How I Roll: NP Dodge Agent Bill Black’s 1929 Model AJul 29, 2021 04:25PM ● By Mike Why
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Most people simply use a key to start their vehicles. Bill Black has more to do when he settles behind the steering wheel of his shiny tan-and-black 1929 Model A Coupe. “You have about five different mechanisms to get this thing going,” said Bill, an agent with NP Dodge Real Estate.
First, a valve in the passenger compartment has to be turned to open the fuel line. Then, a lever on the left side of the steering column has to be pushed up while another on the right must be nudged down. Only then is the key put in the ignition switch, but there’s still one more thing to do—push down the starter switch on the floor. Finally, the parking brake can be released and the clutch let out to engage the three-speed transmission to drive ahead or back up.
“It takes a while to learn to do this,” Bill said. “Even though it has a somewhat simple motor, it’s complicated as well. There’s a real finesse to get it going properly.”
Bill estimated that he and his wife, Coleen, have driven the car about 100 miles since they acquired it five years ago. “We drive it around the neighborhood. We visit some friends who live four to five miles away, and we’ll take it on a little Sunday afternoon jaunt.”
As members of the Meadowlark Model A Ford Club, which has 75 members in Omaha, the Blacks know Model A owners who drive their cars on long trips. “Some guys will take these things cross-county,” Bill said. “I’m not that gutsy yet.”
Bill added that he’s taken the car to some weddings, graduation parties, and the like. The couple have driven it through parades in Gretna, Nebraska City, and Elkhorn.
They have also paraded in Freeman, South Dakota, where Coleen’s father, Raymond Becker, spent five years restoring the Model A (and several other cars, including one he had found with a tree growing in the middle of it) on the family farm. He had paid $1,250 for it, said Coleen, who added, “It was in rough shape.”
Becker restored most of the car, although he hired others to repair the engine, fenders, and upholstery. He owned six cars that he had restored when he died, and gave one to each of his four daughters. The other two were auctioned off among family members, with the proceeds going to charity. Bill and Coleen purchased a 1928 Chevy Coupe, which is now displayed at the Heritage Hall Museum and Archives in Freeman.
Coleen said her father taught her how to drive the Model A on a gravel road. During one lesson, she went through the steps to start the car, but it failed to turn over. “I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, but Dad reached over and simply turned the key,” she recalls with a laugh.
Ford Motor Co. made nearly 5 million Model As between 1927 and 1931, said Howard Denker Jr., president of the Meadowlark Club and owner of a deluxe two-door made in 1931. Each came with a tool kit that included a hand crank in case the electric starter failed. “Hand cranks are blamed for breaking more arms than anything,” said Bill, noting how the cranks could suddenly kick back.
Some online sites estimate that nearly 85,000 Model As still roll on the roads. In particular, the Blacks’ Model A is one of only 138,828 sport coupes made by Ford and features a cloth top, dome light, a tilt-out windshield that opens at the bottom to bring a breeze into the passenger compartment, and a rumble seat that accommodates another two small to medium-sized adults. The four-cylinder, 24-horsepower car cost $530 when new in 1929, which would be nearly $8,300 in today’s economy.
Considering the nine body types and condition, Model As now have a median price of nearly $20,000, according to hotcars.com.
Bill said the Model A is not comfortable to drive because it lacks an adjustable seat but added, “Once you’re in there, you feel like you’re in a parade.”
Visit meadowlarks.omahaneb.org for more information on other Model As in the area.
This article originally appeared in the August/September issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.