The Model A that stayed the course
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It’s not often you meet someone who’s owned a car for 50 years. This 1930 Ford Model A was already old when Russel McAlpine bought it, in 1968. It was his first car. He was 16, and for some reason he can’t recall, he wanted to get into the vintage car scene. His dad had owned one,
“We bounced around in the back when we were kids.”
However the Model A wasn’t his first choice. “We looked at an Essex, and a Whippet.”
Eventually he sought out an A because it would be easy to find parts.
This 1930 Ford Model A had a WoF and registration, and was running.
“But it was all one colour. The bumpers were painted; it had a crappy canvas-type hood.
“It wasn’t long before my brother and I took it off the road, and did it up in my grandmother’s garage. We’d go round there Sunday mornings and create havoc.”
He paid $400 for it, but by the time he’d fettled the engine, redone the paint, upholstery and roof, it had cost a further $1500.
The A was his only transport until the early 1970s, when he bought a MkII Jaguar. By then he’d finished his apprenticeship as an electrician, and had met Jocelyn at a dance at Milford.
“He rang and asked me out, and we went in the Model A to an A&P Show. The weather was terrible, and everyone was getting stuck and we just chugged out,” says Jocelyn.
She says that was her test.
Clearly she passed, because they married — and initially sold the “modern” cars, bar the work van.
The Ford was repainted again in 1982. Russel and Jocelyn stripped it and got a guy to paint it. They’d strap the two toddlers into the child seats of the time. The family even went to the Rotorua International in it — “with a 10-week-old baby and we had other friends with a Model A and children”, says Russel.
They’d take the kids to a car rally, and the next day would be children’s payoff, with the chance to let off steam. Jocelyn says the children did gain something from the experience. “They were pretty good navigators.”
The couple take the old car all over New Zealand, usually with two other couples — also in As — they’ve been to Cape Reinga and Bluff, and are planning a trip to Te Anau. One of their friends, with a 1928 Ford, has marked all the roads they’ve covered on a map — and they’ve taken some gnarly ones that few would try without all-wheel-drive.
“We’ve done the Molesworth, Dunstan, Danseys, the Nevis,” says Russel
On the Nevis in Central Otago, Jocelyn stood up through the tricky bits to see better, and called instructions on the intercom.
Despite all this, the car remains more or less standard, with its 3.4-litre side valve engine and three-speed gearbox. The couple have made only a few changes. There is a 12v charger for the phone and the invaluable TomTom, but wiring it in was tricky, as it’s a different polarity.
The car was reupholstered in the 1960s, and again a few years ago, but the roof is the 1960s version, restitched when that went rotten. There is a modern oil filter and an air filter. “For dusty roads, as otherwise you’re just cutting and polishing the bore.”
Given the paucity of instruments, driving might seem simple but there is an advance and retard lever and a throttle lever where modern indicator and wiper stalks would be. The lever on the steering wheel is for the headlights. A foot button fires the motor, and the accelerator is the middle pedal, which takes getting used to.
There’s lots of torque, you can just about change up and leave it there. We cruised through Oratia at an easy 50km/h: Russel and Jocelyn normally top out at an 80km/h cruise, “But she will motor at 60mph [96.5km/h].”
When it was built, the Austin 7 in England was continuing to bring motoring closer to the masses but in the US that was this car, the Model T’s replacement.
But being American, it’s a lot bigger than that Austin — three times heavier, and with an engine five times the size, so it gets along well. You don’t need to double-declutch through the gears, and for its time it feels nicely planted on the road, though slightly less agile through the tighter Waitakere hill roads than its British counterpart would be.
It has an advantage over modern vehicles. “I can drive it as fast as I like, and never get a speeding ticket,” says Russel.
It’s great to see vintage car owners using their cars regularly. And infecting their kids with the bug. Both children learned to drive in this car, and one went on to buy and restore an Escort wagon.