Entries tagged with “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.

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My birthday was a few days ago, and it was a great one. I met the 3 Rivers Model A Ford Restorers Club at Kennywood (the local amusement park) early in the morning, and we all drove our antique cars onto the park grounds so that the patrons could see them. We were invited there as a part of Kennywood’s “Celebrate Pittsburgh’s 250th Anniversary” week, so everyone in our cars got in free, and each car got an additional 4 free day passes to use another time. It was a total coincidence that it fell on my birthday, but I couldn’t have planned it better myself.

We were led onto the grounds by a staff member in his car, and it was like our own personal secret parade, since the grounds were still closed and no one was watching. Once we were parked, the club members all took turns watching the cars so that people could get out and enjoy the rides and other things going on in the park. It actually worked out better than I had expected. Some of the older members in the club really just wanted to hang out by the cars anyway, so the younger members were free to go on rides. It was awesome. We had to be back at our cars by 5:00 to exit the park, but if we had wanted to we could have re-entered with a hand stamp.

Kennywood is a great park. It’s not very big, but they have done a fantastic job of packing in the rides. There are a ton of roller coasters in addition to all the other kinds of rides. There are only two steel coasters, all the rest are wood, and can be a little abusive in the way they rattle you around. I now understand why Kennywood is the favorite park of my coaster-enthusiast friend Chris LaReau. He prefers the rides that knock you around, so there is plenty of action for him at Kennywood. My favorites were Ghostwood Estate, a modern day version of the interactive shooting gallery, and the Exterminator, where your car actually plays the role of a mutant rat that scurries around and twists and turns in the dark. Amazing.

On the way home it became painfully clear that I had not yet succeeded in fixing the exhaust leak in the engine of the Model A. Lenore and I both arrived home with Carbon Monoxide headaches and a little nausea, so I vowed that I would not drive the car again until that was fixed. On to another Model A maintenance saga….

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.”


From right to left: My family’s Model A, Devin’s A, a hot rod A, a badly done hot rod firetruck.

Today Devin came up from Bedford and we had our own little 2-car Model A parade over to the rockabilly car show on the west side of town. It was awesome. There were an incredible number of amazing cars. It was almost all hot rods and custom cars, but I did manage to achieve my goal of talking Model A’s with some old car guys. It was really great, and I even learned a little about my unusual water pump… which is now leaking. But that’s ok, sort of, since one of the old car guys told me what kind it was, so I may be able to order parts for it now.

This was the farthest I have ever driven the Model A and that felt really good.

The reflection of my car in the hub caps of the car next to mine.


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Today Vader and I decided to go for a real drive in the Model A. The initial plan was that I was going to go pick up our friends Steve and Penny, we would all go for a drive together, and that way if the car died, they could help me push it back. It turned out that Steve and Penny double booked, so Vader and I were going to go by ourselves.

For the second time today the Model A started easily, so I thought my troubles were behind me. I backed the car out of the garage, and was trying unsuccessfully to get Vader in the car (he currently hates the Model A) when there was a sudden pang pang pang Pang Pang PANG PANG from the engine compartment. I opened the hood to find the fan turning at a jaunty angle and cutting a huge gash into the radiator, which was now shooting a nice little stream of water all over the engine. For those of you following the story, that’s the same radiator that I just got fixed. Arg. So tonight I took the radiator off the car again. It went a whole lot faster this time since I have experience. Also, I got to meet a very nice lady who helped me push the car back into the garage as I was blocking her way in the alley.

New plan for tomorrow: Wake up early. Feed self. Feed dog. Walk dog. Load up car for gig. Put radiator in car and take it to Mike the radiator guy. Put generator in car to take to Devin’s generator guy down in Bedford. Drive to gig in Columbus IN. After gig drive to Devin’s house, talk cars, go see his generator guy, talk cars, maybe even go for a drive in Devin’s car, talk cars some more, go home. Drop dog off at home. Hang out with East coast yo-yo guys in town for one night. Go to bed very late.

If all goes well, the radiator and the generator will be finished by the time I am able to work on them again next week. Aside from the fact that I need to get good at driving the Model A before we move to Pittsburgh, there is also a rockabilly car show next Saturday (the 23rd) and Devin and I really want to drive both our cars there. Plus, if I’m ever going to find super-cool lookin’ workin’-on-the-car clothes, the rockabilly guys will know where to find them.

