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Ford Model A buying guide (1927-1932)

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 cars for sale

4 Search results
Ford Model A
11375 21385 GBP
  • Ford - Model A - 1928

    €25,000 - €32,500 est. (£22,332.50 - £29,032.25 est.) €25,000 - €32,500 est. (£22,332.50 - £29,032.25 est.)
    Online Auction
    Auction Date: 01 Jan 1970
    Catawiki Auctions
  • Ford A 3,3

    £15,428 £15,428

    Ford A 3,3 Equipment: Phaeton Meget fin stand skal ses ekstra Karroseri medfølger ring for info

    • Year: 1929
    For sale
  • 1928 Ford Model A

    £11,375 £11,375

    This 1928 Ford Model A Roadster is a highly collectible original car. Blue with black interior. A very solid and complete car wearing an old restoration. It's a good driver that's mechanically very sound. It's presentable but could use minor cosmetics. A great buy at just $17,500

    • Year: 1928
    For sale
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