Thursday, May 19, 2005

When Paul Gauthier was in high school, he paid $35 for his first very used car — a Model A Ford.

That car is long gone, but several other Model A Fords have kept Mr. Gauthier company in the intervening years. Some of them lingered a while and others came and went quickly.

By the summer of 2004, Mr. Gauthier had accumulated three Model A Fords at his Fairfax home and, because he actually turns the wrenches restoring and maintaining his cars, he has established a reputation of being quite knowledgeable about the cars.

He was glad to help when he got a telephone call from a Model A owner seeking information. The caller said that he was moving and had to sell his car. He wanted someone to place a value on his car and was hoping Mr. Gauthier could help.

Mr. Gauthier agreed to go see the old Ford in Harper’s Ferry, for an appraisal.

He was surprised to learn that the owner, while a college student in 1947, had purchased the car from the original owner, a Nebraska farmer. It was a maroon 1930 Deluxe Fordor with black fenders. That model is commonly called a blindback sedan because it lacks rear quarter windows on both sides.

In the following 57 years the car has been to both coasts and several states before the owner had it restored in 1991 in West Virginia.

Only 13,710 such models were manufactured in 1930 and each one had a base price of $650.

The 30 wire spokes on each wheel are painted to match the maroon body color. The 2,488-pound sedan rides on a 103.5-inch wheelbase supported by 4.75/5.00x19-inch white sidewall tires. Records indicate this particular Model A was built in June 1930.

When Mr. Gauthier discovered the owner had had the car his entire adult life, he attempted to convince the man not to sell it.

The owner was adamant about selling his car and Mr. Gauthier couldn’t think of a better home for the car than his own.

He returned to Harper’s Ferry the day after Thanksgiving to collect his prize. The surprised owner asked him where his trailer was. Mr. Gauthier answered that the Model A Ford was about to be driven 60 miles to its new home in Fairfax.

Mr. Gauthier, seated behind the four-spoke steering wheel, fired up the 200.5-cubic-inch, four-cylinder engine and, listening to the reassuring sound only Model A Ford engines make, drove it home.

The 40-horsepower engine performed flawlessly, he says.

“There wasn’t much in the way of brakes,” Mr. Gauthier reports. Once he got the car home, he installed a new water pump and flushed the radiator.

Both sides of the engine hood have 22 louvers to assist in heat management.

Mr. Gauthier was pleased with the quality of the reupholstered interior. All of the fabric matches the original. All four doors feature a map pocket and the back seat even has a pull-down center armrest.

Seated in the back seat of the blindback sedan, it becomes obvious that privacy was of paramount importance. Even the 9x23-inch rear window has a pull-down window shade. Because the secluded backseat area can be so dark, an oval courtesy light is provided above the rear window.

The windshield is hinged at the top so it can be opened at the bottom for ventilation. “That’s part of my 3/30 air conditioning system,” Mr. Gauthier says, going on the explain that’s three windows open at 30 mph.

A standard equipment single vacuum-operated wiper keeps the glass clear in front of the driver.

Mr. Gauthier is a firm believer in driving his cars. The odometer on his latest acquisition is approaching 98,300, a figure he believes to be accurate.

Although the speedometer on the 12-foot 8-inch-long car is ready to record speeds up to 70 mph, he says, “I’ve only had it up to 50.”

The spare tire nestles into a slot in the left front fender. Because that frees up space at the rear of the car, Mr. Gauthier is shopping for a trunk rack to occupy that space.

He also is planning to dress up his maroon car with white pinstriping. Mr. Gauthier long ago learned that a Model A Ford owner’s work is never done. He hopes to show his car at the Father’s Day antique auto show at Sully Plantation, which is sponsored by the Model A Ford Club.

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