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Ford Model A buying guide (1927-1932)

Ford Model A buying guide (1927-1932) Classic and Performance Car
Ford Model A buying guide (Image: Mark Dixon) Ford Model A buying guide (Image: Mark Dixon) When you produce the world’s best selling car, what do you do for an encore? With 15 million sales of the Model T under its belt, Ford had the unenviable task of building a successor; the result was the Model A. After the huge success of the Tin Lizzie, there was little chance of Ford repeating the trick, but despite a production run of just four years, sales of the Model A totalled around five million units.

It was no surprise the Model A sold in smaller numbers than the T; it was only ever intended to be a stopgap. Ford had originally planned to phase out the Model T and replace it with the V-8, but with sales of the former dwindling, an interim vehicle was needed. The A was developed in just 18 months and while it may have been just a stopgap, it was innovative while remaining eminently affordable. Not only did it feature safety glass, but it was also fitted with hydraulic shock absorbers; something no rival could match. Now the car makes a surprisingly usable classic buy, thanks to its sturdy construction, excellent club and specialist support, plus an array of bodystyles that means there’s something for everyone.

Which one to buy

When the Model A was first displayed on 2 December 1927, there were plenty of variants from which to choose, with no fewer than six different bodystyles available. By the time the car ceased production there would be a remarkable 19 bodystyles on offer as well as various commercials.

All Model As got a 3285cc four-cylinder side-valve engine, although a 2043cc unit was optional in France and the UK. Neither engine is smooth, but the larger engine offers torque aplenty which is why some owners swap the smaller engine for a bigger one – the 2.0-litre unit can be hard going. Some owners even install a powerplant from the later Model B (1932-1935), as it’s more powerful.

Overhead valve conversions are also popular; these were available when the cars were new, so such modifications aren’t as sacreligious as you might think. But some of the modern conversions feature alloy components that were originally steel, and consequently such conversions aren’t recognised by the VSCC. One conversion that is recognised is Belcher Engineering’s. To make the car more usable, US specialist Mitchells offers an overdrive conversion or a fully synchronised gearbox – or you could just fit a higher back axle ratio for more relaxed cruising.

Despite the huge amount of practicality on offer, Model As don’t fetch large sums. The most valuable are the open-topped cars such as the Phaeton and Roadster, while most affordable A is the Tudor.

Tech spec - Ford Model A

Engine 3286cc, four-cylinder
Power 40bhp @ 2200rpm
Torque 128lb ft @ 1000rpm
Top speed 60mph
0-60mph N/A
Consumption 23mpg
Gearbox Three-speed manual

What to look for

• Different types of body construction were used depending on the model. An all-steel shell was used for the Tudor, Coupé, Roadster and Phaeton, with wooden frames inside for the upholstery to be attached. Meanwhile the Cabriolet and Fordor featured a wooden frame over which were fixed steel panels. Even if the steel looks good, the wood may be rotten. Everything to revive a tired A is available though.

• Thanks to white metal bearings, engines give no more than 40,000 miles between rebuilds – if given a major service every 3000-5000 miles. Rumbling from the bottom end indicates a rebuild is due. It’s possible to convert to shell-type bearings, which cuts rebuild costs.

• Make sure the engine isn’t leaking huge amounts of oil, although weeping is normal. Significant leaks are probably the result of excessive crankshaft end float, which means a full engine rebuild. It may just be because there’s no gasket between the bellhousing and engine, or the rear bearing oil drain may be blocked.

• All parts are available to rebuild the three-speed crash gearbox, but they tend to last forever. Back axles are strong too, but replacements are available if needed.

• The Model A originally had a multi-plate clutch, but got a single-plate unit within a few months of launch. The earlier item wears more rapidly and is more expensive to replace, which is why some owners convert to a single-plate unit. However, this means changing the flywheel, bellhousing and input shaft as well.

• The A’s suspension is incredibly straightforward, but the shackle pins run in steel bushings, and you need to make sure they’ve been greased or there’ll be masses of play.

• There were two types of steering box, the earliest being the seven-tooth type. These were superseded by a two-tooth alternative between February 1929 and January 1930, depending on where they were built; there were 33 factories churning As out around the world. The later unit offers more adjustment while also wearing more slowly. Changing from the earlier unit to the newer one is possible, but means swapping the steering column.

