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Sunday, May 5, 2013

1928-1931 Ford Model A

The 1928 Ford Model A
The last Model T Ford rolled out of the factory doors on May 26, 1927. Henry Ford turned to his chief engineer, Eugene Farkas and said, “We have to do it now.” By ‘do’ he meant was, they would have to find a replacement for the four-wheeled legend. There was no plan in place and no replacement on the horizon. They would begin from scratch.

Months went by with no word from Dearborn. Ford’s golden silence only added to the mystery and mystique of the moment. It was as good as the highest priced publicity.  After months of open speculation by the press as to what Ford’s heir apparent might be, the long awaited Model A was finally unveiled on December 2, 1927. Eager to be part of automotive history, tens of thousands lined up in the cold and snow at dealerships to be among the first to catch a glimpse of Henry’s latest creation.

Styled by son Edsel, this Ford carried beautiful lines and was as modern as a Marcelle hair wave. It boasted such up-to-date technology as Houdaille shock absorbers. Henry personally insisted that rustless steel be used for the radiator shell, headlamps and exterior trim. Electric windshield wipers, a Bendix starter, four-wheel mechanical brakes, safety glass in the windshield (an industry first) and even bumpers were thrown in to the base price.

Under the hood loafed a 205-cubic inch, four-cylinder engine that generated 40 horsepower. Its pistons were made of aluminum. The planetary transmission used in the Model T was replaced with a conventional three-speed manual shifter. The peppy little car could hit 25 miles per hour in eight seconds. That was fast enough to embarrass Packard owners. No slouch on the roads, the Model A was capable of 65 miles per hour on good paved highways.

1929 Ford Model A Cabriolet

Sales were brisk. The total of Model A Fords sold throughout the 48 states during 1928 reached 633,594 units. In 1929 that sales figure hit 1,507,132 units. Then the stock market crashed. Sales for 1930 reflected the downward turn in the economy as domestic sales dipped to 1,155,162 units delivered.

Though there was very little change from last year, for 1931 there were no fewer than 23 models to choose from. The sales theme was “Value Far Above the Price.” The Roadster was described as being “smart” and “alert” and “as capable as it looks. It sold for the rock bottom price of $430. There was a Tudor Sedan, Fordor Sedan, a Coupe, a Sport Coupe, and a Phaeton. New this year was a Convertible Cabriolet. Models could be had in base form or for a few extra bucks one could upgrade to the Deluxe trim version. These were much more popular than the base models and salesmen were told to push them hard. Special displays of Deluxe Fords were sent out on tours.

Hollywood actress Joan Crawford poses with her Town Sedan.
The stylish Town Sedan arrived partway through the selling season. It had bodies built by Murray or Briggs, both well-known custom coach houses. The luxurious automobile was carefully depicted in lush, upper class settings to appeal to consumers who still had a few bucks and wanted something a little better than basic transportation. Upholstered in Mohair or Bedford Cord or optional cost genuine shark-grain leather, it offered a folding armrest in the centre of the back seat as well as rear side arm rests. The window moldings were finished in wood. The Town Sedan was easy to spot; it sported the latest styling rage, a raked windshield. It carried a list price of $590.

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!
The watchword to the consumer was the improved economy realized by buying a Ford. Salesmen were taught to emphasize the low purchase price, the low cost of operation and the minimal upkeep. The simplicity of the design, the high quality of the materials used and the accuracy in manufacturing and assembly were all strong selling points. These cars were fairly trouble free according to owner surveys and that certainly helped to sway consumers to part with their dollars in the dark days of 1931.

Unsolicited testimonials didn’t hurt, either. One satisfied customer wrote, “I purchased a Model A Ford Coupe on May 8, 1928, and at this writing have run it 75,888 miles. After I had driven 44,400 miles, I spent $45 in repairs and at 61,000 miles had an additional amount of work done costing $25. I have never had the brakes relined. My tire mileage has averaged more than 18,000 miles.” His words were high praise, indeed. Oh, the Ford fan who wrote the letter was a travelling salesman.
Ford of Canada's headquarters in Ford (Windsor), Ontario.

Two big milestones occurred for Ford that year. On March 24, 1931 workers at Ford of Canada finished the one-millionth vehicle to be built in that country. A week later workers in Dearborn built the 20 millionth Ford to be assembled in the USA. Both  cars were turned into rolling advertisements and sent on tours throughout their respective countries.

Few cars are as loved as the Ford Model A and there is many a miniature available for the enthusiast. The National Motor Museum Mint has a 1:18 scale Roadster with more than 100 parts. Motor City offers a Tudor police car in 1:18 scale, as well. In the 1:64 scale is a Ford Woody from Hot Wheels and in the 1:24 scale we are treated to an exquisitely detailed Ford Woody with side curtains from Danbury. This one even features a removable rear seat with springs. Minicraft has a 1:16 scale High Boy V-8 Roadster in plastic and Revell offers a two-in-one 1931 Ford Sedan hot rod kit in the 1:25 scale.

Signature offers this 1931 Ford Model A Panel Police Van in 1:18th scale.
All the hoop-la didn’t do much for sales in 1931. It turned out to be a tough year for Ford. Only a total of Ford 541,615 passenger cars in the United States. That figure was down by nearly two thirds of the units sold in 1930. Correspondingly, employment at Ford dropped from 100,000 to 30,000. The company was still sitting on cash reserves even though there was no light at the end of the tunnel for the sales slump, at least not yet. It’s a good thing that the boys at Ford didn’t have access to a crystal ball. Despite an all-new V-8 car, domestic sales would slide even further downhill in 1932.

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

Copyright James C. Mays 2002
 All rights reserved.

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