It’s probably a combination of heredity and environment. On May 9, 1930, my father Philip Foster, whose 96th birthday would be today, bought a new Model A Ford Standard Roadster from William T. Swackamer, of Long Valley, New Jersey. He explained to me once that he went out of town, rather than buying from the dealer in Morristown where he lived, because Mr. Swackhamer let him finance the car despite the fact that he was only 19 years old. He paid it off within nine months. The total delivered price, including a spare tire cover, spring covers and a “lever starter,” was $544.82.
The lever starter, which I’ve never seen on another Model A, operated the starting motor with a pull of the left hand, as opposed to pushing a toadstool on the floor with one’s right foot. Is this the “Upstarter” that I’ve seen mentioned in Model A circles?
Everyone knows the Model A story. “Henry’s Lady” made her debut on December 2, 1927, bringing Model T technology up to date and adding Lincoln style. A myriad of body styles became available, “Tudor” and “Fordor” sedans, roadsters and coupes, with and without rumble seats. For 1930, the design was freshened with a taller radiator and smaller wheels. A station wagon (first offered in 1929) was in the catalog, as was a Cabriolet with roll-up windows. Two of my favorite body styles are the two-door Deluxe Phaeton and the 400A Convertible Sedan. One of the least known is the 1931 Deluxe Pickup, with only 293 built. You don’t hear much about Model As in competition, but the Brits have been known to rally them.
Model A’s were simple technology. Fuel feed was by gravity feed from cowl-mounted tank that also served as the dashboard. The 200 cubic-inch engine had torque and spunk; my friend Gene and I collected a whole bunch of Model A’s in the days when $25 would buy a driveable car and became so familiar that we could fix them in our sleep. Alas, I don’t think any pictures survive from that Model A period of my life.
Dad’s Model A, however, was never available for experimentation. In the late 1930s he converted the rumble seat to a pickup box for his woodworking business (this picture is a rare view – in my memory it was never left out in the weather). It was the first car I knew, and the first I drove – sitting on Dad’s lap while he worked the pedals.
From the early fifties it mostly slumbered. Brought out in the early sixties for a stillborn restoration, it returned to the barn as I went off the college. In 1980 I took possession and moved it to my own garage. My parents got a chance to drive it in 1984, but by that time I had neither the money nor the time to complete a restoration. It slumbers still, straight, solid and dry. I will awaken it one day. Until then, each time I hear a Model A my heartbeat falls into its familiar rhythm.