Rain, Sleet, Snow and Sun: The author shows us that it is both possible and enjoyable to drive a Model A Ford all year round.
As I turn onto Route 39 for the final leg of my journey into Hershey, Pennsylvania, I’ve just spent the last three days on the road reflecting on my experiences driving this 81-year-old car every day for the past year.
For several years I’d been thinking about driving an old car for 365 consecutive days simply to prove that they should be driven and are reliable, and that you don’t have to be a millionaire. When I mentioned the idea to McKeel Hagerty during lunch one day, he challenged me to go through with it.
Not wanting to back down from the challenge, I started searching for the right car. It had to be old enough that most people would find it a hardship to drive every day. It also had to be affordable, reliable and easily serviced. The 1930 Ford Model A Tudor Sedan I found fit the bill perfectly. Initially known as “Sophie,” I affectionately refer to her as “the Mighty Model A,” and together we’ve logged 15,000 miles over the past year. The rules were simple: the Model A was to be my primary source of transportation regardless of distance or weather. The only exception was that I would be allowed to drive a modern rental car if I traveled by plane for business purposes.
Living in northern Michigan, about 6,000 of those miles were through the winter months with significant snow and occasional sub-zero temperatures. Many people were curious about how the car handled in the snow and if it had a heater. As it turned out, it handled great in the snow and, yes, I did have a period-correct exhaust manifold heater, which worked surprisingly well. Making it through the winter without a single incident was one of the highlights of the experience.
My daily commute was 14 miles each way on a curvy rural road with a 45 mph speed limit. The Mighty Model A comfortably cruises at 50 mph, so my daily routine was not slowed. Long trips, on the other hand, such as the 420 miles to visit my mother, jumped from eight to 14 hours. In addition to this final three-day, 750-mile road trip to Hershey, during the year I drove from northern Michigan to Detroit twice, northern Illinois via Chicago twice, Indianapolis once, and even enjoyed a trip across Lake Michigan on the SS Badger steam ferry.
Motoring through the big cities proved to be less of a challenge than I originally anticipated, as I stuck with major secondary roads that paralleled major highways. I did have to remember to practice the “10-second rule” from drivers ed class in order to leave plenty of room between the Model A and the car in front. The few times a car ahead made a sudden move I had plenty of time to react despite the original mechanical brakes. I should probably remember this lesson regardless of the car I’m driving.
Throughout the year I only needed a tow truck twice. Both times were due to electrical issues, and I admit that I should have replaced the 81-yearold wiring harness for my yearlong adventure. The major issue I experienced was a crack in the engine block that caused coolant to leak into an exhaust port. While this crack was repairable, I swapped out a short block to get my primary source of transportation back on the road quickly.
the biggest highlight has been meeting people along the way who might otherwise have remained strangers. Seeing this car on the road in all types of weather gave them the chance to share their memories of how they (or their parents) had a similar Ford. I was also thrilled every time a young person would turn his or her head and say, “that’s a cool old car!”
the experience taught me that it’s OK to enjoy life in the slow lane. At least twice a day I was forced away from computers, emails and telephones when I climbed into “the Mighty Model A” for my two-hands-on-the-wheel driving experience without radios, GPS, Bluetooth connectivity or any other electronic distraction. Within my mobile sanctuary, I could unwind and let my thoughts run uninterrupted. It was a wonderful part of the experience that I’ll really miss.
Many people claim that the longer a trip takes, the worse it is. My back-road routes took me away from boring vanilla interstates and through some of the most interesting scenery and towns in the Midwest and East. By leaving the superhighways, I realized that each trip was as much about the journey as it was the final destination.
I hope my yearlong undertaking has proven that old cars deserve to be driven and enjoyed. I’m not out to advocate that people trade in their modern vehicles. However, occasionally stepping away from the demands of daily life is good for anyone, and one of the best ways to do that is in an old car.
To see this article in its original format, view the pdf version of the Winter 2011 issue of Hagerty magazine