• There are brakes on all four wheels, operated by rods that can easily go out of balance. Each wheel has to be set up independently, and it takes time and patience to get it right. For the first few months of production there was no separate handbrake system; the lever merely operated the footbrake set-up. This was known as the AR system; the later one is the A-Type, and the two aren’t interchangeable.

• The drums that fitted to each wheel were originally pressed-steel, which fade and distort. Cast-iron units were fitted later, which is what everyone now fits for greater durability.

Model history

There wasn’t much development throughout the life of the Model A, which lasted from December 1927 until April 1932. The biggest mechanical change occurred soon into production, when a separate parking brake was fitted. The multi-plate clutch was also swapped for a more reliable single-plate unit while the dynamo went from a five-brush unit to a three-brush one for improved reliability.

In November 1928 the engine moved from a four to a three-point mounting, with the front of the unit located on a sprung yoke. The biggest external change was in 1930, when a higher bonnet and taller radiator were introduced – bringing with it a smoother scuttle line along with 19-inch wheels in place of the previous 21-inch items.

Variations on A theme 

• Business Coupé: fixed-head version of Convertible Cabriolet, featuring padded fabric top and no dickey seat. 
• Closed-cab pick-up: fully closed pick-up, at first using mainly Model T panels. 
• Convertible Cabriolet: Poshed-up Roadster, with folding roof, winding windows and dickey seat. 
• Convertible Sedan: drophead Tudor derivative, available during 1931 only. 
• Coupé: a five-window coupé with optional dickey seat, also available as a Deluxe with better trim. 
• Deluxe Delivery Van: panel van that looked like a Tudor. Featured side-opening rear door and panelled-over side windows. 
• Deluxe Phaeton: two-door Phaeton with individual front seats. 
• Deluxe Roadster: more luxuriously trimmed Roadster with optional dickey seat. 
• Fordor: a four-door saloon in four-light or six-light form, the latter known as the Three-Window model 
• Open-cab pick-up: fully convertible pick-up. 
• Phaeton: four-door open tourer. 
• Special Coupé: a Coupé with a leathercloth-covered roof and no dickey seat. 
• Sports Coupé: much like a Business Coupé, but with a rumble seat and dummy landau irons. 
• Station Wagon: a woody estate with maple and birch panelling. 
• Taxicab: Three-Window Fordor with a sliding glass partition. 
• Town Car: the most luxurious A of all, with sedanca bodywork. Only 1200 produced. 
• Town Sedan: more luxuriously trimmed Three-Window Fordor 
• Tudor: a two-door saloon, also available in Deluxe form. 
• Victoria: a bustle-back two-door saloon. Available only during late 1930-1931. 

Key clubs and websites


Words: Richard Dredge
Ford Model A buying guide (Image: Mark Dixon) Ford Model A buying guide (Image: Mark Dixon)
Last updated: 8th Jun 2015
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Ford Model A
24500 33500 GBP
  • 1931 Ford Model A Roadster

    $33,500(£0) $33,500(£0)

    This rumble seat roadster is one of the finest you will ever see! It is a rust free Texas car with all of it's original steel panels. As you can see it is fully restored to showroom perfection which includes mechanically, electrical, body & paint, interior etc. 4-cylinder engine (rebuilt), 3-speed transmission (rebuilt), rumble seat, leather interior, National Award Winning car! Don't let this one get away.

    • Year: 1931
    For sale
    $33,500(£0) $33,500(£0)
    Wagner's Classic Cars
    0049 214 614 21 View contact number
  • Ford Model A Fordor 1930

    €29,950(£0) €29,950(£0)

    Ford Model A Fordor 1930 fully restored This is a fully restored 1930 Ford Model A Fordor. The Ford is painted in the originel Ford Brown paint with black accents and has the originel wire wheels. Technics are fully revised, so the car drives very good. The interior has marvellous brown cloth upholstery and dashboard in the colour of the paint. Car has Holland title and mot/tuv. Easy to register in every EU country. You do not need to pay any import taxes. We can help with transport.

