Model A Ford

Recently I was trying to find a problem on my 1930 Model A Ford, and before I could completely figure out why my car wasn’t running well, the starter seemed to go out.  I couldn’t believe that my starter could fail at just the exact moment that I thought I had fixed my other problem!  I was incredibly frustrated, so I called my buddy Devin to commiserate.

What had happened was that when I pushed the starter button, nothing at all happened.  Just a very soft click.  It was as if the starter wasn’t even attached to the car.  As soon as I said that, Devin knew what the problem was.  Sometimes the starter can get stuck.  The gear (called the Bendix) that it uses to turn over the engine doesn’t retract the way it is supposed to, so when you try to start the engine it can’t do a thing.  The solution is to put the car in second gear, make sure the emergency brake is off, and then start rocking the car back and forth.  When the bendix in the starter disengages, you will hear it.  I had to rock my car with a pretty good amount of force, but it worked! If you do have to remove your starter it should come off easily, unless the bendix is stuck, so try this trick first.

By the way, my mystery, intermittent problem was that I had two loose wires in my dash, the ones that connect to the ammeter.  If you are having an intermittent problem with starting or smooth running of your Model A, be sure to check all the connections under the dash panel.

I spent the day today working on my Model A Ford at Keith Waltower’s garage down in West Newton PA.  I’m in the middle of a complete brake job, checking and fixing every single piece that is involved in braking.  I had a wonderful moment today when all of a sudden I realized how fortunate I was to be able to spend the day surrounded by so many amazing classic cars while working on my own, PLUS having an expert within earshot to ask about anything I needed to know.  Not to mention having access to any tool I might need.  What a great way to spend a day.

Hayward/Thomas Model A Covered Bridge Tour, October 12 2008

We couldn’t have asked for a better day for a drive.  The morning started off a little cool, but the sun warmed us up nicely by midday.  The fall colors had just come out, and we had plenty of opportunities to see them on the many tiny, winding roads we took to get to the covered bridges and the trolley museum.

Things started off at the McDonalds on Washington Ave. in Bridgeville.  On our earlier scouting runs Lenore and I had discovered that all the covered bridges that we knew of were identical, so for the tour we decided to just see a selection of them.  Since the bridges tend to be on very small roads, and not near towns, the tour group got to drive on some very narrow, winding roads through some gorgeous rural areas.  Several people wondered how Lenore and I were able to find these tiny, out-of-the-way roads after having only lived in the state for a year… it was all thanks to the internet.  Much of the planning was done with the help of the Google Maps website, followed by several scouting trips.  You can see our route here.

We drove right through the first covered bridge without stopping, and went on to the stone “S” bridge at the intersection of Hwy 40 and Hwy 221.  It’s an all stone bridge, completed in 1818, that was actually built for wagon and stage traffic headed toward the expanding West.  It was fun to see something designed for a time so long before our cars were around.

Next it was off to our last two bridges, in the vicinity of East Finley.  This was when we had the first break-down of the trip… and unfortunately it was my car that broke down.  On the upside, it was a quickly fixed sticky clutch pedal, and I got to see a “roadside seminar” up close and personal.

Keith Waltower gets us back on the road.  It was very funny that the men couldn’t wait to look under the hood, but most of the ladies stayed in the cars.  Lenore took this fantastic photo.


This weekend the 3-River Region Model A Ford Restorers Club had a garage seminar about motor oil.  It was great.

The question of which oil to use in my Model A was a difficult one for me from the beginning.  It seemed like there was a lot of conflicting information out there, and I didn’t know what to believe.  This may not be the final word on the subject, but I feel like I now have the answers.

Our guest speaker for the seminar was Ken Pyle from PPC Lubricants.  He gave us some history on oil in general (I didn’t know that oil native to the Pennsylvania area was the best natural lubricant, and that crude oil from different regions was not all the same), and then we got into the info that we really needed for our cars. (more…)

One of the great things about the 3 Rivers Region Model A Ford Restorers Club is that it is a driving club.  Twice a month in the summer people organize Sunday driving tours where we drive up to about 150 miles and go to a museum or some other attraction.  I recently went on a tour with the club for the first time.  It was awesome.

