Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!

I want a 1930s driver - is that impractical?

78rpm78rpm Posts: 2
Having just wrecked my beautiful 1990 Cutlass sierra yesterday, I am now in the market for a new' car. I could go with another generic rental company cast-off (the Oldsmobile served me well), or I could go for something fun.

I live in Houston, so there aren't many hills to contend with. I seldom drive downtown, so I don't need to hit the interstate very often. On average, I would say I drive 10K miles a year ax. I can live without an air-conditioned, and as long as I keep out of floods, rust shouldn't be a problem.


Am I crazy in considering a Model A or similar vehicle to meet my transportation needs? It would sit in my driveway, since the garage is full. Would I face frequent servicing and maintenance issues? Are parts readily and cheaply available? Is there a risk to parking the car in the Walmart parking lot? (Model As didn't make the top 10 list for auto thefts.)

I've never owned a classic before, so any advice would be appreciated!


  • rea98drea98d Posts: 982
    Ford A Models were produced according to Henry's assembly line philosophy: Crank out as many as we can as fast as we can! So there are a lot out there, as far as cars from that era go, which means plenty of parts. And considering it has 1930's technology, then it rivals even the VW bug as far as automotive simplicity goes. You'll be giving up a lot of creature comforts, and you might want to upgrade the brakes, but I think an A Model would make a pretty good daily driver as far as a classic car goes. Think about this, what did people use for daily drivers in the 1930's? It worked for them, it should work now, so long as you can avoid I-10 like you say you can.
  • im_brentwoodim_brentwood Posts: 4,883

    Iguess it would have to be something like a Model A simply for the availability of parts.

    Understand that these cars have a heck of a time keeping up with modern traffic. ModelAs are very slow by modern standards. We're talking 0-60 in, what, 35 seconds if that?

    Mechanical, cable-activated non-hydraulic brakes..etc...

    Safety features? Ha!

    There some cars from the 30s that are quite capable of keeping up with modern traffic. However, the onesthat I can think of are all quite rare and valuable (Supercharged Cord, Duesenberg SJ, BMW 328, Alfa Romeo 8C 2900, Certain Cadillacs...etc..)

    I'd look a lot more carefully at a 50s or 60s 4-door sedan...

  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,038
    I heard that the Model A was fine around 35-45 mph, but wasn't capable of much more. Another thing to consider is that, while mechanically simple, that doesn't mean they're low-maintenance. Just to even start the thing, don't you have to set the choke and spark manually? I'm sure there were other things, too, that we just take for granted in more modern cars.

    I also heard that if you got 30,000 miles out of an engine before a rebuild, consider yourself lucky. My grandfather had a Model A when he was a teenager, a 2-door sedan, I think he said it was. I know he flipped it over once, and it held up quite well. In fact, I think he was actually able to upright it himself!
  • Yea, my great Aunt Et flipped a Model A delivering papers (it was her personal vehicle), got it upright herself and drove it home. They still have that thing in their basement...why is it that the people back then survived accidents without any safety features, yet people freak out if they don't have 6 airbags and a racing harness today?
  • blarg1blarg1 Posts: 59
    i think the v-8 is the way to go. the 4 cylinder only made 30 some hp. if you wanted an original car. keeping up in traffic is sometimes difficult in my 90 hp protege its a little pokey off the line with the a/c running...

    im sure there are some cool looking kit cars with modern parts, like power brakes power steering and reliable engines to propel you along life's highway.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 57,340
    I think, to answer your question, yes you are crazy to consider a Model A as a daily driver in the modern world. However, it is a charming thought, and I don't mean to be critical of the basic idea. But to make a Model A practical for modern day Houston would require basically turning it into something else. So why not just buy the something else to begin with?

    For the modern world, you need a minimum of:

    Decent brakes
    Decent suspension & steering
    Reasonable horsepower
    Good parts supply
    Reasonable reliability

    As you can see, the Model A can only provide one or two of these, and you need all 5. To get all 5, you'd almost have to consider a 50s/60s GM, or a 60s Ford or Mopar product.

    Having driven many Model As, and even being a very intrepid and tolerant driver when it comes to classics, I would never consider an A for my daily car--but it makes an excellent Sunday putter. My favorite is the 4-door town sedan.

    MODERATOR --Need help with anything? Click on my name!

  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,551
    I had a Model A.

    It was used strictly as a pleasure sunday driver. Believe me, that is all they are good for! 40 MPH is about it. They are crude and they can't stop either.

    If you ever get hit, you are probably dead.

