Cars

Keepers of the Flame for Ford’s Model A

HISTORIC LINEUP: Model A’s of all types were buffed and parked carefully during the club’s 50th anniversary celebration last September.
HISTORIC LINEUP: Model A’s of all types were buffed and parked carefully during the club’s 50th anniversary celebration last September.MINUTEMAN MODEL A FORD CLUB

If you go to most classic car shows or cruise nights, you’re likely to notice that the crowd skews to an older demographic.

The reason seems obvious: All of us tend to collect, restore, and drive the cars from our youth. A prime example is the astronomical prices Baby Boomers are paying for muscle cars from the 1960s and ’70s who now are able to buy the cars they yearned for in their youth.

Recently, the question came up during an informal conversation, “What’s happening with the Model A crowd? Immediately, the image of old Model A’s left to molder in old barns came to mind.

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It turns out that while the Model A crowd is getting older, these folks are keeping an important piece of American history on the road. More important, they consider themselves “keepers of the flame,” and caretakers of a key part of America’s history.

The Model A, built from 1928-31, was the successor to the iconic Model T, which was built from 1908-27 and brought the automobile to the middle class.

If the Model T brought mobility, the Model A made driving enjoyable.

We asked a few Model A owners about it at recent cruise nights.

“A lot of Model A owners are old timers who can barely walk, but they still will jump in their cars and go,” says Ed Rogers of Saugus, who drove his Model A to the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers for a mid-week cruise night.

Rogers is 82 now. He began doing valve jobs in the sixth grade during his Chelsea childhood, working at a local gas station in the afternoon after delivering groceries and newspapers. He’s been fixing, restoring, and driving cars ever since. He’s presently working on a friend’s 1929 four-door sedan.

Rogers is from an age when people fixed and kept using things. His 1930 five-window coupe, with 74,000 original miles on it, looks as good as it did when new.

“No one on the East Coast knows more about A’s than Eddie,” says his good friend Wayne Whitaker, also a customer and fellow member of the North Shore Old Car Club.

“He’s an encyclopedia of automotive knowledge,” says Model A owner Bob Hudlin of Melrose. “He can tell you how much torque is called for on every bolt in these cars.”

What will happen to that knowledge once this generation passes?

“It’s a big concern of ours. It’s addressed all the time at our club and at the national level,” says Nan Linden of Southborough, membership chairman of the Minuteman Model A Club, which meets monthly in Sudbury.

“Our average age is well over 60,” she says. “There are some younger members but not enough.”

Linden, and other Model A aficionados see their grandchildren gravitating to tuner cars. “Young people like the Model A’s, but these cars are too old and go too slowly for them. My husband’s uncle had a collection. That’s how [my husband] got the bug.”

The Lindens can attest to the group knowledge in their club, which has “close to” 150 members.

“My husband always wanted to drive a Model A cross-country,” she says, “so we planned to drive to Vancouver, B.C., for the 2010 national meet. We know that most things that go wrong can be fixed along the way, so we were pretty confident about making it.”

Those plans didn’t include a blown engine. “The engine blew before we were out of Massachusetts. We had a spare back home in the garage. By the time the tow truck got us home, there were seven or eight club members there to make the changeover.”

Unfortunately, the second engine was missing an oil pump, and the Lindens drove only 10 miles before it, too, failed.

“Another member had a spare,” she says. “The third try was a charm. That engine made it cross country and back. Since then, we’ve had the original rebuilt and put back in the A. But that experience gives you an idea of what these clubs are like.”

Club president John Kerns of Framingham is another who ponders what the future holds for the Model A.

“All clubs are wondering what will happen,” he says. “People don’t drive for pleasure any more, and a lot of young people don’t want to drive at all.”

But Kerns sees positives if younger people want to adopt a Model A. “The Model A really is an old automobile with controls that are still familiar today, so you can get used to driving one quickly. In contrast, the Model T really was a horseless carriage and not so easy to operate.”

More good news: Relatively speaking, Model A’s are affordable.

“You can have a lot of fun with a Model A for a reasonable cost,” says Kerns. “If you’ve been watching Barrett-Jackson and other televised auctions, you know what I mean when I say I have Fords, not ‘Can’t Af-Fords.’ ”

The Minuteman Club is a touring club. The members’ Model A’s usually cruise along between 35 and 45 miles per hour, though they can push 60 mph with high-speed differential gears.

“We do about 40 tours a year,” says Nan Linden. “That includes several overnights. The most fun are when we do ice cream tours. It’s like being in a private parade and the most fun to be toward the back and watch as people along the way react to our group.”

One couple on some of those tours is Steve and Donna Smith of Ipswich.

Smith, a retired teacher, initially went the muscle car route; he’s been building cars since he was 16. A few years ago, he got the itch to try a Model A.

“I’d been looking at a 1930 Model A for sale on eBay,” he says. “Then it disappeared. It turns out it was bought by the folks from the ‘Fast and Loud’ TV show.”

The Model A didn’t fit the show’s plans so Smith was able to buy a rust-free car that’s now roadworthy and part of history. He’s traced the car’s ownership back to Mountain View, Calif., and has spoken with two brothers who owned it in the 1960s.

“You can drive these cars anywhere,” he says. “You just don’t want to go via the highways.”

A Model A in the Family

The future is a worry, not only for Model A clubs, but also for individual car owners.

Bob Hudlin of Melrose has a gorgeous 1930 Model A five-window coupe that has been in his family since it was new.

“My grandfather, Charles L. Stone, bought it new from Stoneham Ford,” he says. “Then my father, Earl Hudlin, inherited it and had it completely restored. He turned it into a ‘Trailer Queen’ and took it to shows all over the country. It won a national No. 1 award in 1984.”

Hudlin eventually took ownership and has had fun driving and maintaining the Model A. He’s even written a poem, “Keepers of the Flame,” about how today’s owners merely are caretakers and guardians of these historic automobiles.

But ask him what’s going to happen to the car when he goes and he shrugs. “I’ve thought about it and worried about it,” he says, “but I just don’t know. My son isn’t interested in it. Now my grandson Cole had some interest. I’ve been taking him for rides since he was a toddler. As he’s gotten older, I’ve taught him a bit about how to drive it, including how to double-clutch it and the like. But he’s 15, a sophomore in high school, and his attention has wandered from cars to girls.”

As far as Hudlin’s wife Grace is concerned, he could park the Model A on the front lawn with a For Sale sign on it.

“She never liked it, and would be glad to see it out of the garage,” he says.

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