A row of parked Model A Fords gleamed in the sunshine, a throwback display of American machinery that once roamed the highways as family transportation but now are centerpiece vehicles for nostalgic car collectors.
Some 30 of the Model A cars produced between 1927 and 1931 rallied into the Seymour Hampton Inn parking lot on the seventh day of an eight-day tour in the Midwest, culminating the next day after 1,100 miles.
Most were shiny enough it did not appear they had rolled a mile, testimony to the care such auto owners bring to their hobby and passion. Drivers chatted with a small number of local spectators lured to the site for the short stopover last week.
Organizer John Menches, treasurer of the Penn-Ohio Model A Club represented by this crowd, calls the Model A “the poor man’s antique car” because compared to many other classics, it is affordable at under $20,000, lower than a new car price in 2022.
That comes with the caveat of if you can find a Model A that appeals and depends on how much labor it takes to restore it to semi-original finery.
Menches may well have a kinship to a way-back machine, created by fictional cartoon character Mr. Peabody. Not only is he only the second owner of his 1931 Model A with 110,000 miles on it, but his great-grandfather probably invented the hamburger, even if that is challenged in some quarters.
Menches, 73, first met this other love of his life (besides his wife, Mary) in 1971. It was sitting in a barn in Michigan wearing a 1961 license plate and came available in an estate sale. Purchased as a 21st birthday present for him by his wife’s mother, Rose, he named it “my mother-in-law.”
There was a certain amount of imagining necessary of what it could be when spruced up. The car had dents, dirt marred the interior and exterior and the inside contained ugly mouse and chicken droppings and a nest.
“It had to be restored,” Menches said.
That took until 1976, but ever since, Menches has had a sweet old ride at his disposal for trips like this. The group motored to various Abraham Lincoln sites in Kentucky and elsewhere, the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy in Vincennes, a winery in Nashville, an Amish village and to Santa Claus in the southwestern part of the Hoosier State.
Wherever the Model A drivers go, the welcome is warm.
“People are honking and waving at us,” said driver Ryan Pitchure, 40, of Akron, Ohio. “Everybody’s videoing us.”
Model A debuts in 1927
The Model T was the first affordable mass-produced automobile when Ford began selling them in 1908.
A version of the car circulated out of the manufacturing plant until 1927. This was as basic a vehicle as one can imagine and still be a car.
Ford upgraded with the Model A starting in 1927, though a limited number were made that year before the A became the full-fledged model the next year. These cars had either 10- or 11-gallon gas tanks, no air conditioning or heat and no radio. But the green, black, red and other choice of exteriors made them appear fancier than the Model T.
“The styling is much better,” Pitchure said.
Pitchure acquired his 1929 Model A last October, and this was his first long tour. He brought along his wife, 11-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter. Son Owen, who rode in the passenger seat, seemed a bit distressed when informed he could not plug in to recharge such things as video games.
Although Pitchure was quite conversant with driving a stick shift, when he traveled to see the car, the previous owner made him take a spin to demonstrate there were tricks to this setup.
“You have to double clutch,” Pitchure said. And reverse is where No. 1 is on a regular stick.
Electronics aside, Pitchure has already struck a long-term bargain with his son. Owen is scheduled to graduate from high school in 2029, and dad has committed to allowing him to drive the Model A to graduation when it is 100 years old.
Visiting with the past
This gang of on-the-move Model A cars was touring for more than 1,100 miles on its round trip, but generally, such models are rarely seen in large numbers unless an aficionado attends a car show.
Only those in the know probably realize how fast these oldies-but-goodies can move comfortably on the highway. By highway, that is more likely a state road or federal road, not an interstate with a 70 mph speed limit. Yet these cars, with just 40 horsepower, can reach 52 to 55 mph. In the old days, that must have seemed the equivalent of flying.
Several area residents who got wind of the Model A stay stopped at Hampton Inn to check out the cars. No one had a better nostalgia reason than George and Vera Robbins of Seymour.
When George, 91, was a young man, his father owned a black 1931 Model A (and kept it quite awhile). George and Vera were attending Clearspring High School and met while riding the school bus together. But when they began dating in 1948, George’s father allowed him to drive his Model A.
“I learned to drive a car on it,” George said.
That took them through 1949 and high school graduation. George joined the U.S. Air Force, and after 24 years, he retired as a colonel. But after 1949, he never drove a Model A again. He and Vera enjoyed reliving their past just by gazing at these cars visiting Seymour.
“It has been a long time,” George said of the last time he was up close and-personal with a Model A.
Roger and Nora Dean of Franklin have three vintage cars from the Model A era and are looking to add a 1930 sedan to fill one more garage space.
“He has wanted these cars since he was a kid,” Nora said. “You don’t ordinarily see 30 of them together.”
Given the need for delicacy in caring for something more than 90 years old and keep all parts running, it was not shocking to hear the road exacted a toll. One Model A ended up being towed home on the back of a flatbed. Two others needed flat tire changes.
Pitchure said the group is expert at that task.
“It was like a NASCAR pit crew,” he said of how quickly and efficiently club members made the tire switches.
Overall, Bob Fink, 73, of New Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, believes the Model A was built to last. He has owned one for about 15 years and thinks craftsmanship contributed to longevity.
“They drove these cars into the 1950s,” he said.
Look at the snazzy cars
On this grand tour, the Model A drivers chose local restaurants for dinner each night. In Seymour, 27 visited Reed’s Place downtown. Menches, chief planner, did not require everyone eat hamburgers every night.
Still, Menches wears his hamburger connection as a badge of honor. There is no official recognized claim for who invented the ever-popular burger, and there are multiple claimants.
In 1885, Charles and Frank Menches unveiled their burger at the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, New York. The Menches Brothers Hamburger Restaurant in Uniontown, Ohio, perseveres, and the Menches’ claim seems the oldest.
An author named Christopher Carosa investigated the entire burger history, debunked myths and confirmed the Menches brothers as the ones who first sold hamburgers on Sept. 18, 1885, after they ran out of their pork sausages. He explained all of this in a book called “Hamburger Dreams: How Classic Crime Solving Techniques Helped Crack the Case of America’s Greatest Culinary Mystery.”
The new dish was called the hamburger because the men were operating at that county fair in Hamburg in upstate New York.
Model A John Menches said he and his relatives never doubted the purity of the assertion, especially after he and brothers and sisters found a recipe in 1991.
This is a nice storytelling point to make as Menches cruises around in his Model A, though he has a bonus tale to tell about his fondly restored car.
After five years and all of the cleaning, smoothing dents and the like, Menches wanted his military green Model A to be perfect. He paid for someone to paint the rims an apple green. Only to his chagrin, when the car was returned, it sported lime-green rims, or “Go-Daddy green.”
Initially, Menches was disgruntled, but driving around, he attracted extra attention for the brightness.
“People would go, ‘Look at those wheels,’” Menches said. “Now, I guess when they see those wheels, they know it’s me.”
Never mind just wheels. John Menches is pleased when people point and say, “Look at that car.”