All lined up and ready to go

We met at a McDonalds south of Pittsburgh, and there were 13 cars: 10 antiques, and 3 modern ones.  As we pulled out and got on the road I had an enormous grin on my face.  It was just so cool to be driving in the middle of a pack of Model A’s.  I was a little giddy.

Elizabeth Bridge

We lost a few cars on the way to our first stop… twice.  Normally the group stays in touch with CB radios, but there were a number of new people on this tour, and the leader’s CB wasn’t working.  Eventually we got everyone together and took a group tour of Nemacolin Castle. (more…)

Summary: when resurfacing the manifold, leave the exhaust and intake manifolds bolted together.

  1. So they will be the same thickness when you’re done
  2. Because the bolts that hold them together are often rusted and will disintegrate and not go back together again later. You may have to drill and re-tap the hole, and use bigger bolts.


Every maintenance saga starts off the same way: someone says something like, “Oh yeah, that should be an easy fix.” This time at least it wasn’t me who said it.

When I first got the engine running on my 1930 Model A Ford Sport Coupe I noticed that there was an imperfect seal between the engine block and the exhaust manifold. I could see little puffs of smoke coming out. If you’re not a car person, the exhaust manifold is a cast-iron branching tube that funnels the exhaust out of the engine and into the exhaust pipe. I mentioned the leak to my friend Devin, and he was the one who said the famous last words this time, “It’s easy to replace that gasket. You don’t even have to take the manifold all the way off to do it.”

So I bought a new gasket, loosened the nuts on the manifold, slid out the old gasket, and slid in the new one. Easy. Except that it didn’t fix the problem.

I mentioned it to the guys at one of the meetings of the 3 Rivers Region Model A Ford Restorer’s Club and was told that I might have to have my manifold resurfaced. Apparently this is a common problem with Model A Ford manifolds. After a while the flat surfaces that are supposed to be perfectly flush with the side of the engine block get warped and no longer make a good seal. Fortunately Keith Waltower is in our club, and he is a very experienced mechanic of old cars. He told me of a NAPA shop down in Belle Vernon PA that had a giant belt sander that could do the resurfacing more quickly, easily, and cheaper than taking it to a machine shop. Apparently a lot of the cost of getting a part machined is in the set-up, and with a giant belt sander there would be no set-up.

I was trying to get the car ready to drive for a 4th of July parade in Cannonsburg with the Model A club in a couple of days, so I was in a bit of a hurry to get the job done. The place that Keith mentioned was about a 45 minute drive from my house, so I made a few calls to see if I could get the resurfacing done somewhere a little closer to home. Most places couldn’t do it soon enough, and they wanted about $80. So off I went to Belle Vernon with my exhaust manifold. In hind-sight I now know that this is where I made a critical mistake. You may even know what it is if you’re a Model A person, and we’ll get back to it later. (more…)

This week I replaced the head gasket on my 1930 Model A Ford Sport Coupe using the instructions from page 1-123 of The Model A Ford Mechanics Handbook Volume 1, by Les Andrews. I thought this would be an easy job, and while it wasn’t easy, it is definitely manageable. Just be sure to allow plenty of time. Including the other parts of my life, and other interruptions, this job took me about 3 days.

My buddy Devin gave me a great tip on getting the head off the block. After draining the water out of the radiator, and disconnecting the water outlet pipe (but before removing the distributor or spark plugs), loosen up all the bolts an 1/8 inch or so, and leave them on the studs. Now start the engine. The pressure from the first cylinder igniting should pop the head loose, and as soon as it’s loose, the engine will die. Now you can remove the spark plugs and the distributor, along with the rest of the nuts. I still had to use some persuasion in the form of a dead-blow mallet to get the head all the way loosened up so I could lift it off.