Yesterday my pal Devin came over and we spent almost the whole day working on my family’s Model A. The basic plan was that he was going to come up from Bedford to show me how to work on the brakes, and help me check them out to see if they were in good shape. As it turned out, we didn’t even get to the brakes until something like 9 pm.

The first thing we did was to try to get the engine started. I had had it running, but I was having trouble with the battery. I’m fairly sure that the generator (the thing that charges the battery while you drive) is bad and needs a complete overhaul, AND it seems as though the battery charger I bought has died. So Devin brought his Dad’s charger up and we got my battery charging right away. Devin double-checked how I had the timing set and made a little adjustment, and we got the engine running. A lot of time was spent fiddling, making small adjustments, and trying to see where to set all the knobs and levers in the passenger compartment, and on the carburetor. We stopped the engine every so often to do this or that, and it wouldn’t always start back up again. Twice the car wouldn’t start because it had run out of gas, but sometimes we just couldn’t figure it out.

Fortunately Devin has more experience than I do with cars in general, but especially with Model A’s. He showed me a wiring diagram in the The Model A Ford Mechanics Handbook Volume 1, by Les Andrews, got out his test light and we followed it until we found a bad connection on the ammeter inside the dash. It was a quick fix.

Then we noticed that the coil (essentially a big capacitor that ramps up the 6V from the battery into 20,000V for the sparkplugs) was getting really hot. It normally gets warm, but this was hot enough that it was hard to touch.

Devin said, “You know, we can just go down to AutoZone and get a new one. They’re only like fifteen bucks. We just have to convince them that they actually have it so they will sell it to us.”

Devin, Vader, and I piled in the Prius (the pinnacle of modern automotive technology) to go off to buy a part for the second model car that Ford ever made (the pinnacle of automotive technology in 1930). It was a nice contrast.

We walked into AutoZone, and there was an older guy and a young guy working. I always go to the older guy if I have the choice, but he was busy.

“Hi. We’re looking for a 6V coil.” I said.
“What the hell are you talking about?” The young guy said.
I started laughing. This was typical AutoZone, and exactly what we both expected. “It’s for a 1930 Model A Ford.”
“Oh. You need to talk to that guy,” he said pointing to the older guy, “he knows about old cars and stuff.”

We went over to chat with the older guy, and he helped us work it out.

“A coil? Could it be called an ignition coil?” he asked.
“Sure. That would make sense.” Devin and I said together.

He punched in “6V ignition coil” under the category for 1930 Model A Ford (which I was surprised was even in their computer), and out popped the shelf number. He went to get it, and when he came back he made a funny production out of blowing the dust off the box. $14 later we were back in the car on the way home.


I have the pleasure of getting my family’s 1930 Model A Ford Sport Coupe back in working order after it has been in storage for about 15 years. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the instruction on how to start the car that I got from my Grandpa 20 years ago, before he died, and no one else in my family knows how to do it. If it weren’t for my friend Devin I don’t know how long it would have taken me to find someone who could help me since there is no Model A Ford Club in Indianapolis. I wrote these directions figuring that there are other people like me out there who are handy, but lack some basic information. My The Model A Ford Mechanics Handbook Volume 1, by Les Andrews doesn’t tell you how to start the car after you have spent all this time fixing it.

Here’s how I start my car:

  1. Make sure that everything is in running order. Easier said than done I know. Be sure the timing is properly set, or even if you get the car started, it won’t run well, if at all.
  2. Turn on the gas valve that is under the dash on the passenger side. In my car the valve is open when the handle is 90 degrees from the gas line.
  3. Push the timing lever on the steering column (the one on the left) up all the way (fully retarded).
  4. Pull the throttle lever on the steering column (the one on the right) down most of the way. How far down will probably vary from car to car. My friend Devin likes to have it all the way down on his car.
  5. On the right side of the car, in front of where the passenger would sit is a silver knob. This is both the choke and the fuel mixture. Turn the knob clockwise until it stops, and then open it back up about 1/4 to 1/2 of a turn. Pull it almost all the way out and hold it there. The turning is the mixture, and the pulling is the choke, or air supply. (You only have to pull out on the choke when starting the car cold, after it is warm you can just hit the starter button.)
  6. Push the clutch pedal in all the way, or take the car out of gear.
  7. Push the starter button on the floor with your right foot. It’s the little one that is closest to the engine.
  8. As the starter is turning you may have to slide the choke in or out a bit to find the sweet spot. Once the engine fires, let go of the choke almost immediately. You may have to adjust the mixture knob, but I usually have mine 1/4 to 1/2 of a turn open. Also, you will want to ease up on the throttle lever (push it up a bit). You do not need to hit the gas pedal with your foot in the starting process. In fact, that is why you have the throttle lever in the first place, it takes the place of the pedal since your foot is busy on the starter button.
  9. You will have to fiddle around with all the settings a bit to get them just where you need them for your car.
  10. Once the engine is running, pull the timing lever all the way down (and leave it there) for driving.
  11. Have fun!


