I just woke my family’s 1930 Ford Model A from its 23-year slumber
The origins of my love for automobiles can be traced to one car: a 1930 Model A Ford that I rescued from my parents’ garage. It took a month to find the time, but now the car is running again after a 23-year hiatus. Best of all, it went smoother than expected.
It all started when I called my father’s bluff on buying a better Model A for him to drive, then commandeered this car to put it back on the road and give it a future beyond only seeing the sun when the garage needed cleaning.
It was a big plan, no doubt about it. Bordering on intimidating. That might explain why I did nothing but continue its sedentary legacy for another month after the car arrived in my Traverse City garage. The plan was easy enough—put in a six-volt battery and a splash of gas, and see if it would fire. I would formulate a larger plan from there. Instead, it sat. I was busy with other projects and travel, but it still felt so good to have the car in the garage waiting to be resuscitated.
To kick myself in the butt, I invited some friends over on a Tuesday night with the premise that I would be futzing around and trying to start the ’A. Some accountability never hurt anyone, right? I punched the clock, headed home, opened the garage, and looked at the project before me.
Suddenly, I realized I was creating a mountain from a molehill.
These old engines are simple, low-compression, low-stress workhorses. Add in the fact that this car drove into a relatively stable, climate-controlled garage 23 years ago, and the situation got a lot brighter. I pulled the spark plugs just to inspect them, along with the distributor cap. Connecting a battery showed that the points sparked—I gave them a quick scuff with some light sandpaper, just to be safe. Finding no alarming signals from those parts, it was on to the fuel system.
The sediment bowl still held liquid fuel. Joking with the slowly assembling group of helpers and spectators, I noted this car had never seen ethanol gas. Having been tucked away in 1996, it had only ever ran pure gas, so I hoped the tank would be clean and the updraft carburetor might still have its gaskets and no gunky deposits. Dad stored everything drained and dry, leaving oil as the only fluid in the mechanicals.
Removing the sediment bowl revealed a cracked gasket, but after putting a small amount of fuel in the tank and flushing it out through the sediment bowl, I used a bit of chassis grease to create a seal (not a permanent one, but a seal nonetheless) so the bowl wouldn’t leak. Then focus turned downstream to the carb. Flipping the fuel shutoff filled the sediment bowl as we watched and waited for the stream to hit the carb’s float bowl.
Gas poured out from the overflow of the carb. Nothing a hammer couldn’t fix, though, as a few taps from a small ball-peen freed the sticky float and sealed up the leak. The spark plugs were threaded back into the head, the distributor cap was assembled, and the water pump greased.
It was then time to push the floor-mounted starter button and see what happened. One quick crank to see if the starter would stick, then a longer one to try and draw some fuel vapors in. I flipped the choke after one rotation. A chuff. A putter… and a smooth pitter-patter.
The 200-cube flathead caught right up as if it had never stopped, and settled into a relatively smooth idle. It was, honestly, uneventful. There was no drama or labored process of chasing problems or items that needed attention. Here was a simple engine doing exactly what it was designed to do—run faithfully. I felt vaguely guilty about feeling surprised.
All intentions for the night were to fire the engine off and celebrate. I had thought it would take longer to start. But the sun was still up and no one was thinking about their curfew just yet, which meant all the minds in the garage immediately pivoted to the thought of driving it. We collectively skipped past the amazement of starting this 23-year-dormant engine and went right on to the next shiny milestone. What could go wrong?
The brake pedal passed the hard/harder test, so there was some stopping power there. The three-speed transmission had oil in it, and the rear end had some black liquid that probably used to be oil. We dumped three gallons of water into the radiator. No reason not to try and elevate the night from one success to two.
I slid in behind the wheel and my sister Kacy hopped in the passenger seat. We idled backward in the driveway not much faster than walking speed before stabbing the brakes to see what I was dealing with. The car stopped.
I was driving Dad’s Model A. The black coupe seemed to rejoice with Kacy and me as we puttered around the block, the engine running smoother with each minute it cycled.
Parking the car outside the garage and stepping out of the door brought a sense of euphoria. This coupe is the origin of my love for classic cars, but I had only seen it drive twice in my life—until that day when I drove it. That makes three times I’ve seen it drive. I vow that number will keep climbing.