Virginia car enthusiast finds Ford Model A on Facebook Marketplace

11 July 2023

Zachary Zeller is a car guy. Plain and simple. When he’s not running National Car Care, the business he owns, on Diamond Springs Road, he’s repairing his cars, racing them on weekends, and adding to his ever-growing personal collection of distinctive vehicles.

Recently, Zeller added a 1929 Ford Model A to his collection. He had never considered acquiring a Ford Model A. It wasn’t on his list of preferred automobiles. When he came across an old Model A sedan that had been reconfigured into a makeshift pickup truck by an Edenton farmer, Zeller had to add the rusty, patina-covered vehicle to his wide-ranging stockpile of eccentric automotive treasures.

“I’m a car guy so I’ll buy anything that tickles my interest,” said Zeller. “I had zero intention of ever buying a Model A in my life. I saw it online and thought – that’s cool.”

Zachary Zeller bought a 1929 Ford Model A just to drive it. People have told Zeller that his old Ford looks like something straight out of the Beverly Hillbillies. Bob Ruegsegger/freelance

Zeller spotted the Model A in a Facebook Marketplace listing. Zeller’s wife was busy and he was “unsupervised” so he drove down to Edenton, North Carolina, to check it out.

“It was not a barn find. It belonged to an 80-year-old gentleman who could no longer get out of the house,” said Zeller. “His brother who was 75 listed it for sale.”

When the old farmer’s younger brother started the Model A, Zeller was almost sold. Zeller started to leave.

“He asked me if I wanted to go for a ride. He drove me around the block,” said Zeller. “I gave him the money. I didn’t know how I was going to get it home. I didn’t even have my trailer. I just had to have it.”

When Ford Motor Company introduced the new Ford model A in December of 1927, the coordinated advertising campaign promoted the new Ford as a “world of difference” in styling, engineering, and operation from the previous Model T. The Model A came in 40 colors and 50 body styles from sporty roadsters to stylish sedans – and trucks.

The Ford Model A engine was a four cylinder motor that produced 40 horsepower. Bob Ruegsegger/freelance

By the spring of 1928, the automobile purchasing public had placed more than 800,000 orders for the new Ford offering. By the time production ended in late 1931, more than 5,000,000 Model A’s had been built.

In 1929, a Model A Ford Roadster sold for $450. A Model A Fordor sold for $625. A Ford Model A Closed Cab Pickup cost $475 – new. Zeller paid considerably more for his antique treasure.

“I paid $4,500 for it. It was a bargain,” said Zeller. “I’d probably sell it for $6,500. I don’t want to sell it.”

Zack Zeller’s Ford Model A was among the 5,000,000 that rolled off the Ford Motor Company’s assembly line. More than 500,000 antique Model A’s are known to still exist in the hands of collectors and automobile restorers. Hundreds more vintage Model A’s may be stashed away and forgotten in farmers’ barns.

“It puts the biggest smile on my face. It’s sketchy. It’s kind of balky, but it makes me so happy,” said Zeller. “When you go about 40 mph, it’s really sketchy. Hopefully, that can be fixed. It’s not meant to be an everyday road-driven vehicle.”

Over the last ten decades, the original drive train in Zeller’s Model A has remained intact, but the body itself has been “customized” into an open cab style pickup for use on the farm. It now features a 12-volt electrical system with an alternator, an updated electrical conversion.

Zeller’s acquisition proved to be a mixed bag. It was mechanically sound but visually in rustic shape. Although he plans to make his Ford safe to drive, Zeller has “absolutely” no intention in restoring the vehicle cosmetically.

“The motor was rebuilt a year ago. Mechanically, you don’t even have to pump the gas. The car starts. It starts better than my modern car,” bragged Zeller. “The rough shape absolutely adds to the appeal. When they had doors and everything, they looked so small. The restored Model A’s look cool when they are done, but this car has character. Everything I have has character.”

The original electrical system was a 6-volt system with a generator and starter. It had a single-point distributor, coil, ammeter, and wiring. It has the original three-speed, sliding gear transmission with a standard H-pattern. The transmission case is cast iron. It still has the 4-cylinder, 200.5 cubic inch L-head engine that produced a dazzling 40 horsepower with a centrifugal impeller water pump attached to the front of the cylinder head. It has a 10-gallon fuel tank.

With no doors, windshield, top or seat belts, the driver has to hang on to the steering wheel for security. Zeller is planning to address some of the safety issues presented by vintage automobiles. Bob Ruegsegger/freelance

“Electrically, it has been converted to 12-volt system. It has an alternator and an electric kill switch. Other than that, it has the original engine which has just been rebuilt,” noted Zeller. “It has the original engine, transmission, wheels – everything. Except the seat. It looks like it came from a school bus.”

Aesthetically speaking, Zeller’s Model A is in rough shape. The car’s doors, door pillars, and roof have long since vanished. It came with a vintage 1931 North Carolina license plate. The faded, weather-worn paint and patches of rust on the fenders only add charm – personality – to the time-worn auto. Zeller’s Ford wears her plethora of scars as well-deserved badges of honor.

“It’s a farm truck style vehicle. It originally had a body and doors. It was just cut-up to make into a truck,” said Zeller. “It has spent the last 25 years on a farm in North Carolina.”

While Zeller resists – vehemently – any notion of returning his Model A to her former youthful beauty, he has definite plans to make his “new” acquisition safe and roadworthy. For Zeller, whose business specializes in inspections and associated repairs, automobile safety has always been a primary concern – professionally and personally. He plans to tighten up the steering and improve the brakes.

“The brakes are stock. They’re not the best. They work,” said Zeller. “I want to make it safe to drive. I’ll replace the kingpins. It has a weird steering box. It’s a different style from anything I’ve ever seen before.”

Zeller recognizes the challenge that working on and maintaining antique autos presents. While his years of experience with modern car repair is extensive, he knows he still has a lot to learn about vintage vehicles.

“I’m going have to learn about maintenance. It works really good now, but I know that you have to work on these old cars a lot more. I’m not used to that,” said Zeller. “I have to learn more about it. Every car is different. That Model A Ford is more like a generator than a car.”

Today, the Ford Model A ranks as one of the most popular collector cars in the world. More than 500,000 Model A’s still exist. Zeller ranks his significantly modified 1929 Model A Ford as the worst and one the best cars he’s ever owned.

“For speed, it’s the worst car I’ve ever owned. For just sheer enjoyment and sharing with people, it’s one of the best cars I’ve ever owned,” Zeller said. “I had no way to justify buying it. You only live once. That’s the way I looked at it.”

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