Building a 1930 Ford Model A Fordor Town Sedan
By Richard Palmer
At the age of sixteen, I started a hobby of building model cars, mostly vintage. I remember buying this little 1/24 scale Monogram plastic model of a Model A Ford and being quite fascinated by it and the history behind it. From then on, I decided that one day I must have one, but my problem was, I didn’t want any old worn out A, mine would have to be a fordor and be perfect.
Well, I didn’t realise at the time what I would be letting myself in for, despite the fact that people said an A is easy because all the bits are available. Not quite true. I also thought if I built from scratch, everything would be new, not knowing that buying new bits is not always the answer.
Well, in the mid 1980s I bought a wreck for R1800 and Shirley nearly fainted when she saw it, whereupon I proudly announced I was going to make it like new and we were going to go on rallies.
1930 FORD MODEL A FORDOR
The project was shelved for many years as other more important things cropped up, such as buying a house, bringing up kids, school fees etc etc. In the meantime, I started collecting parts and putting them away until (ha ha) I thought I had everything.
We moved house and I became extremely busy in my business and ended up storing everything for another 10 years! But still, the desire to build and resurrect this thing was as strong as ever. I said to Shirl, I like a challenge, and boy, I wasn’t kidding!
The chassis had the wrong crossmember in it because some wise guy had obviously wanted to use it for something else. It was also twisted, with all kinds other faults so this in itself was a major undertaking. I remember often thinking to myself, what made you take this on!?
But strangely, the desire to see it through was always there.
After finally sorting the chassis out with the correct parts and spraying with black enamel to get the original type of finish, the next step was the engine, brakes, gearbox and diff, As I only started out with a block and pistons, the engine was done from scratch.
This is where Snyders in New Springfield in Ohio USA were such a huge help in supplying most engine bits. They were incredibly efficient, right down to the engine colour. Then the bad news. I was advised to use white metal for the crank and bearing setup like the original method. This was done, but the white metal used, was not up to standard, so when we started the engine for the first time… CRUNCH! Everything crumbled. What a mess. I was so disappointed; I shelved the whole project for another year. I was also learning that I was going to get a lot of ‘bad’ advice along the way.
Snyders supplied all the new parts for the brakes and warned me not to use ‘cheap’ parts and to look out for badly manufactured parts from the East. This was good advice and I’m sure saved me a lot more heartache. My late friend Steve Bosch came to the rescue with my engine. My, this guy really knew how to use the right engineering company and how to put an engine together. Everything was balanced, crank and flywheel, the head was re seated and he even designed special oil feed return channels from brass to improve the oil circulation and got this motor to idle with no vibrations, as is typical of many As. It is so well balanced; it can idle for half an hour or more and it won’t even get hot.
To shorten my story, the gearbox was rebuilt with all new American made gears, the diff was perfect, but was a nightmare to clean, and the new brakes were assembled. The handbrake had to be sourced. This was chromed and fitted and worked very efficiently. Then it was on to a new adventure… the bodywork!
At last the mechanical side was looking good, which inspired me now to get fully involved in the bodywork. The main structure was in pretty good rust free condition but needed to be taken down to bare metal. The wood (this car had lots of it) needed some replacement.
I remember spending many nights removing thousands of rusty tacks from the wood. Some had rusted into the wood. I even dug sand and mud out between the wood and the bodywork, including old ‘Sparletta’ bottle tops among other things. After ordering all the replacement tacks, screws and nuts and bolts etc, I had everything cadmium plated.
New shocks, kingpins etc.
The body was sprayed with red oxide and the undercoat applied over that. At this stage I still had no bonnet or rear mudguards. I eventually sourced some mudguards from a pen friend in Glencoe who also had an A, so this was a huge relief, as these are not easy to come by.
The rusty bits were cut out, re welded and leaded, as I did not want any body filler on this car. Bonnets are another story. I was given two, but the condition of them was so bad, I decided to go the whole way and order a new one. This of course is the answer, but can you believe it, when it arrived on the South African side, they wrote it off at the airport! Goodness knows how they did it, but they did! Next blow, insurance would only pay a quarter of the price, so I had to pray and order again! This time success. I also wanted to buy the written off one but they wouldn’t budge. At this stage, the body was starting to take shape, but I still had to source all the door mechanisms, winders, handles etc as well as having no glass or templates to go by.
One thing I did which really paid off, was that as I dismantled the parts that still existed on the car, I made detailed sketches of everything and filed them on a clip board for future reference. This paid off big time when it came to re assembling everything. Then I got the correct colour scheme info from USA for the car. I decided on Manila Brown with Chicle Drab two tone combination with the familiar black mudguards that all model As have. One coat of Manila brown was applied for now to preserve the undercoat until I was ready for the final coats. This is essential to prevent moisture from getting into the undercoat if the car is going to stand for a long period of time before completion. Then it was back to admiring the models I had built, for inspiration and dreaming of how it was going to look one day!
Doing the paintwork on the model A was a labour of love. The paint originally used on this car was Duco made by Dulux. I wanted to use Duco at the time as I felt this would be in keeping with the originality of the car but no panel beaters would do it. I thus set out to do the job myself, armed with some knowledge gained from a DVD that Ollie Hart showed me. Every coat had to be lightly rubbed down with 1200 or 1500 water paper and the final coat rubbed down and then rubbed down with rubbing compound. While I do believe the new 2K paints are excellent, I managed to gain a reasonable finish after much hard work and sweat!
The paintwork was very time consuming so I would not want to bore anyone with all the details, as I even painted and treated all the interior woodwork that was to be covered with upholstery etc. and took special care to see that it will not rust, corrode or rot for the next 80 years when the next restorer comes along, long after I have passed on! Everything including wood tacks, screws, bolts etc was cad plated.
Treating wood and rustproofing
Woodwork by Carl Mouton
Applying and rubbing down many coats of Duco.
Engine, as Henry did it.
The upholstery for the interior was done by Lebaron Bonney in the States and shipped out, to make sure every stitch was like the original and correct. While being expensive, it actually saved me a lot of bother, as I did not have to explain what I wanted. They even told me what colour scheme should be used with this particular model and spec etc.
I fitted it myself, not realizing what a big job it was, but my perseverance finally paid off and I was happy with the result. Everything was done with tacks and nails like the original and NO STAPLES.
Finally, I could look at the models I had built and the picture that I had hanging up in the garage of what a completed car should look like, and say, “Mission accomplished!”