"something of an extraordinary nature will turn up..."

Mr. Micawber in Dickens' David Copperfield

Kit Foster's

CarPort

AUTOMOTIVE SERENDIPITY ON THE WEB

CarPort
May 2nd, 2007

Shay Reproduction Model A roadster

Actually, it’s 88 horses, but that doesn’t have the right ring to it. I came across this automobile while walking down Bloor Street in Toronto a couple of summers ago. At first glance, at least to the uninitiated, it looks like a 1928-29 Model A Ford roadster. Closer examination, however, shows certain differences in detail from a real ’29 roadster, although the overall proportions seem right. Most CarPorters know already that we are looking at a Shay Reproduction Model A Roadster.

Harry J. Shay, a former auto industry engineer, formed the Model A and Model T Motor Car Reproduction Corporation in February 1978. He had developed a prototype car over the previous six years and began taking orders for fiberglass-bodied roadsters that would use Pinto drivetrain and suspension parts. Taking advantage of a relationship developed with Ford Motor Company, the cars were to be sold by Ford dealers. With orders coming in, Shay opened a plant in Battle Creek, Michigan, and the first cars emerged in August 1979. Prices were to start at $5,950, then about the price of an entry-level Thunderbird. The following summer, 2,000 had been built, and Shay’s company claimed to be the sixth-largest auto manufacturer in the US, but prices nearly doubled, encroaching on Lincoln territory. Cash flow problems, however, caused plant shutdown in March 1982, and liquidation that summer.

Shay Model As were reportedly reliable, and offered the impression of vintage motoring with modern comforts and service support. The cars fooled few, however, as the interior, particularly, was nothing like the original. The Pinto engine, too, while smaller yet more powerful than the old Model A unit, had a different feel and less low-end torque, though the shiftless could order an automatic transmission. Shay’s careful replication of proportion, however, avoided pitfalls of the Glassic, an International Scout-based caricature of a Model A roadster built by Jack Faircloth’s Glassic Industries in Florida from 1966 to 1972. Glassic also offered a two-door phaeton, no more faithful a reproduction than the roadster.

Shay Model As have a certain following, even now, and the Shay Owners Club International maintains a substantial website with historical and technical information. Glassic, too, has a web presence.

Both Shay and Glassic were later resurrected, briefly, by others, to no avail. Maybe this demonstrates that boutique manufacturing of automobiles is no longer viable. Or perhaps most people just feel as I do: If you want a Model A you’re just as well off with a real one.

Serendipity: n. An aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.
“They were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.”
Horace Walpole, The Three Princes of Serendip
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