How To Build A 1930 Ford From Swap Meet Parts – Chapter 1
Ben Preston joins a crew at the Hershey swap meet assembling a Ford Model A from parts scored there.
The madness began last year, when a team of car nuts from Hagerty – the classic car insurance company – slapped together a 1946 Ford pickup out of parts they bought at the annual Antique Automobile Association of America fall meet in Hershey, Pa. Not only did they build it, they drove it back to their headquarters in Traverse City, Michigan, about 700 miles from Hershey.
Their idea is to inject some action – some passion, if you will – into the classic car hobby. If the crowd at the Hershey swap meet is any indication, old cars occupy a niche whose practitioners have long since begun to age out. They form the basis of a pastime that needs new blood immediately. There are fewer and fewer idiots (like me) willing to give up weekend wine tasting outings and shuffle board tournaments in favor of spending hours getting greasy under an old car.
But the whole point of doing all that work is to drive and enjoy the car, right? The Hagerty folks seem to think so.
For this year's Swap to Street Challenge, the Hagerty crew has tackled the same project with similar gusto, and also with much more aggressive planning. The new project car is a 1930 Ford Model A. They started with a chassis and partial engine, giving themselves roughly 100 hours to put the whole car together and get it running well enough to drive back to the northern reaches of Michigan.
On their first day at the swap meet, a pair of Model A experts took to the disorganized jumble of parts and curios known as the Hershey swap meet in search of Model A parts. This field of old things sprawls across an expanse that, to a pedestrian, seems immense. Perhaps that's why there are so many people riding motorized mobility carts. It might also be because the average age of the vendors and visitors that throng this event seems to be about 90 (okay, it's probably closer to 60, in reality).
Always wary of the ever-present danger of aggressive Rascal drivers, Hagerty's experts were able to find quite a bit of stuff for the project on the first day. Between antique gas station signs, rusty old (but also antique) oil cans, bicycles and typewriters, and banners reading "Trump the Bitch!" and "Hillary for Prison," the Hershey swap meet boasts a veritable cornucopia of early Ford parts.
Hagerty's experts were able to find, from one vendor, a sedan body, all the doors and glass, and an assortment of decaying parts that looked (judging from the faux woodgrain file boxes they were packed it) to have been cataloged and stored since the waning days of the Carter administration. I like to imagine that at that time, the Hershey swap meet would have been decorated with "Let's Make America Great Again" campaign banners. Anyway, their haul was was enough to assemble a nearly complete car, and also came with a "performance" cylinder head that would bump compression from 4:1 to almost 6:1. If you're not savvy to engine-building tech, combustion at that compression is akin to striking a Bic lighter in an open room in comparison with today's 10:1 and higher performance engines.
Days two and three will reveal just how much is missing, though. Hagerty's team invited me to help out with the project. At first, that consisted of handing people tools. When they realized that I'm not as dumb as I look, they enlisted my help in assembling the doors. Now, doors in a 1930 Model A are pretty much the same as doors in modern cars, only with flat glass and no plastic. The only surprises came when it came time to install the rear quarter windows (that actually roll up and down!). I couldn't figure out where to bolt in the regulator assemblies, and later, we all realized that there were strips of wood jammed into the car's metal frame serving as mounting points. There are actually quite a few wooden parts on the car; a strange thing from a modern perspective. That's the Model A: The point in automotive history when old-fashioned carriage building was slowly being transitioned out and all-steel bodywork was on its way to becoming the standard.
Just think, that was 86 years ago, and car designers still employ the same fundamental layout and many of the same devices (although much improved) as they did back then. The only thing Hagerty's gearheads have changed from original so far are the shock absorbers: modern tube shocks are cheaper and better than the original lever shocks. The Hagerty team was heckled for a while by a spectator who took umbrage at these new-fangled, antique car-ruining devices. I thought he was joking, but the guy was dead serious.
"Those look awful," he grumbled, a strange, vacant scowl plastered across his face as he snapped photos as proof of what he considered to be poor workmanship. "I can't wait to show everyone."
Ah well, you can't please everyone. Stay tuned to our Facebook page, where I'll be posting live updates as the build continues. The crew has been at it since 7:30 a.m. every morning and has been working until well after dark every day. I can't wait to see the time-lapse footage.