    Still...lots of fun but NOT as sole transportation!
  • ndancendance Posts: 323
    I'd go for a pre-1948 Chevrolet truck. It always seemed to me that early pickups are of superior construction to early cars. In addition there's lots of aftermarket stuff for practical (ie non-hotrod) modernization.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 57,340
    Also charming vehicles, but also pretty unrealistic for everyday use. The Chevy 216 is a splash lubricated engine (that is, little dippers on the con rods pick up oil and throw it toward the top of the engine), and oil pressure is pretty minimal. One good run on a freeway on a hot day should do that engine in for good....KABOOM!

    Some people improve the old GM trucks, too, with the better 235 or even 230 Chevy Six, or a V8 transplant, power steering, different differential, updated brakes, etc.

    I like these old favorite is early 50s with a 235 engine and conversion to 12 volt one would ever notice!

    MODERATOR --Need help with anything? Click on my name!

  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,038
    ...a 1952 or '53 or so GMC pickup truck was a really nice looking beast. Had kind of a classy look to it, while most other pickups just had a cheap, utilitarian look to 'em.
  • ndancendance Posts: 323
    the more modern 6 of course (Patrick's sells a kit to make them an easy fit, perhaps just a short water pump?). Quick article reference:

    Gotta love the web.

    Seems to me they also sell a higher geared ring and pinion, air conditioning, and a Saginaw four-speed kit. I like the idea of making older trucks easier to live with, without succumbing to the full blown hotrodder universe.

  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,551
    Surprisingly these actually held up pretty good. Tehy ran with about 14 pounds of oil pressure.

    Somehow, it was possible to machine the rods and install insert bearings. Sadly, the shops and old timers who knew how to do this as well as file and shim the old style bearnings are probably all gone by now.

    But...yeah, the 235's were MUCH better engines that could take a lot of abuse.
  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    My daily driver for several months was a '54 6-window Chevy pick up. Minerva sure had character but it's hard to see her as daily transportation. I guess if I had to I'd put in a hot-rodded Jimmy 302, hydro and AC. A real suspension, steering and brakes wouldn't hurt either.

    Under the heading "some folks have more money than sense"...a few months ago I ran across one of these with a built small block and AT, lowered and painted red. Even I could tell it was pretty crude. Some local people had bought it sight unseen in Montana (Californians have to go to Montana to find good iron?) and had it shipped down as a surprise--and how--for their son when he turned 16.

    Yes he would have been surprised. In this area your average teenager lusts after a Bimmer, not Li'l Abner's dream machine and to top it off they had no idea it was a hot rod.

    They brought this piece of work to their mechanic who suggested it would probably end up upside down at the gentle hands of a 16-year-old male driver.

    So they sold the truck and bought him a Bimmer, adding years to his life and dodging the process of natural selection.
  • dpwestlakedpwestlake Posts: 207
    I know a guy that has a 53 or 54 chevy 3/4 ton. He put a 5 speed od from a late model p/u in it. It bolts right up to the old 6 cyl.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 57,340
    Maybe he means with an adapter plate...I can't imagine bell housings from modern cars bolting up to an old Chevy 6...and a different pilot bushing in the crank end too.

    Oh, I think modern machine shops are more than capable of doing whatever you want to a Chevy 216, including substituting inserts for babbit bearings. The "old timers" did some pretty crude stuff because they were working on pretty crude pieces of iron. But for precision and finesse, a modern shop could do wonders (if you are willing to pay!). This is one reason why there are some 1 million Model A Fords still on the road. Modern machining, metallurgy, fuels and lubricants.

    MODERATOR --Need help with anything? Click on my name!

  • kinleykinley Posts: 854
    The noisy Chev was a healthy Chev. Due to the tappet adjustments of .006 intake and .013 exhaust. JC Whitney sold an "oil soaker" with rivets that fit over the valve train. It helped, but never as quiet as the 235 with HL. Life magazine's ads for the car mentioned the "Turret Top", Vacuumatic Transmission, & it was the firs year with the 3 on the tree. After installing a spring on the tranny cables, it would shift to 3rd by itself. If we wanted more MPG, we'd disconnect the vacuum WS wipers. Factory air was the cowl vent. You could open a beer on the bumper & drink it in the shade, sitting on the running boards. Power steering was by Armstrong. Did I mention it was my first car?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 57,340
    And now we all want the shifter BACK on the floor!

    MODERATOR --Need help with anything? Click on my name!

  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,038
    ...throw a Chevy smallblock into it! He had an old Willys Jeep with a 350, a Model A (I think it was a sedan-delivery) with a 350 in it, and I don't think he EVER owned a '55-57 Chevy without a 350!

    My great-uncle gave him a rusted hulk of a '74 Impala that still had a good 400 sb, and he yanked that out and threw it in something else!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 57,340
    Well, as long as he upgrades the brakes and suspension for all that power--otherwise, it's just one scary thing to drive.

    MODERATOR --Need help with anything? Click on my name!

