Ron Cherry
Special to The Union

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November 12, 2012
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Wheels: Lifetime of Model A memories 

For non-car people, it’s probably hard to understand why others might love cars, and even certain cars in particular.

While cars are transportation, certain ones have such a personality that they have a following just as loyal as any rock star idol, maybe even more so.

For Don and Gloria Clayton, it’s Henry Ford’s Model A. Over the years, they have owned a half dozen of them and driven them to places like Colorado, Washington and even as far as Wisconsin in 1980.

So what is the fascination with this economy car of its day?

For Don, it starts with the fact that his grandfather and father both owned one.

Because they were plentiful, with almost 5 million made, many have survived, and so about any part you want is available used or newly manufactured.

When he first bought a Model A, back in 1968, a good-condition one could be had for about $300, making them much more affordable than, say, a 1932 Duesenberg or 1937 Cord.

They joined Model A clubs and went on inexpensive road trips, packing up the kids and a tent when they drove to Colorado.

Not only, Don said, was the car a “joy to drive,” but the camaraderie with fellow owners was great.

And now his Model A ownership has come full circle, having just finished a rare late model ’31 slant-windshield Model A 68-C Cabriolet with a rumble seat, the exact same model as his first one.

That first Model A had needed a complete restoration when Don and Gloria bought it.

Don finished the mechanical and electrical work so that the car was drivable but never had the time or money to finish the paint and upholstery due to the demands of two kids and a fixer-upper house.

After two years, he drove it to a Reno swap meet and sold it. Over the years, he had Model A’s, but that first one still held a special place in his heart.

About five years ago, he found another ’31 Model A Cabriolet and bought it. They named the car Tootsie, which was Gloria’s late mother’s nickname.

It’s appropriate because she used to love riding in the rumble seat (also known as the mother-in-law seat, since the passenger is isolated from the interior of the car).

Although it was drivable, it needed a lot of work. Make that a LOT of work.

A little bit at a time, Don restored it, improving it while he did. The body has been glass-beaded, repaired and painted. The interior has all been redone.

For wheels, he changed from the stock 19-inch wire spokes to much sturdier Kelsey-Hayes 16-inch wire spokes with radial tires.

All the electrical has been modernized from 6-volt to 12-volt with an alternator, allowing the use of halogen headlights.

For running gear, Don dropped in a Ford Model B engine, which has the same 201 CID displacement as the Model A but is rated at 50 HP rather than the Model A’s 40 HP and has counterbalancing and better oiling.

Not only that, Don changed to a high-compression head, known as a “police head,” which upped the compression to from 4.5:1 to a whopping 5.5:1, dropped in a hotter cam and changed the updraft Zenith carb to a more efficient downdraft Weber.

Although he kept the stock 3-speed manual trans, he modified it with syncros in second and third and added a Borg-Warner overdrive to increase the top speed.

While all this does not make it a tire burner hot rod, it does make the Model A much peppier and able to run all day at freeway speeds.

Don and Gloria have always liked to drive their Model A’s, and this one is no exception.

Don figures they have put at least 10,000 miles on it, including a trip to Tacoma, Wash. Since joining the Roamin Angels about eight years ago, they have had many opportunities to cruise.

Although Don admits he prefers to take their ’68 Cougar for longer runs because it has things like modern suspension, an auto trans, lots of power and air conditioning, it is fun to take the Model A on shorter hauls.

While the Cougar is nice for a fling, the Model A is the true love of his life. Well, it and Gloria.

For more about Ron Cherry and his writing, see www.rlcherry.com. For more information about the Roamin Angels Car Club, go to www.roaminangels.com, call 432-8449, write to Roamin Angels, PO Box 1616, Grass Valley, CA 95945, or just stop by IHOP on Taylorville Road. Some Friday at 6:30 am for breakfast.


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The Union Updated Nov 12, 2012 03:57PM Published Nov 14, 2012 07:47AM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.