Ford’s first modern car, the Model A, might not have had a long run, but its significance can’t be denied.
1930 Ford Model A 2-Door Coupe – media.ford.com | Shop Ford Model A on Carsforsale.com
The Ford Model A had a brief run, just a scant four model years, but it was a pivotal car for Ford, bridging the gap between the Model T and later Model B and Model 18. The Model A sold nearly five million units and reestablished Ford as the preeminent American automaker. With a wide range of body styles, the Model A’s platform was adapted to numerous use cases ranging from luxury coupe to farm truck. Though not as famous as the Model T or as beloved as the Ford V8, the Model A was one of the most important cars in Ford’s history and ushered the company into the modern automotive era.
The Ford Model A was the company’s first modern design. That is, a three-pedal configuration that would be recognizable to drivers today, with a clutch, brake, and throttle. It was a major departure from the aging Model T, which had seen an extended 18-year run and was becoming increasingly arcane to newer drivers. (In fact, we wrote a whole article on the oddities of driving a Model T.)
By mid-1920s, GM was biting into Ford’s sizable market share with additional luxury features and new amenities (the kinds Henry Ford felt were frivolous) and larger more powerful engines. Though Henry Ford was initially resistant to replacing the Model T, he eventually approved of the project for a new car. He led the design of the chassis and mechanicals while his son Edsel was given supervision of the body design.
Production on the Ford Model A began in 1927 for the 1928 model year. Prices ranged from the basic roadster at $380 to the luxury-oriented Town Car at $1,400.
One of the Model A’s biggest advancements was its new 201 cu-in (3.2L) flathead inline-four. The engine made 40 horsepower and could achieve a top speed of 65 mph. It came with a three-speed manual transmission. As we noted above, the Model A was the first Ford with a modern three-pedal step up of clutch, brake, and throttle.
There were, however, a few items that might trip up today’s drivers. One is the starter button located on the floor of the car. On the steering column you’ll find the ignition handle on the left and the throttle handle on the right (often used by today’s Model A owners as a pseudo-cruise control). There’s also the fuel valve under the dash. The Model A’s fuel is gravity fed, obviating the need for a fuel pump.
The Model A’s dash was simple. It contained the ignition/key slot, fuel gauge (which was merely a non-mechanical float as the fuel tank sits right in front of the dash), the odometer and speedometer, and amp meter gauge. The car’s lights were controlled via a switch ringing the horn button on the steering wheel.
While the Model A isn’t nearly as difficult to start as the Model T was, it still takes more effort than today’s cars. To start a Model A the first thing to do is open the fuel valve and make sure the spark advance is all the way up. Next, turn the key and pull the throttle down just barely on. Then, give the choke a pull, hit the starter switch with your foot and almost immediately release the choke, and the car should rumble to life. The Model A idles at just 200 rpm, so it’s a relatively quiet car while idling. It redlines at around 2,500 rpm.
The Model A was offered in numerous body styles which, depending on how you break them down, numbered over 20 variants. These ran the gamut of two- and four-door sedans (the two-door sedans being roughly 2/3rds of Model As produced), pickup trucks, a woody station wagon, roadsters, convertibles, Town Cars, two- and four-door Phaetons, six different coupes including the rare Special Coupe produced in 1928 and ’29, Tudor sedans, delivery vehicles, and the Victoria, a uniquely styled two-door sedan designed by Edsel Ford.
Ford made sure the Model A could service just about any automotive need of their customers and offered features to match. Upscale sedans featured rear-hinging suicide doors. The coupes could be had with rumble seats, both fun and in keeping with the era’s disregard for common-sense safety protocols. Both delivery vans and a station wagon came as wood paneled vehicles. In fact, the Model A was the first mass-produced wood paneled car. (We explore the Model A along with other woody wagons, here.)
Interestingly, the Model A’s driver side door doesn’t have a keyhole and only features a lock on the inside of the door. The keyhole is instead located on the passenger side door handle and is only locked from outside. It was Henry Ford’s feeling that Model A owners should enter the car on the passenger side for safety’s sake, to keep them out of traffic.
1931 Ford Model A Victoria – media.ford.com | Shop Ford Model A on Carsforsale.com
The Ford Model A was a short-lived but significant car for Ford. Sales were so robust in 1929 that it only took Ford four months to go from one million to two million units sold. And it wasn’t just significant for its mechanical advancements over the Model T. Despite Henry Ford’s general distain for the exigencies of automotive aesthetics, the Model A’s new design was also a major step forward and took Ford’s cars from the age of motorized carriages to that of modern automobiles.