  • 78rpm78rpm Posts: 2
    OK, you guys have convinced me - driving a Model A around Houston on a regular basis is not such a great idea. My wife was right, so now I'm shopping for a Camry.

    Appreciate the input!
  • rea98drea98d Posts: 982
    Wow! That's a big swing! You don't have to go that far ;-). You could always find yourself a nice 59 El Dorado or something.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,038
    ...get a Dart, Valiant, Falcon, or Chevy II. Or a Rambler!
  • im_brentwoodim_brentwood Posts: 4,883
    Heck, a lot of classic cars are fully capable of daily use.

    Take as an example: Guy I know from the weekly cruises here in Orlando bought a beautiful 57 Chevy Bel-Air 4-door sedan. 283 4bbl, Powerglide, power steering, brakes..etc.. Nice car. Larkspur Blue/India Ivory (Lt Turquoise/White) with matchinginterior.

    Paid like $9,500 or so for it. Another $1,200 or so for AC.. ANother $900 or so for a decent radio and CD CHanger and speakers...

    I could live with a car like that...

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 57,340
    Big difference from 1930s cars, of course. Well, actually, a 1957 isn't very different in technology from a 1930s car, but it way more refined. Having enough power and easier steering makes a world of difference. Sure, you could use a 1957 Chevy everyday no problem as long as you don't try and get frisky with it. Some folks need to get used to old drum brakes. But certainly modern tires would help a lot, as would modern shocks and maybe a good stout swaybar.

    MODERATOR --Need help with anything? Click on my name!

  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,551
    Too many modifications and it isn't a '57 Chevy anymore.

    Granted, these updates may make for a more drivable car but they sure detract from the originality of it.
  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    Somewhere along the line I had a feeling we were doing this more for our benefit than 78rpm's. That's okay, it's a great topic.

    I'm more on Isell's side--after all, why have an old car unless the driving experience is at least somewhat "of the period"?--but even originality can be a moving target.

    There were significant differences in ride and handling between tri-year Chevies at least when they were new. The '57 was more biased toward ride quality than the '55-56 but after almost 50 years of wear and owner modifications I doubt that most "stock" tri-year Chevies ride and handle like the day they left the factory.

    There were 8 different front spring rates for '55-57 Chevies. While that doesn't mean a Chevy buyer could choose from 8 different suspensions, I know that Chevy offered a taxi or police package to the public that had stiffer suspension and better brakes. Recreating this package or something close to it might offer a good compromise between originality and better performance.

    There's also the possibility of period modifications. In '57 Chevy put out a pamphlet on how to turn your Chevy into a stock car, complete with factory part numbers. In 1971 I went down to my local Chevy dealer and with the help of a friendly parts man and "Bill Carroll's Chevrolet V8 Performance Guide" bought four HD springs and what I think is called a Panhard rod for my '61 Chevy.

    Back in the early '60s there was a mint black '57 Nomad usually parked in a driveway in my neighborhood. Actually it was nothing more than a very clean used car in those days, but I'd go out of my way to ride my bike past it. I think if there's one American sedan I'd commit larceny to own it's probably that one.
  • rea98drea98d Posts: 982
    Who cares about originality? If you're using the car for a daily driver, and don't butcher it up doing drag-car modifications, nobody's gonna stop you on the street, look under the car, and then lambast you for not having a "real" 57 Chevy cause you changed the suspension. They're just going to see a cool car, and give you a thumbs-up or something and say they like the car. Of course, some people enjoy putting cars in concourse competitions, but they (usually) don't drive those vehicles. Since it's a daily driver, though, why not make a few changes to make the car more livable?
  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    Newer cars (like newer houses) are much more livable and obviously an old car that's been updated is going to be a much better daily driver. I like seeing older cars on the road and sometimes wish I could trade places with their drivers for a few minutes but that doesn't make me want to give up a 2001 for a 1957.

    On the other hand, if you want a car that has the refinement and reliability of a Camry, why not buy a Camry? Why turn a '57 Chevy into a Camry? Why not make minor improvements that still let you appreciate the original driving experience (warts and all). That's as much a part of the car as the styling and nostalgia factor.

    I guess it depends at least partly on the owner's situation. If a '57 was my daily driver then I'd want to bring it into this century. If it was my week-end car I'd leave it mostly original so I could appreciate the contrast with the very nice appliance I'm driving now.

    It also depends on the car. I think early Falcon coupes are pretty sharp but I had a full dose of original Falcon-ness and it's not something I'd want to repeat. On the other hand, I had a '57 Buick that was a competent driver (at least by my standards) although it sure wasn't a 3-series BMW let alone a Camry.

    And it depends on the needs and expectations of the owner. That's why there's no right or wrong answer.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,551
    Still, I hate to see a nice old car "Mickey Moused" up because disc brakes and a different engine will make it more drivable.

    But, that's me...
This discussion has been closed.