Vintage Motor Trend Road Test: 1931 Ford Model A Roadster – 0-60 In…∞

The Model A had a huge grip on America’s soul. Although the Model T was a much more influential vehicle; the vehicle that put America on wheels, the Model A is what folks really fell in love with. It was the T perfected. And Americans never fell out of love with it, as it became the most popular “classic car”, and created a whole industry in catering those who were keeping their alive or restoring them.

I saw this first hand in Iowa City in the early ’60s: a neighbor who was a doctor had a ’62 Mercedes 220SE and a Model A sedan. A colleague of my father’s was restoring his. And there were others around.

Motor Trend decided to put one through their road test, in large part to answer the question of those many folks who were clamoring for a neo-A; how would one fare in modern traffic? What were its strengths and weaknesses? What was its 0-60 time?

Yes, the Model A was a success, but it did not come close to matching the Model T in its best years. But then the market had changed very substantially; Chevrolet was now duking it out, and bested the Model A in 1928, in its first year. But the mechanical perfection of the A quickly endeared it to all those that came in contact with it. It’s reputation for durability and reliability quickly became legendary.

The title “What Henry Never Knew” refers to the fact that in 1962 (the time of this review) there were still a half-million A’s in operation. And that by this time, almost any A is worth twice what it was when new (not adjusted for inflation, though). A mint restored Roadster was selling for some $2000 (in 1962).  In 2023, Model A roadsters are selling for some $20,000 (based on several roadsters sold on BAT), which is exactly the same price as in 1962, adjusted for inflation. So they really haven’t gone up since the time this article was written, which suggests that the early sixties were peak Model A. Which of course makes sense, as those that were young at the time of the A could now afford one. That’s pretty much the same with most collector cars.

“Why doesn’t Ford bring the Model A back?” was a common refrain at the time. As to whether folks would actually buy a new one, at the price it would cost to build in 1962 is another question. It would presumably be adequate for city transportation, but forget about freeways and modern highways. The ride was stiff. The heater wasn’t exactly hot. And the brakes weren’t either. Never mind the skidding out on those skinny tires. Wishful thinking that was better realized by picking up a cheap A, which were plentiful at the time.

To put the A in perspective, M/T hooked up their fifth wheel and put this roadster through the paces. The 200.5 cubic inch flathead four rated at 40 hp was shifted at its 2785 rpm redline. 0-30 was attained in 8.4 seconds in one test, 7.9 on the second. 0-45 was 19.5 and 18.7 in the second take. 0-60? It never happened, as the A topped out at 58 mph.

The 1/4, for what it was worth, happened in 27.9 seconds @ 52-53 mph. That ET is close to what a VW did back then, although the VW would have had a somewhat higher speed in the traps.

Not surprisingly, the A’s mechanical drum brakes were a bit off the standards of the day: distances from 30 mph were 33 feet; from 58 mph: 206 feet.

As to handling, the A was decidedly tail-happy (oversteer) and was not happy to stay in a straight line in a wind. The very quick steering (2.5 turns lock-to-lock) required adjustment from those used to modern steering. And of course it was noisy.

But of course all that mattered little to those that loved it in 1931, 1962 or today.

Related CC reading:

COAL: 1929 Ford Model A Standard Coupe – Chapter 12, A Is For Awesome by Jim Cavanaugh

Curbside Classic: 1929 Ford Model A – The Best Ford Ever – Maybe Even The Best Car Ever by PN