Monday, July 31, 2017

The Gilmore Car Museum, Hickory Corners, Michigan, July 31, 2017--Part 13: Model A Ford Museum

The Ford Model T was produced for 18 years and as far as Henry Ford himself was concerned it could have been produced forever as he felt it was the perfect car.  By the end of the production run it was clear that the Ford Motor Company was at a severe competitive disadvantage as cars from the competition, more attractive and with better features, were cutting deeply into sales.  In 1924 Ford sold two thirds of all the cars in America; in 1926 it was one third.  There was nothing like the smooth model changeover we are used to today.  All the machines for the Model T were uprooted and scrapped and the Ford factories reequipped in what is considered to have been the biggest and most costly undertaking in manufacturing history to that point.  The major expense involved moving Ford production from the Highland Park plant to the new and mammoth River Rouge factory, a process that took six months.  

The Model A was unveiled in December 1927 and the public with smitten.  An estimated 25 million people saw the car the first week it was on display, with over 1 million in New York City alone on the first five days it was shown.  In addition to elegant body lines (thanks to a team headed by Edsel Ford, bringing in Lincoln influences), the Model A had four wheel brakes, hydraulic shock absorbers, a modern transmission and safety glass in its windshield.  Six body styles were initially offered, later broadened to nine, and prices ranged from $385 for the sporty roadster to $1,400 for a swank Town Car.  By the time production ended after only a short four years with nearly 5 million cars sold.  Although nobody can be sure, it is estimated that perhaps 250,000 survive in some form.  Parts availability is not an issue as there are many suppliers.

Built under the auspices of the Model A Ford Foundation, Inc., the Model A Ford Museum at the Gilmore Car Museum is the largest public museum dedicated to this iconic car.  The 13,000 square foot building opened in 2014 and is a recreation of a 1928 Ford dealership, including service bays and gasoline pumps.  The Foundation was established in 1987 to preserve Model A Fords and related memorabilia.  The museum is a permanent home for its collection of automobiles, display engines, and artifacts including photos and factory blueprints.

There is a great deal of affection for the Model A as an affordable and stylish collectible and there are many club activities, including competitions for period costumes.

1931 Ford Model A Station Wagon
$625 would buy you this beautiful woody wagon in 1931, the last year of Model A production.  Available only in Manila Brown, the wagon body was built from wood from Ford's own forests in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, with frames of maple and body panels of birch.  There were three rows of leatherette-covered seats, with the last two rows removable for cargo.  Snap-in side curtains offered weather protection.

1931 Ford Model A Victoria Coupe
A new style introduced in 1930 was the Victoria, which would offer style cues used in 1931 and later.  The body had extra long doors for ease of entry and exit and an extended rear body with additional storage space.  The style was so popular that it continued to be used on Ford cars until 1934.

1928 Ford Model A Phaeton owned by Thomas Edison
This car was the first Model A built, with Engine Serial No. 1, and was given by Henry Ford to his friend Thomas Edison.  Ford had once been Chief Engineer of the Edison Illuminating Company in Detroit and the two men maintained a close relationship until the end of Edison's life in 1931.  Originally a Tudor sedan, the car was converted to an open body when Ford learned that Edison preferred open cars.  Edison's widow returned the car to the Ford Motor Company and it was used for various test purposes without consideration of its historical significance.

1928 Ford Model A Tudor Sedan
One of the original six body styles offered when the Model A was introduced, the Tudor was the most popular version, representing 25% of sales.  A typical family car, it had roll up windows on both sides but the rear glass was fixed.  The windshield opened at the base to provide ventilation.

1930 Ford Model A Cabriolet
This Cabriolet, which has been restored to the highest standards recognized by the Model A Restorer's Club, has room for two inside but also boasts a rumble seat for two additional passengers.  It has the quite rare Tuxaway top to give those riding outside some weather protection.  The Cabriolet was the only open body type of Model A to have roll-up glass side windows.

1928 Ford Model A Business Coupe
The Business Coupe, priced at $550 and differing from the Sport Coupe primarily in not having a rumble seat, was introduced in May 1928, five months into production of the Model A.  In spite of its appearance it did not have a convertible top but one of leather that did not fold down.  The landau irons were not factory specification.  37,343 Business Coupes were sold in its first model year.

1929 Ford Model A Standard Phaeton
The Standard Phaeton was priced at $460 and could reach a speed of 65 mph.  As an open car with side curtains for weather protection, the Phaeton was vulnerable to moisture and by the time World War II came with its scrap drives many were no longer economic to repair and were junked, making open Model As rare today.

1929 Ford Model A Roadster Pickup
Probably the cheapest variant of the Model A, the Roadster Pickup cost a mere $395 and featured an open body style to keep costs down and to allow easy entry and exit for those using it as a working vehicle.  The only colour available was Rock Moss Green with black fenders.  The radiator shell, headlight housings and tail light were simply painted black rather than nickel-plated as on the cars.  Amazingly, the popularity of the Roadster Pickup means you can buy a new steel body from a supplier in Ohio.

