I committed the cardinal sin of project cars, and I’m not sorry

Project Model A

When it comes to project cars, best practice is to focus on what keeps your task moving forward, in the direction of your end goal. However, the most tantalizing distraction, the siren song to any garage dweller with greasy fingernails, is doubling the workload by acquiring another project car. And I sailed my already full ship right towards that island. 

Counterintuitive as it sounds, I’ve known a lot of fellow DIYers who have pulled themselves off of one project just to kick off another, now equally demanding endeavor. When a project (like my ’65 Corvair) reaches the point where I need to either spend a lot of time or a lot of money on it to reach my next goal, instead I start scheming about how those resources could make a more immediate improvement on some other four-wheeled idea. Sooner or later, if I don’t stop myself, there I am at the U-Haul desk, laying down my credit card and leaving with an empty trailer. I’ve been down that road, and most of the time it doesn’t end well.

This time—I swear—is different. My latest distraction is a car I “chased” for many years. It wasn’t running away from me or anything; in fact it was going exactly nowhere, no matter how many times my father threatened to sell it. The 1930 Ford Model A coupe he purchased in 1968 was languished in the garage all through my childhood. Even after I discovered by passion for working on cars, we didn’t work on it. It last ran in 1997-ish, despite two of the three kids in our family (including me) carrying degrees in automotive restoration from McPherson College. We even had the tools to remedy the black coupe’s needs. 

Project Model A
Kyle Smith

Finances were partly to blame. There were always more important things to spend money on, so my dad never ordered parts for the bad brakes. The tires aged, but instead of replacing them we put the car on jack stands to prevent flat spots. My sister and I moved 1200 miles away from where we grew up in Kansas. So the Model A sat.

Through it all, I never once stopped thinking about that car. And wanting to fix it up. I thought of its rich history: The black paint was applied by hand with a brush in the early 1970s so my father and uncle could use the car for a fraternity event at Kansas State University. They applied the terrible bubblegum welds on the front fenders with an oxy-acetylene torch and wire hangers used as welding rod, since they didn’t want to waste good welding rod on their learning experiments. The seat is thick black Naugahyde that tested the capability of my grandmother’s sewing machine (and probably patience). My dad picked my mother up for at least a date or two in this car. 

Even as it sat collecting dust in the garage, it was a piece of our family’s story. Over the last decade or so my father would casually mention selling it. Along with all of those threats there was always some eBay or Craigslist ad he would send me with a line like “If I sold the coupe I could buy this one and just enjoy it without having to work on it.” Each time, I voiced my displeasure at the mere suggestion of parting with it. I offered to pay market value. Threatened to steal it in the night and hide it from him until he came to his senses. Finally, he did.

Project Model A
Project Model A interior

I spoke to my mother, who stashed away enough money that she knew they could afford a ready-to-drive car without selling the Model A that I longed to revive. So when Dad, as he had many times before, passed along a Craigslist ad for a car just a few hours south of home, I called his bluff—and the seller.

The new car was everything Dad wanted. I shit you not, it was another Ford Model A Coupe, albeit in more workable condition. So I slapped together a plan and pitched it to my parents: I would fly down and get in the truck with Dad, go buy his new car, trailer it home, unload it, load up the family coupe, then drive north to my place in Michigan. Effectively a win-win-win for everyone.

Project Model A
Kyle Smith

To my surprise, he bit that lure. The first question my father asked was “where are you going to put it?” He had a good point. My undersized two-car garage was technically full. When we purchased our house, my girlfriend and I agreed that her car would always go inside during the long cold winters. Between the Corvair, Kawasaki KE175, spare parts, tools, and other “garage stuff,” I had room for the Model A if I did some shuffling… but not if I wanted to uphold the deal I made. So my girlfriend will definitely be keeping her winter parking spot. My plan is to rent a space in a friend’s garage to store the Chevy in order to keep my life in balance.

With funds and time now split between the Corvair and the Model A, each project will slow down. Instead of focusing on one thing and getting it done, I got distracted, and you know what? I don’t regret it one bit. It’s worth it to see the Model A every day after work. This car is special to me; it represents the genesis of my passion for automobiles, passed down from my dad. And now that I have it, I’ll shuffle or sacrifice pretty much anything to keep it. Now I just have to get it on the road.