Also, I don’t have a engine lifting bracket or a winch, so I just put some cloths down (so I wouldn’t scratch the paint), and stood on the frame, straddling the engine. It seemed to work fine, but you have to make sure you have a place to put the head once you get it off. I put down a thick towel in front of the windshield and set the head on it until I could get over to the side of the car and move the head over to my work table for cleaning. It’s pretty heavy, so be careful and don’t hurt your back.

I cleaned off the carbon from the underside of the head and from the tops of the pistons, then used a shop-vac to make sure I had gotten all the funk out of there. One thing you don’t want hanging around in your engine is funk. Make sure that the surface of the head, and the top of the block are perfectly clean and smooth before you put your new gasket on. It is imperative that you do everything you can to get a good seal with the gasket. I used the new premium head gasket from Snyder’s that doesn’t require the spray-on sealant. It looks cool, and I’ve heard good things about it.

Also, be extra careful when tightening the nuts on the water outlet pipe. I’ve been told that they break easily, so I only tightened mine to 45 ft/lbs instead of the recommended 55.

After all my work, I was ready to go out for a drive. I put the key in the ignition… and the car wouldn’t start. You can relieve yourself of the disappointment I felt by setting your timing before you try to start the car. Once I did that, things seemed to work fine. Also, don’t forget to re-torque the head nuts after 500 miles of driving.

It’s been really nice here in Pittsburgh lately, and I’m getting the itch to work on the Model A.  I have all kinds of little parts and minor modifications that have been waiting to be done.  I have a new gasket, a fuel filter, and some other stuff that I can’t think of that need to go on the car.  I’d also like to get a strip of red LED lights to put below the rear bumper as an additional brake light if I can figure out how to do it.  I figure that if I position it just right, it will be visible to cars behind me, but not to a someone standing next to the car at a car show.  I want to keep my car as original as is practical, but I want it to be as safe and reliable as it can be.

Today was great. I got to got to a meeting of the local 3 Rivers MARC (Model A Restorers Club). Actually, this was no ordinary meeting either, it was a seminar on paint and brakes too. After setting my alarm for 7pm instead of 7am, I got up late, walked the dog, and then raced down to Main St. Motors in West Newton PA.

The meeting took place in Keith Waltower’s garage, Main St. motors, and it is an awesome place. He was working on 4 or 5 cars upstairs, and the basement had another 20 or so cars in storage. Some of them were Keith’s, but I think most belonged to other people who rent space.


Last week I took the radiator off my Model A Ford because the fan broke and cut a hole in the back of it. Yeah, I was pretty happy about that. I had known for a while that I needed a new ratchet nut for the crankshaft pulley on the front of the engine, so I ordered a new one a while back. I was just waiting until the next time I had the radiator off to install it. Now I had my chance.

There is a special tool that you can buy to remove the ratchet nut, but I figured that I could get it without the tool once the radiator was off. It turns out that I was wrong. The ratchet nut is nestled into the concave center of the pulley, and you can’t reach it with a normal crescent wrench. Besides that, the old nut on my car is actually a different size, so the special tool wouldn’t have worked anyway. My two options as I saw them were to go out and buy an expensive tool that I would probably never use again, or go over to the garage across the street and see if one of their guys might come over and pop the nut off for me.

I went over, talked to Ernie, and told him I was having trouble trying to get a part off of my old car. Initially he wasn’t all that friendly, he told me that they don’t do any mobile service, and it seemed that I might be out of luck. The ratchet nut is a really odd-looking little item, it’s kind of like a regular bolt, but it has four shark-fin shaped teeth in a circle sticking out of the top. I had brought it along on purpose just in case I needed it to help me out in my task. I pulled it out of my pocket and showed Ernie when he asked me what I was trying to take off the car. He looked at it, very puzzled, and said, “What the hell are you working on?”

“A 1930 Model A Ford.”

There was a long pause. “Well… let’s see what I’ve got in here.”


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