The story of this 'lucky' 1928 Ford Model A classic
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Bob Neville says this car, named Lucky 17, has no fantastic history. “It’s an everyman’s car from back in the day.”
As far as he can discover, it started life as a 1928 Ford Model A. Later on, a Michigan father and son bought it to rebuild as a dirt-tracker and racer.
“The son, Pat, is now about 95,” says Bob.
The body was modified, a Model B engine was fitted, and it was used as a hobby motorsport car before being relegated to a barn.
“It stayed there for a long time, and a mate of mine bought it,” says Bob.” He had it six months when we got chatting. He didn’t have the time for it, so I bought it.”
At that stage Bob was living in the UK, and eventually he brought it to New Zealand.
“ I love that it was beat-up and down on its luck, driven into the ground but maintained. It’s received more and more love. It was the outright winner at the Kumeu Hot Rod Festival in 2019, plus People’s Choice.”
Lucky 17 now bridges the gap between the vintage/classic-car worlds and the hot rod fraternity.
He has kept Pat updated on the car’s progress and sends him photos, “especially as parts he built and signed remain on the car”.
“We try to repair and refurbish. I like that almost Depression era ‘mend and make do’ ethos to have some fun.”
When Bob bought the car it needed a rewire, the brakes required work to meet New Zealand compliance, the gas shocks were replaced with the correct friction shocks, and the dash was “just a piece of beat-up old ply”.
Bob then met Greg Stokes, at GMS Vintage Speed, and they got things working, improving and embellishing as they went. Greg traced the dash shape, redrew it to hold more gauges without changing the overall look, built, chromed and fitted it.
When they realised fuel, water and oil had leaked together, the motor was stripped, the block fixed, the bore resleeved, and everything possible was painted, chromed and polished.
Bob believes that the car’s always been black, and there were hints it had been lettered. Now the graphics are all hand-painted (“It’s more correct than vinyl”).
The tail was cut and polished, though the few nicks and dents in the engine cowling were left, as was the hand-painted chassis.
“There are parts we’ll still refurbish, but in as sympathetic a way as possible.”
Most of the work was prompted by Bob’s determination to use the car. When the modern shocks were replaced, Bob found the set-up wasn't great.
“It was quite hairy to drive, there was an element of unpredictability, so Greg and I went through the steering, the camber and all sorts of stuff. We’ve got it now where you can take your hands off the wheel and it stays very straight.”
Just as well, as Bob took it to Leadfoot. “There are a lot of hills and corners, and though the steering is good you still have to manhandle it round, that was a hell of a lot of fun.”
His wife Julie, dressed in period costume, went up the hill alongside him, leaning on corners to help the car carve round. A couple of years ago Bob and the car went to the Summer National drag race in Taupo with all the big V8s.
“We signed up with Superstreet, and they’re all big cars, the latest Porsche Carrera and all sorts, and I’m there in Lucky 17 and people were chuckling.”
The class he entered lets the drivers dial in their expected times. The closer you are to your prediction, the higher up the rankings you finish.
“It was great fun. I dialled in 21 seconds, and was racing guys dialing in 10 seconds. I ended up in the final, against someone who drag races regularly in a Starlet with fixed rear axle, hotted up. And there’s me. And they had to give me a head start.”
The intention is that both cars cross the line at the same time. “I’d be at 69mph [111km/h] and they’d come past at 140mph [225km/h]. I lost the final by 500ths of a second because I went faster than all the other rounds.”
Fortunately the car groups seem to have accepted Lucky 17, and its rare ability to fit in at everything from those drag and hot rod meetings, to Leadfoot’s hill climb, and even the Napier Art Deco Festival.
Bob thinks he knows why it’s always welcome. “I think they’ve got used to our quirkiness!”
He can be confident in the car’s consistency, as our brief time at the wheel proved it’s easy to drive, as long as you’re prepared for a bit of wind blast, and for everyone’s head to turn.