Last Reviewed: June 19, 2024
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I have been fascinated with cars since my pre-teen years. I started by building plastic models and reading magazines and by the time I was old enough to earn some money by delivering newspapers and cutting lawns I was saving every penny for the day when I could buy a real one. That day came in 1960 when I was 15 years old and found a 1932 Model "A" Ford for sale for the exact amount of money I had - $350. It took some selling to get my dad to approve of the purchase but with the promise that I would not drive it until I had a valid driver's license he finally gave in.

The car had been parked for some time and the owner made no promises about its condition, but I did not care. It had mechanical brakes that our insurance company said would have to be replaced with hydraulic brakes, but I did not care. And it would not start, but I did not care. It was a car on four inflated tires, meaning we could tow it home, and in my mind everything else was fixable. What I pictured was was a finished beauty, like the 1931 Ford Model A pictured here.

1931 Ford Model A

1931 Ford Model A *

We towed it home and put it on jack stands in the backyard and I went to work. I was out of money so I spent the first few weeks learning about what I had and planning for what needed to be done. I found a used Chilton's Manual and spent evenings reading it from cover to cover. As I earned money I bought paint remover and cans of spray primer and stripped the paint from one end to the other. Meanwhile I studied the brake situation and determined that the hydraulic system from a 1940 Ford would be the ideal fit, and found an affordable system in a nearby junk yard. It seems that I was always broke but it did not matter. Between school and outside work it took several weeks to modify the brakes and when I did get ahead I bought a set of steel rims and recapped tires.

After six months of work on the body and brakes the engine was the only obstacle left. I put it off until last because neither Dad nor I had any experience with engines and I assumed it would be the most expensive part of the restoration. I started by building an "A" frame from scrap wood and borrowing a chain hoist to pull the engine out of the car. My plan was to rebuild it completely and thereby eliminate whatever problems it may have had. My tools consisted of a starter set of Craftsmen hand tools my parents gave me for my Birthday so when special tools were called for I had to improvise. I used two screw drivers to pry the valve springs up far enough to remove the keepers and the suction cup off of a toy arrow to "lap" the valves in by spinning it back and forth between my two palms. A local machinist was kind enough to measure the crankshaft and camshaft bearing surfaces for me and fortunately they were within specifications. I did not want to spend my precious funds to hot tank the engine block so I built a suitable bonfire in the backyard and sat a 55 gallon steel barrel on top filled with water and a box of Tide detergent, and then soaked the block until the water boiled. And when I found that the cylinder head had a slight warp I corrected it by using a level and hand files. The only thing I had to pay for was a set of bearings and gaskets.

It took the better part of a year to get my first car ready for the road. I was not quite 16 years old so I could not take my driver's license test but I had a learner's permit and on several occasions I took it around the block when my parents were not home. By the time my birthday came I was happy with my work. The car still needed a good coat of paint, upholstery and I wanted better tires mounted on chrome rims but realized that the finishing touches could wait. When I finally got my driver's license I was ecstatic and made plans to drive it to school the next day to show it off - but that never happened.

I remember getting dressed in my favorite pair of jeans and shirt that morning and I left the house before breakfast to assure I would have plenty of time. The engine started and idled as expected in the yard and I drove through the neighborhood without a problem but shortly after turning onto the boulevard the engine sputtered and quit. I was able to coast to the curb but I was miles from home with no pay phones in site to call for help. I knew enough to check the engine for a spark, which it had; and the carburetor for fuel, which it had; and I cranked the engine over to listen for compression, which I heard. So the only thing left to do was pull out my Chilton's Manual from under the seat and read the troubleshooting section for clues, but found nothing that would help. By then an hour had passed so I decided to give it another try before walking home and to my amazement the engine started immediately and idled fine. Given the choice of being late for school or going home to admit defeat I headed on to school and made it another couple of miles before the engine sputtered and quit again. Once again I went through the routine of verifying that all the systems were working properly and once again after an hour of rest the engine started as it should. I repeated the process three times that morning before giving up and calling for help and by the time the car was parked in the backyard my anger, embarrassment and frustrations were so great that all I wanted to do was sell it and move on to something more reliable.

It took me several days to figure out the problem, but I did, and then I sold it and moved on to a 1955 Chevrolet. Do you know what happened? Send me an email with your answer and I will tell you the rest of the story!