General Comments About the Model A.
The Model A Ford most are familiar with today is not what one would have found when they were new.
The Model A was contrived to be a reliable and well behaved car that the working man could afford. It was designed to comfortably take its passengers to 55 MPH all day long. It was also designed to stop effectively and be relatively safe. In the 1928 service letters, that have been reprinted, the dealers were instructed to show that the car could run 60 MPH and show the customer how effective the brakes were at stopping. They also instructed the dealer to not baby the car.
The design of the Model A is outline in a book by Murrey Fahnestock called "Know Your Model A Ford". Murrey was the editor of the Ford Times and had access to a lot of Ford knowledge. The book was more of an outline of the merrits of the Model A that the dealer sales team was to memorize. Obviously, you need to read past some of the information putting down other brands of cars. The most striking chapter is on the engine where he explains the precision used in building the engine. Ford kept tolerances in the .002" and less range and the crank was balanced dynamically to 1/4 ounce. I have the rod print and it specifies that each end be a certain wieght +- 1 gram. Ford could cheaply manufacture quality by using the right materials for each purpose and precision machining. Ford used the Johansson gauge blocks to ensure precision of the equipment used in the factory. When you start looking at transmission drawings you will find the dimensions go out 4 decimal places in accuracy.
How many guys assembling their cars own and use accurate dial calipers or micrometers regularly?
Much like today, people went in and bought a new car. They drove away knowing they had a reliable car that could take them anywhere. It is easy to imagine a new Model A cruising 55 MPH along one of the emerging highways of the day. A quick turn off the highway towards home and they could be driving down roads that people would be afraid of getting stuck on with their SUV.
The Model A quickly earned a reputation for reliablity. Even worn out and barely maintained the car would still keep running, we see this at many car shows today. The depression tested the limits of the Model A and how far you could go in a car that was falling apart. People learned how to deal with a car that had its issues, but kept on running. Repairs were easy on this simple car. You just had to slap it together and a few quick adjustments and you could putt putt anywheres as long as you did not go too fast. It seems today many still believe the A is just a simple car that just needs to be slapped together. Few have had the luxury of driving a Model A that works like it came off the factory floor.
Today I find that most are totally unaware that a Model A properly restored to factory is capable of running 60 MPH, or more. It is depressing to hear how many believe the brakes on the car were never safe. At car shows I hear people ask how fast the Model A can drive and most reply 45 MPH is the fastest their car will drive.
It does not take much to understand why people believe their cars are not very capable. Usually I do not have to get past a quick glance at the front end to see how unsafe the car is. A lack of shocks means the car is likely to become difficult to control over 35 MPH. I have found those with worn out front springs do not seem to have a much problems with the car wanting to jump off the road. I also can tell if they might have brakes that sort of work. Typically the front brake lever is vertical or leaning rear wards. Keep in mind some of these 'unsafe' cars appear to be wonderfully restored cars with gourgeous paint and interiors.
I remember at the World Meet in 1986. There was this really nice looking tudor that an inexperienced restorer had put together himself. He saw my brother do some fairly complex troubleshooting on some trouble cars and asked my brother to look at his tudor. The problem was the 'professionally' restored chassis was so loud when driving you could not hear well enough to talk to passengers. It seemed the professional restorer did not feel the need to replace the $20 (in 1986) worth of badly pitted bearings in the tranny. My brother let this guy drive his coupe and he could not believe how well the brakes worked on a Model A. He had just assumed his were normal because everyone told him the Model A brakes never worked well.
How most Model A's drive today is not like what you would have driven back in 1931. With some care and understanding it is possible to have a Model A that drives like it came from the factory. To get that Model A you have to take the time to truely restore the car's mechanicals to the precision used to originally assemble the mechicals.
There is no excuse. With the internet all the information you need is available now and for free, all you have to do is ask questions and be willing to try new things.
What Books Should I Buy??
Here is a good question.
The correct answer is not what you want to hear- Buy them all and trust none of them.
Every book has some error in it. Some have lots of errors.
The first two books a beginner should by are the owners manual and the Judging Standards and Restoration Guide.
The shop manuals give you an idea of what to expect but they will also mess
If you follow the Schlid or Les Andrews shop manuals you will put together a car that has problems.
The devil is in the details.
One will tell you the wrong size for the steering sector and you will be throwing away NOS units as bad. The manuals do not tell you how to properly evaluate parts as being good or bad. Little details are left out here and there. Lets be real it is impossible to make a perfect manual. (on the other hand after 5 reprints you would think some stuff would have been fixed).
You need to have both manuals. Les has a lot of nice clear line drawings that aid you in figuring out how to put the stuff together. The negative side to Les is his lack of good details in dimensions so you can properly decide if a part is bad. Jim's manual is more picture and text based and is not as good at graphically demonstrating how the parts fit together. Jim has some more details and factory drawings.
I suggest that you spend some time learning about what the car was when it
Know Your Model A Ford by Murray Fahnestock
KRW catalog reprint
The Legendary Model A Ford
On the internet surf the websites for tidbits. Collect all the original prints that show up once in a while.
Alway verify what you are seeing. Always keep in mind that lots of Ford parts are accurate to .001" or better.