Eighty years ago, the famously inventive Henry Ford had a problem. He was losing market share to upstart rivals like General Motors and their newfangled cars with electric starters and heating systems, lacking in his Model T that had ruled the industry for nearly 20 years. His answer was the Model A, over four million of which were sold during the model’s brief lifespan from 1928 to 1931. Among those four million was the one bought by Ed Barnett’s father, one of Hendersonville’s scores of proud owners in the early 1930s, and thus was born an attraction that’s lasted ever since. “Model A Fords have been my hobby for the past 55 years,” Ed was saying the other day. “Don’t hunt, fish, or play golf but I do like to work on the Model A Ford.”
Ed, at 79, is the last surviving founder of the Western Carolinas Model A Ford Club, which he created back in 1962 with two other Hendersonville natives, Alton Conner and Coy Corn, along with Matt Burry of Greenville and Knox Beddingfield of Tuxedo. “We got together because we had a common interest in the Model A, and we decided to form a chapter of the Model A Ford Club of America,” Ed recalls. “The club is looking forward to celebrating our 50th anniversary next year.”
The club’s 70 families include members from Greenville, Asheville, and Brevard. Ed himself was born and raised in Hendersonville, graduating from Hendersonville High School in 1948, working at the old Boyd’s Gulf Service Station and Shipps Texaco at the corner of Fifth and Church Streets before serving in the Korean War, and then spending the next 36 years with General Electric, retiring 19 years ago. “Ed’s kind of Henry Ford reincarnated,” says Robert Edens, the WCMAFC’s current president. “He’s a real source of information for club members, since he was working on Model A’s even before the club came together.”
The Model A was actually designed by Henry Ford’s son Edsel, and brought Ford owners their first set of standardized clutch and brake pedals and gearshift. The fuel tank was placed just behind the engine compartment, fortunately on the other side of a firewall, with gasoline fed to the carburetor by gravity, allowing the car to reach a top speed of 65 miles an hour. It was the first American-made car to have safety glass in the windshield, and came in an unusually wide variety of styles, unlike the Model T. Buyers could choose between a standard coupe, a roadster, a convertible, or a town car, among other models. Even more radical, buyers had a choice of four colors, none of them black.
It’s amazing that so many of these cars are still on the road, 80 years later,” Robert says. “You don’t see many Chevrolets or Buicks that have lasted that long.”
So sturdy is the Model A that club members routinely drive them for hundreds of miles to meets. Ed himself has driven his Model A three times to its birthplace in Dearborn, Michigan, not to mention meets in Louisville, Nashville, Virginia Beach and Jacksonville, Florida. Several club members just returned from a tour in their Model A’s that took them to Nashville and south to the Gulf of Mexico before returning home. Famous among Model A buffs is the 22,000-mile journey Hector Quevedo took in 1992 from his native Chile to Dearborn, Michigan, during which the car suffered nothing more serious than a flat tire. “We enjoy touring in our Model A’s,” Ed says. “And the guys participate in technical meetings where we help each other out working on our cars. I’ve restored 12 Model A’s with the help of owners.” Some of Ed’s restoration work have brought national first place awards.
Despite being the club’s oldest and longest-serving member, Ed has no intentions of retiring anytime soon. “Model A’s have a lot of common with Ed,” says Robert Edens. “They’re simple, they last, and they run good.”
Visit the website of the Model A Ford Club of America at www.mafca.com.