1930 Ford Model A Deluxe Roadster
Perhaps the most attractive of all Model As, the sporty Deluxe Roadster was introduced in 1930 to counter sagging sales of the Standard Roadster.  New colours, including the Washington Blue of this car, were introduced and the cars had tan-coloured tops and natural wood bows in them.  The spare tire was in a front fender well and standard equipment included cowl lights, a rumble seat, a trunk rack and a rearview mirror.  The seats were upholstered in leather and chrome was used in the windshield surround and stanchions.  All this for $495!

Left: 1929 Ford Model A Roadster; Right: 1929 Ford Model A Town Sedan

From Left: 1929 Ford Model A Standard Phaeton; 1929 Ford Model A Roadster Pickup; 1929 Ford Model A Roadster

1929 Ford Model A Roadster

1931 Ford Model A Deluxe Phaeton
Considered one of the most elegant Model A body styles, the two door Deluxe Phaeton was introduced in June 1930 but only built in small numbers.  Seats were leather and the split front ones folded to allow access to the rear of the car.  The body was designed so that the top folded nearly flat and twin side mount spare tires boasted flashy chrome covers.

1931 Ford Model A Closed Cab Pickup
A solid roof was introduced for the Model A Pickup in 1931 replacing the previous fabric top.  A curious feature of the Model A Pickup was that the steel bed was wider than the length.  Model A Pickup production ended in March 1932.

1929 Ford Model A Taxicab
Briggs Manufacturing built the bodies for the Model A Taxicab in Ford's old Highland Park factory after their own had a disastrous fire.  The body style, which had a divider between the driver and passengers, a luggage area where the front passenger would have normally been seated, and folding jump seats, was not as successful as hoped.  5,000 were produced between 1928 and 1930 but its primary competitor, the Checker, had a six cylinder engine and more space for passengers.  The Taxicab is the rarest of all Model As for this reason.

1931 Ford Model A Deluxe Phaeton

Ford of Canada in Walkerville, Ontario, produced most of the right hand drive Model As sold throughout the British Empire.  Export markets included India, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa as well as Newfoundland, which was still using right hand drive during the Model A production years and continued to do so until 1947.
1929 Ford Model A Deluxe Delivery
Economic to operate, the Model A was adapted for many commercial purposes in both its A version and the heavier AA.  Here is an example of a light delivery vehicle.

1931 Ford Model A U.S. Postal Truck
By 1918 the U.S. Postal Service operated more than 1,000 vehicles, with many of them being Ford Model T conversions and war-surplus trucks.  It eventually decided to standardize by the late 1920s and specified truck bodies for Model A and Model AA chassis.  Some of these vehicles remained in service until 1952.

1929 Ford Model A Sears Thrifty Tractor Kit
Sears Thrifty Tractor Kit
Except for the fact that he owned a company that made tractors himself, Henry Ford would probably have approved of this conversion package that took your old Model T or Model A or Chevrolet and converted it into a tractor. The example here used a 1929 Model A as its basis and the instruction book for the package was still circulating in the mid-1930s at least.

1929 Ford Model AA 1 1/2 Ton Platform Truck
The Model AA used the Model A's 40 hp engine but had a four speed transmission, heavier steering and suspension components and heavy-duty shock absorbers mounted longitudinally.  This example is quite rare in having powered dual rear axles and is believed to have been used from 1931 to 1936 to carry an air compressor during the building of the Hoover Dam.

1930 Ford Model AA 32 Passenger School Bus
In 1930 the School District of El Monte, California, purchased this vehicle for student transportation.  The cowl and chassis were ordered from Ford before it was sent off for a frame extension, then the rolling chassis received a body built the the O.H. Egge & Co. of Santa Ana, California.  1930 was the first year safety glass was installed in all windows.  Using a standard 40 hp Model A engine, the AA had lower gearing and a top speed of 35 mph.  Original cost of the bus was $1,275.

1930 Ford Model AA Oil Tanker Truck
This Oil Tanker had a 625 gallon tank made by the Columbia Steel Tank Company which was divided into three separate sections.  This allowed the truck to carry different fuels, usually gasoline, fuel oil and kerosene.

1930 Ford Model AA Service Car/Wrecker
The Service Car/Wrecker went into production in December 1930 with bodies from Briggs Manufacturing.  Designed to appeal to local garages, Ford dealerships, and service stations, they were equipped with a 3-ton hand-operated Weaver mechanical hoist, and sold for $790.  The truck features full-length running boards and a side-mounted spare tire.  Only 521 were built and as work vehicles remaining ones are very rare.

Continue to the Final Part (14) of the Gilmore Car Museum visit here.

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