I spent some time in the garage today trying to set the timing on my family’s 1930 Model A Ford. I think it can be done with just one person, but I’m going to have to get some help. As a part of the process you have to put the crank into the front (it’s a very old car) and crank the engine over while pushing on a pin to find a specific point in the engine cycle. Once you find that spot you can adjust the timing accordingly. The problem that I ran into tonight is that I think the pegs on my crank are worn so that I really needed two hands to keep the crank in place, but I still needed a hand to push on the timing pin. I’m going to see if I can get a friend to come over tomorrow to help me out.

Here are some tips on setting the timing on a Model A Ford for any other novices like me. These are all tips based on the instructions for setting the Ignition Timing (pg 2-18) in Les Andrews’ book The Model A Ford Mechanics Handbook Volume 1, by Les Andrews:

  1. In Step #1, the breaker point gap is the space between the end of the little silver arm (the breaker point arm), and the tiny adjustable screw, under the black plastic disk (the rotor). It was a bad moment for me when I didn’t even know what the book was talking about in the first step.
  2. In Step #2, a really good tool for bending the rotor tab up or down without marring it is a big crescent wrench.
  3. In Step #5, when it says to “fully retard the spark lever on the steering column” that means push it all the way up.
  4. In Step #7, when you have reversed the timing pin and are feeling for the small recess in the cam gear, keep in mind that it is very small, it takes two full rotations with the crank to get back to the same point on the cam gear, and the small recess will be there when the rotor is pointing roughly toward the front of the car. For me this operation took a good deal of time and a LOT of patience. I hope it is easier for you. While you can only turn the crank in one direction, if you go past the notch just a little bit you can grab hold of a fan blade to go back a bit.
  5. In Step #14, when I tightened the cam locking screw, I had to turn the cam a little farther counter-clockwise than I wanted it to end up in order to account for the movement of the tightening screw.
  6. Don’t forget to screw the timing pin back in, and remove the crank before you try to start the car.

In the end I ended up being able to set the timing by myself, it just took longer than it would’ve if I had had someone helping me, or if I had known what I was doing.


I finally got the radiator back on the family Model A Ford. I took it off in the fall to get it cleaned and rodded, and then I didn’t get back to it before winter came. Over the last few days I have managed to spend some time out in the garage, and today I got the car reassembled.

It really wasn’t that hard a project, but I was being cautious so I could be sure that I was doing things right. After getting everything back together, I just had to close the petcock (the little valve at the bottom that you open in order to drain the fluid) so I could fill the radiator, but when I grabbed it I found that the little spring that held it together was broken. Since it was Sunday evening, all the hardware stores were closed so I couldn’t even look for a replacement spring, but lo and behold… Grandpa Mac came through again! In with the tools and parts that came with the car was a very dirty replacement petcock! I was amazed. After I cleaned it I found that it was in great shape, so I just switched out the broken one and I was back in business.

I got the car running so I could check for leaks in the radiator hose connections (found some), messed with the horn for a bit, and called it a day. I was hoping to actually get out and drive today, but the timing seems to be way off, so I have to adjust that first. There may also be a problem with the generator, but I don’t know. After I connected the battery, the generator started getting hot before I even started the engine. I have to ask around because I don’t even know if that is out of the ordinary. I would be LOST without my Model A Ford Mechanic’s Handbook.

I have a gig in Chicago tomorrow, so I won’t be able to work on the car again until at least Tuesday.