It was on April 14, 1931, that Ford Motor Co. built its 20-millionth car — a 1931 Model A Ford.
Dave Frost was a Navy officer stationed in Mechanicsburg, Pa., who went to work with other officers in a carpool back in the 1960s. The other carpoolers had benevolent bosses who thought 5 p.m. was a good time to go home. Frost recalls that his boss thought nothing of working until 7 p.m. and suggested that Frost buy a work car. Frost was carpooling because, with a growing family, he didn’t want the expense of a second car. However, with the boss breathing down his neck, he had to find his own transportation.
A civilian co-worker came to his rescue with an offer to sell a 1931 Model A Ford rumble-seat coupe that hadn’t been started in years. Learning that the price was $125, Frost leapt at the offer. He purchased a new battery and, with a gallon of gas, he had his wife drive him to the old Ford.
Before him, knee-deep in snow, was a cancerous coupe, but he coaxed the long-dormant, four-cylinder engine to life. “It started almost immediately,” Frost says. He drove home in the rust-riddled Ford.
“Mechanically,” Frost says, “It ran like a top. Cosmetically, it was not a very well-maintained old car.” The old Ford solved his 1960s-era carpool problem by providing reliable, but antiquated, transportation. Roll-up windows and a hot-air manifold heater were not only nice to have, but essential during winter months. About a year later he discovered a Model A roadster body that was in superior condition to the one he had. It had no engine, fenders, or chassis, but it was rust-free, Frost recalls. “It looked like it had been painted blue with a mop.”
He bought the body and began a junkyard search for the missing irons that support the fabric top. Once he found all the necessary items, Frost swapped the bodies. He transferred both rear fenders from the coupe to the roadster body, as well as the splash aprons and running boards. An authentic set of 30-spoke, 19-inch wire wheels was found to replace the incorrect 16-inch wheels on the car. While the Model A was undergoing restoration, he had the wheels painted the correct straw color to match the pinstriping on the two-tone copra drab and chicle drab paint job.
In subsequent assignments, the Navy sent Frost (and his Ford) to Norfolk, Va., Athens, Ga., and Newport, R.I. In Rhode Island, a severe snowstorm paralyzed the area — except for the Model A. Word spread fast that the old Ford was the only vehicle that was mobile and each trip thereafter included emergency supplies for stranded neighbors.
Frost and his Ford have struggled through two major hands-on restorations and countless refreshenings.
“The second restoration was fairly thorough,” he says. “That’s when I restored it for real.” That also was when he undid what he had done previously. When he first acquired the car he installed hydraulic brakes, but eventually he reverted back to the original mechanical brakes.
A total of 22 louvers on each side of the engine hood help the four-cylinder engine breathe. At the other end of the car, the spare tire nestles between the two pieces of the split rear bumper. Two step plates help rumble-seat passengers climb up the right rear fender. For a car that was old when purchased, this old Ford certainly has staying power.