    • Year: 1930
    For sale
    €29,950(£0) €29,950(£0)
  • 1929 Ford Model A Roadster Pick Up

    $24,500(£0) $24,500(£0)

    The Ford Model A needs little in the way of an opening introduction. Ford had enormous shoes to fill when it came time to replace the Model T, and by the end of the T’s 18 year run, Ford’s dominance was fading. A new car was desperately needed, and while consumers and dealers demanded ever more features, Henry’s staunch pragmatism and disdain for frivolous styling slowed progress. Henry Ford eventually conceded, largely due to the influence of his market-savvy son Edsel, and the stylish and feature-filled Model A was born. The Model A debuted in 1927, featuring an L-head four-cylinder engine of 201 cubic inches, mated to a conventional sliding fork transmission, which finally put the complex and archaic planetary unit in the T to rest. Also new was a conventional three-pedal arrangement, an on-board electric starter, four wheel brakes, and a full line of new open and closed body styles. Henry had to adapt his assembly lines for flexible mass production, allowing him to build any number of body styles at the same time, yet retain the sheer volume he mastered during the time of the T. Despite getting a late start in the face of competition from the likes of Chevrolet, the Ford Model A proved to be yet another smash hit for Ford – selling over a million units by its second year in production, and going on to sell over 4.8 million examples of all body styles by the time production ended in early 1932 when the V8 powered Model 18 and improved 4-cylinder Model B took over. The Model A has gone on to become the backbone of the classic car hobby. Given the ubiquitous nature and mechanical simplicity, they are the ideal choice for an enthusiast seeking their first foray into the world of antique automobiles. Plentiful parts and a vibrant, enthusiastic community of owners also allows for even the most novice owner to enjoy a Model A to the fullest. Edsel Ford’s restrained yet classic styling lends the Model A with a sense of classlessness… something only a handful of cars (Mini, Mustang, Beetle) have managed to achieve. Even the most serious collectors make room for a Ford Model A, such is their significance, as well as the pure and simple joys they provide from behind the wheel. This 1929 Model A wears the rare and desirable Roadster Pickup body style. This delightfully patinated example struck us with its honest, hard-working character. Almost as important as the truck itself, it comes to us with a 10-page, hand written letter from a Mr. Tom Umholtz of Pennsylvania, who purchased the truck in 1965, detailing when he first saw it, how he came to own it, and his own work in tracking down its history. It is a wonderful story that makes this truck all the more endearing (including a tale of it being rolled on its side once!). He originally bought the truck in 1965 after seeing it at a local auction in Pennsylvania, as he was currently employed as a carpenter, his boss said he needed a truck, so Tom bought the A for $375. Apparently, his boss was less than pleased when he showed up in a battle-worn Model A with no top! But the truck was fundamentally sound, and through many years of careful ownership and regular use, he nursed it back to top mechanical condition, all along making improvements to the cosmetics as he could. Since his time with it, the “RPU” (Roadster Pick-Up) has been preserved with all of its visual history intact. The body is finished in dark Brewster Green (resprayed in the late 1960s for a whopping $25), while fenders and the pickup bed are black. The paint is care worn and work worn, and while the body shows a few battle scars here and there, it is solid, sound and correct Ford sheetmetal and it is fabulously endearing. The soft top is in very good condition, and the frame works as it should. Brightwork on the Model A is limited to the stainless steel radiator shell and bumpers, all of which appear in good order, fundamentally sound but in keeping with the rest of the care-worn character of this truck. Black wire wheels are shod with blackwall tires all in good order and the bed is fitted with a cherry wood plank floor that Mr. Umholtz installed in the 1960s. The bed rails are believed to be original. The overall appearance is that of a truck that has been worked hard, yet also cared for like a cherished old tool – something that has a job to do, and has been maintained so it can do it reliably. The cab is simple and workmanlike, again with barrels of character and a sense of living history that is often lost on perfectly restored examples. As with any Model A, controls are simple and it is built to last. While the cosmetics of this particular truck set the stage, it is the way it drives that completes the story. Like a trusty old tool, it starts and runs with reliable precision. The 201 cubic inch four-cylinder engine emits its signature burble and provides ample torque for easy driving. Short shift the non-synchronized 3-speed manual transmission (which is easily mastered and one of the simple pleasures of the Model A) and simply let the torque do its job. Four wheel mechanical brakes pull up strong and square with little drama. This Ford Model A has a wonderful history that it wears proudly on its sleeve. It would make a fine choice for a first-time classic buyer, as well as an established collector who simply loves an iconic car with a great story. Honest, charming, and in wonderful mechanical order, this Model A Roadster Pick Up will hopefully continue to feature in many more delightful stories for years to come.

    For sale
    $24,500(£0) $24,500(£0)