- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2002

Thirty-three years after Ford built the last of 5 million Model A Fords, George Merkel bought one. He paid $300 for a 1931 Model A coupe in 1964 and doubled his money when he sold it a year later.

"I thought I did really well," he recollects. His memory of the Model A, however, never faded.

In the summer of 1983 he mentioned to his wife, Janet, that he would like to find a replacement for his old Model A Ford.

Within a couple of weeks on the same day both husband and wife, independently of one another, spotted the same ad in the newspaper offering a 1931 Model A Ford for sale in Northwest Washington.

The likelihood of it being what Ford called a "Tudor" sedan was great because that was the most popular model each of the four years that Model A Fords were manufactured.

Upon inspection Mr. Merkel discovered the two-door sedan had been brush-painted black and had a 1930 Model A four-cylinder engine. "It ran," is how he describes the condition of the car.

Nevertheless, he purchased it and trailered the 2,375-pound, five-passenger sedan home. It was one of 170,645 such models produced in 1931.

On his first excursion around the neighborhood Mr. Merkel ran over a bump in the road. "I danced all over the street after that," he recalls. Consequently, the first repairs he made to the Ford were replacing the king pins and bushings.

With the steering deficiencies corrected, the owner now is confident the 4.50x19-inch tires mounted on 30-spoke apple green wheels will go where he wants them to go.

After about four years of enjoying the Ford, Mr. Merkel set about restoring his Ford to, if not show condition, at least to respectability. The serial number stamped at the factory told him that his car had left production wearing a two-tone coat of Brester green with a black top above the belt line along with black fenders highlighted with apple green pinstripes. While the body restoration was under way, Mr. Merkel had the engine inspected and learned it was not worth repairing.

A couple of years earlier he purchased, sight unseen, a 1929 Model A engine.

Once the mice had been rousted from one end and bees from the other, the valveless 200.5-cubic-inch four-cylinder engine was inspected. The cast-iron, 40-horsepower engine was good enough to rebuild and reinstall into the 1931 Ford.

During the transplant Mr. Merkel insisted his six-volt generator, in perfectly good condition, be replaced with a six-volt alternator.

He still carries the old generator as a backup in case the alternator fails.

Beneath the left eight-inch diameter headlight is a black aaahh-oogah horn, this one manufactured by Sparton.

Behind the engine hood is the cowl-mounted gasoline tank. Above that is the windshield with tilt-open capability. The driver's vision is kept clear by the single vacuum-operated wiper.

At the other end of the car are a pair of taillights, the right one an optional extra.

The dashboard contains a cluster of gauges centered around the cylindrical speedometer.

The four-spoke steering wheel holds not only the horn at the hub but also the headlight controls. For safety's sake, Mr. Merkel has installed seat belts as well as turn signals.

With the assistance of several Model A club members, Mr. Merkel reupholstered the interior. He also insulated the floorboards to limit heat from the exhaust system invading the passenger compartment.

He reports that his car delivered mileage figures of 17 to 18 miles per gallon while he was driving 50 to 55 mph.

Mr. Merkel recently had the opportunity to drive a fellow Model A club member's car equipped with a high-compression head and an overdrive unit.

After driving the car with the speed equipment he ordered the same parts for his Model A. He wants to have the parts in place before the summer of 2003 when he intends to drive his 1931 Model A Ford to Dearborn, Mich., for the Ford Motor Co. centennial.

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