Nicked Knuckles: For the Love of a Model A

The joys and frustrations of an old car enthusiast: just don’t call ‘Silas’ a Model T.


got his Harley a couple of years ago — maybe, as he noted, a sign of midlife crisis.

As my own midlife blurs into the past, I’m catching up on late adolescence/early adulthood. I recently purchased a 1928 Ford Model A Sport Coupe, the third Model A I’ve owned. This is NOT a Model T. The distinction is important, like the difference between Virginia and West By God Virginia.

Henry Ford’s mass-produced, low-priced Model T was built from 1909 to mid 1927. It revolutionized transportation, changing rural and urban America forever. Lower-priced cars gave people extraordinary freedom to wander, linking cities and the countryside, shrinking space, opening regional markets, and increasing our dependency on oil.

By the mid 1920s, Ford’s Model T flivver was a technological fossil. Sales were falling. Other cars were better designed, more powerful, and more attractive. The Model A was introduced almost 85 years ago, in December 1927. My car was built a year later, December 28, 1928. Henry’s son Edsel (whose namesake label was a disaster in the late 1950s) led development of the highly successful Model A. It was a radical new design for the company and ushered in the era of modern automobiles for Ford.

My wife, Shannon, is calling the “New Ford Car” an early 60th, 70th, and 80th birthday present. I begged, puppy dog eyes and all, to get her OK from her, telling her it was better than money in the bank, a tangible asset to keep me out of her way. Besides, we all know what money in the bank earns, so, why not put it into an antique car?

Really, the asset thing is a myth. Shannon quickly realized that an antique car is a gift that keeps on taking. There’s a price to pay for tinkering, and she’s not about to let me forget it; I’m more than happy to see the bathroom get remodeled if it makes her happy.

Motor Cities

Ford’s publicity materials for dealers included sample ads like this one. Note the upscale suburban setting, complete with house help practically worshipping the car.

The “New Ford Car” was built for city and countryside. It had sharp styling at relatively low prices, ranging from $385 to $570 in the first year of production. A 1928 Sport Coupe had a base price of $550 ($7,449 today). Ford also built trucks and other commercial vehicles based on the Model A, which was reliable, economical, and easy to maintain.

Almost 5 million Model As were built at sites across the U.S. and in Canada, South America, Australia, and Europe. U.S. drivers loved it during its four years of production, ending in March 1932. The global appeal extended to Soviet Russia, where Models As were built under license from Ford from 1932 to 1936.

The Model A had a flashy top speed of about 65 miles per hour (my “New Ford Car” has been restored but, no thanks, I won’t be pushing her that fast). Other cars were even faster. When Ford introduced the Model A, the U.S. had become decidedly urban, but outside the cities, narrow macadam, gravel, and even dirt roads were the norm. The first Model As had 21-inch wheels and narrow tires, ideal for rutted roads. First gear was really low, matched to the heavy, 40-horsepower engine.