Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A New Way of Thinking

Preparing for our Lap of Alabama has required somewhat of a shift in the mindset from previous trips I have made.  Apart from my hobby of antique cars, I have been involved with several international rallies and races.  I prepared cars to race 1800 miles from the southern border of Mexico to Laredo, Texas in the La Carrera Panamericana four different years.  On those trips I drove a truck and pulled a trailer carrying spare parts, tools, even a welder. We had to work on the cars every night and often at lunch stops and checkpoints.  We had  to  repair things on the car that broke, recalibrate rally computers and adjust jetting for different altitudes. On one occasion, the race car ended up against the side of a mountain, destroying the right front suspension and the rear end.  We worked almost 24 hours straight, but got the car back in contention.  Mexican roads can play havoc on a race car, support truck and trailer, and especially the crew.  One year I continued for six days in severe pain, only finding when I returned to the States that I had ruptured a disc in my neck.
P2P 010In 1997 I helped prepare two 1950 Fords and navigated one of them from Peking, China to Paris, France.  On that trip we had no support truck.  All of our spares and tools (and support crew, for that matter) had to be onboard. These two Fords weren't as much race cars as the Mercury and Corvette we had in Mexico, but they required their fair share of repairs and maintenance.  Lessons learned in Mexico had stood us well in the Peking to Paris, and the cars were built really strong, with redundant systems wherever possible.  We had spare parts stashed everywhere in the cars, and used many of them.  NAPA and Auto Zone were a long way away. 

All of these were race cars, with the difference that they didn’t pass their pits every few minutes. I can also claim to be one of the last of an old breed of “riding mechanics”.

The trip we have planned for September is different, and it has required me to radically change my way of thinking.  First, the Model A is NOT a race car.  It will not be pushed to the limits we did on other trips. Redundant ignition systems or fuel pumps are unnecessary. (the Model A doesn't have even one fuel pump, so unless the magnetic poles flip and we totally lose gravity, the carb will still get fuel!)  Second, this is not a competition.  If something breaks, I can fix it at my leisure – not working all night to stay in the hunt.  Third, if I need help,  I should be able to find someone who speaks English.  Cell phones work in most of Alabama, too.  P2P 011

Fourth, this is, after all,  Alabama!  The roads are in great shape and it is unlikely we will come upon a bridge that is out.  Most livestock will be penned up and sacred cows will not be wandering through the towns.  Finally, before I leave, I will hook up the trailer to my F-150.  If the Model A should have a really serious problem, I can call my son or a friend to swing by my house, pick up the truck and come get us!  I don’t think we will ever be more than five hours from home.  That isn’t to say that I have been able to totally separate myself from the “prepare for every eventuality” mindset.  I still have a list of spares and tools that I will carry, and even though NAPA and Auto Zone are only a phone call away, they don’t list too many Model A Ford parts anymore.

This will, I hope, be a leisure trip, a trip to enjoy and see sights more than just in passing.  The purpose of the trip is the journey itself, as much as any destination along the way.  Rushing past the Great Wall in China, driving past Mount Everest or crossing The Isthmus of Corinth at 75 mph was neat, I guess, but I feel like I’ve been there and DIDN’T get the T-shirt.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Henry’s Lady

Ford automobiles have, for over 100 years, been a big part of American life.  It is hard to imagine in 2012, just how big that influence once was.  The Model A Ford replaced the Model T in 1928. By that time, there had been at least 2500 different automobile brands manufactured in the United States.  Henry only reluctantly gave up the Model T when his market share dropped below 50%!                      

1908                                                  1927

The last Model T rolled off of the assembly line on May 26,1927, after a production run of over 15 million cars. That was a record for a single model that would stand until 1969 when the VW finally produced more Beetles. (Toyota claims the top spot now, but their Corolla has had many model changes within the model name.  No one could be convinced the 2012 Corolla is the same car they produced in 1978, could they?)

Ford shut down the assembly line for six months while the “New Ford” was designed and new tooling built.  The introduction of the “New Ford” was one of the most anticipated media events ever until that time.  It was estimated that over two million people came to Ford showrooms on December 2, 1927 to personally view the car, and several thousand put down cash deposits for their purchase.

The new car was called the Model A, and for anyone wondering why A follows T, there is an explanation.  The Ford Motor Company was actually Henry Ford’s third automobile company, the other two being the Detroit Auto Company in 1899 and the Henry Ford Company in 1900 .   When the Henry Ford Company failed, the assets and designs were purchased by Henry Leland and became Cadillac. The first Cadillac auto was a Model A, designed by Henry Ford.  When he founded the Ford Motor Company, he produced an identical Model A under his own brand.  The first Cadillac and the first Ford had the same designer and interchangeable parts! Ford went on to produce a model B,C,F,K,N,R and S before the Model T. The missing letters are presumed to be cars that never made it into production. In 1928 the “New Ford” was so revolutionary (for Ford at least) that the it was decided they should begin again with the alphabet.

The new Ford had four wheel brakes and a conventional sliding gear  transmission. (the Model T’s brakes were in the planetary transmission and only worked on the rear wheels).  A nod was given to styling and comfort on the new car, areas that had not been considered important on the T.  All in all, the new Model A Ford was an automobile, where the Model T was a still a horseless carriage.

America (and the rest of the world) embraced the Model A.  In its four year production run, over five million cars and trucks were built. The production of the Model T had lasted 19 years.  Today, the Model A is one of the most popular collector cars in a huge hobby.  There are two national clubs, the Model A Restorer’s Club (MARC) and the Model A Ford Club of America (MAFCA), plus many local chapters of each.  There are also thousands of Model A owners who choose not to align themselves with any club.

Almost every part for the Model A is being reproduced.  Everything from wiring, complete bodies, fenders, upholstery down to individual special nuts and bolts are available from several vendors. I have a friend in California that is in the process of casting new engine blocks.  One of the best stocked dealers is in Maysville, GA, northeast of Atlanta: Mike’s A-Fordable Parts

Of the over five million Model A Fords that were produced, only 3,429 roadster pickups were made in 1930. 

This video was made the day that I got the truck running again.  A fresh battery, fresh gas, freeing two stuck valves, air in the tires, and away we go!

Resurrected, not restored