which the only color available was black. The first Model A was built in October 1927 but introduced in December that year as a 1928 model. It had a 201-cubic-inch, four-cylinder engine rated at 40 horsepower with a top speed of 65 mph. The Model A was built from 1928 through 1931, and more than 5 million were sold.
Even though the Model A was an inexpensive car, (it cost $10,534 to $20,862 in today’s dollars) it was popular with some of the rich and famous, such as movie star Mary Pickford, movie producer Cecil B. DeMille and writer Ernest Hemmingway. Even after its production years the car was still favored by many celebrities such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller and television producer, writer and director Allen Funt, who hosted the TV show “Candid Camera.” Today, the owner of this edition’s beautiful Model A Roadster is Danville resident David McArthur.
“In about 1994, I saw an ad in a magazine for this Roadster that had belonged to Allen Funt,” McArthur said.
He called and learned the car had just been sold but that the buyer had been known to sell cars quickly, sometimes at a loss. It turned out the new buyer had some financial needs and did want to sell it. McArthur and his wife, Nelda, drove his pickup truck to Santa Cruz to pick up the Model A, paying $12,250 for the car.
The first plan was to drive it from Santa Cruz to Danville, but then they decided to tow it home behind McArthur’s pickup for safety reasons. The tow bar was attached to the front bumper of the Model A, and off they went.
“I started home, almost,” McArthur said. “I got to the corner near here and I made the turn, but my little car went straight ahead right through a juniper hedge.”
Fortunately, there was only minor damage. When he got the car home, the owner checked out the car more closely.
“I found that mechanically it was a little iffy except for the brakes, which were good,” he said.
McArthur is mechanically inclined and does most of the work on his car himself or with other Model A friends.
“I pulled the engine and bought a rebuilt engine from a man in Stockton.”
He has now used three different engines, all of them period-correct. He refers to his car as a six-wheeler because of the two spare tires in the front fender wells. He has changed to 600-by-16 tires from the 440-by-21 tires originally supplied. This lowers the car and puts more rubber on the road for safety and comfort. Another important change and improvement is the addition of an overdrive transmission. Now McArthur says he feels comfortable cruising at 55 mph on freeways without fear of being run over.
An Allen Funt holdover is the license plate. In Funt’s TV show, when they would catch someone unaware, Funt would say, “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera.” So Funt had a personalized license plate made that read “SMILE 29.” McArthur hoped to keep that plate, but some DMV rules wouldn’t allow it, so now he has a plate that reads “29 SMILE.”
McArthur has two Model A cars, the other is a coupe. He is the president of the Livermore “Henry’s A’s” chapter of the Model A Ford Club of America. The club meets and drives to different locations, including Lake Tahoe, a difficult trip for cars more than 90 years old. He drives this car about four times a week.
McArthur says the biggest and most memorable adventure he’s has had so far with his Roadster is driving the 92-year-old car to Addison, Texas, where there was a big Model A Car show. He’d just gotten 10 miles from home when the left front wheel fell off, went down an embankment and was never found. Many problems occurred on this trip, requiring changing several different distributors, coils and carburetors. To add to the excitement, the car backfired and lost power. He made it to Texas and back but had challenges both ways involving a condenser, manifold gasket, carburetor, water pump and exhaust leak.
As it is often said, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to.” And aren’t we glad.
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at [email protected]. To view more photos of this and other issues’ vehicles or to read more of Dave’s columns, visit mercurynews.com/author/david-krumboltz.