Curious classic: it's a Ford 'ute', but not as we know it
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Errol McAlpine has three registered Model A Fords in his garage. That isn’t too much of a surprise — many owners of classics have more than one.
It’s the size of his garage and the tonnes of parts that is breathtaking. It turns out that when he retired as a home appliance technician 11 years ago, he turned his hobby into a small parts and repairs business specialising in Ford Model A and T, plus other vintage servicing.
No wonder the Ford he uses most often is this 1928 Ford Model A ute, its canvas-covered tray weighed down by boxes of tools and car components.
“It’s always been a ute,” he says, “and never restored, just maintained.” Certainly it seems like it’s never had a full, ground-up restoration but neither is it untouched.
He acquired it around 35 years ago. He says it was running “whole, complete, but not shiny”.
When he saw a photo of a 1932 ute with a canopy, he modelled one for his own ute.
The ute was repainted in 1993. Other alterations include fitting 16in wheels in place of the standard 21s, shod with radial tyres that resemble cross-plys, a change made to improve handling and safety for a round trip of 4500km from Auckland’s Waitākere ranges to Te Anau.
He removed the original motor, as it was making a few uncalled for noises, installing a replacement he built “from junk”, with a few advantages to boost power from around 30kW to around 70.
While that sounds modest by today’s standards, anything “new” — like the 1936 V8 water pump — is from the 1920s or 1930s; all items that could have been fitted by any petrolhead when the car was young.
“We did 4500km and never had to put any oil in, or water. They don’t normally do that.”
The cabin is spartan. There’s an ammeter, a speedo/odometer and a float-driven fuel gauge, four floor pedals — starter button, brake, throttle and clutch — in different order to a modern car. And there are three levers on the steering wheel, for throttle, timing and lights.
The 3.3-litre in-line four-cylinder motor linked to a three-speed transmission has plenty of pull and cruises happily at about 88km/h. That’s thanks to a new high-compression head, and that required an upgrade from a 6V set-up to 12V, as the 6V battery wouldn’t turn the higher compression over. He says the 34-litre tank means, “I can get to Te Kuiti.”
The mechanical (no hydraulics back then) brake drums were upgraded to cast iron as the pressed steel has a habit of fading rapidly. And he plans to fit indicators as he
says modern drivers tend not recognise hand signals for turns.
Errol started owning vintage Fords as a hobby in 1972, and his children spent “many a mile” sitting in the ute tray. His son now has a panelbeating business and his own Model A ute. Errol is now selling his business and is busy stocktaking to work out a price.