Bob Conley
and his
Model A

"I guess that I had to end up with a Model-A. I Just didn't expect to have it 7,500 miles away from my first experiences with such an amazing car. My almost first Model-A was offered to me by a friend of my father. I was 15, it was a 1930 Roadster that was being "hot-rodded" and restored. It had a 1935 V-8/60 motor in it and he had gotten bored and wanted to give it to me. My father couldn't be convinced to surrender 1/2 of his garage workshop to me. I missed out!
This 1928 Phaeton is similar to Bob's
When Bruce Wells (remember him?) started restoring his Woody Wagon, I spend afternoons scrounging parts and helping when I could. I wasn't around when he got it running. Missed again! June '58 (after graduation) found me "over the mountain" at Pierce Jr. College in Woodland Hills. I managed to find a 1929 roadster pick-up that still ran, and bought it for $50. I drove it for a few months and then sold it for $50.

Crank your clocks 39 years forward - a lot of wandering the world, searching for the right place to spend the rest of my life, ended up in Sydney, Australia in 1980 and am still here. Although I had become a Citroen addict (my 28th one is coming down here by ship from London in January), I guess that the old memories with Model-A's still resided in a special place. January - this year (1997), I picked up a copy of the Sydney equivalent of LA"s Recycler - called "The Trading Post", which I read from cover to cover every week, and out popped an ad for a 1929 Model-A Tourer (known as a Phaeton in the USA) with the mechanics restored, but needing a lot of body work, only $2300! I grabbed Di (my extremely tolerant Australian wife), shoved her into my Citroen, and drove 50 miles (I translated for you Yanks - we travel in kilometers) to view this treasure.
The Phaeton
The American Heritage Dictionary defines "phaeton" as a light, four wheeled open carriage, usually drawn by a pair of horses. Henry Ford expanded the definition to include some extra horsepower and a folding top when he introduced the sporty Model "A" Phaeton, in December, 1927.
For openers, Ford offered the car with a choice of seven exterior color schemes, very unusual for a low priced car at that time. Equally unusual was the lack of any outside door handles. Door opening on the '28 Phaeton was accomplished by means of a lever mounted on the inside of each door. Outside handles were introduced on the '29 Phaeton and could be retrofitted to the earlier models if desired.
Original Phaetons were also fitted with manually operated windshield wipers until May 1928, when electric wipers became standard. The top and matching side curtains were fabricated from "long-short" grained black rubber coated fabric. Although foldable, the top assembly was permanently fastened to the rear of the body and not removable from the car. The curtains, however, could be removed and stored in a special metal container located under the floor. A rear mounted spare tire was standard but special fenders with wheel wells and tire carriers were available as a service item in 1928. Windwings, also obtainable as a dealer accessory in 1928, were standard on the '29 Phaeton.
It had been created from about three cars - mechanically totally rebuilt - the body was a disaster area.Heavy negotiations brought the price down to $1900, which I quickly removed from my wallet and counted out into the owner's hand so that I wouldn't miss this bargain. The following Saturday, I rented a car trailer and went to collect my treasure. I drove it onto the trailer, made it home, and drove it into my garage. I knew that it would be a while before it appeared on the street again!

Where do I start??? I guessed that I would need a LOT of help. Two weeks later, I joined the New South Wales Model-A Restorers club. 156 members! I didn't think that there were that many Model -A's in the USA, in Australia??? I really got a quick education at the first meeting. Most of the members had totally restored cars - only five or six were in the process. I connected with them in a hurry. Then I got the BAD news. Parts cost about 2 1/2 - 3 times as much here as they did in the USA. I began to collect catalogues. Many phone calls and Visa Card numbers - I ended up with about 20 catalogues (cattle-dogs is what the Aussies call them).I read the catalogues. I decided that I needed a convertable top for my toy. Here, I was quoted about $2000, a company in Massachusetts had a kit for about $450. How would I get it??? My boss solved my problem.

I am National Advertising Sales Manager for the company that produces 99% of the theatre, concert and event souvenir programs for Australia and New Zealand. Somewhere in our collection was a "pianist?" named David Helfgott (remember the movie "Shine"?). My boss had committed to producing the programs for his US tour. We had to print and ship the programs to Boston by early March. The only problem that occured was that the ad material from Penguin Books in New York did not arrive in time to be printed on the inside back cover of the programs. We had scheduled to print the programs on 12 February so we would have plenty of time to ship them. David was scheduled to play his first concert in Boston on Tuesday, March 4. We got the material from New York on Feb. 27. We printed the Penguin ad on an insert, but it wasn't finished until Friday Feb. 28. On Tuesday Feb. 25, my boss called me into his office and asked me if I would like to go to Boston. "Why not," was my response. I went home that night and phoned the convertable top manufacturer in Massachusetts (not near Boston) and asked if they could ship a top kit for my Model-A to my mother's house in Westwood. They did!

Sunday, March 3, Di deposited me with 175 lbs of programs wrapped up in 2 boxes at Sydney Airport, I left on United Airlines at 1:20 PM Sunday Afternoon - arrived at San Francisco on Sunday MORNING at 7:20AM - at 8:40AM I was on a plane to Boston. I arrived in Boston at 5PM Sunday, grabbed a cab - dropped the boxes off at the Concert Hall - took the same cab back to the Airport, had a bowl of dinky di (that means genuine in Aussie slang) Boston Clam Chowder and 1/2 dozen delicious oysters, and at 7:40PM Sunday (yes - still Sunday) I was on a flight to Chicago. An hour and a quick hot dog at O'Hare and I was on my way back to LA. Finally, Monday arrived - I landed at LAX at 1:30AM Monday morning, Rented a car and got to Woodruff Ave at 2:30AM.

Monday morning arrived and UPS appeared with 2 boxes of parts with which I must eventually create a top. I spent Monday and Tuesday wandering around to suppliers of Model-A parts and spent another $400 in a hurry. 10:40 Tuesday night, I was back on another United flight and arrived back in Sydney at 6:10AM on Thursday (I didn't have a Wednesday) and went back to work. Got some parts, 20,000 United frequent flyer miles and filled up with Root Beer (they don't sell it here). I realized as I started to dismantle my toy, that I would need a lot more parts before I could recreate it. I sent an E-mail to one of the large suppliers in upstate New York and applied to become a dealer for them - getting parts wholesale from them. They set me up but told me that the 1st order I put in had to amount to more than $1,500 and couldn't include upholstery material (which I needed more of and my friends required as well). A phone call to NY solved the problem and my friends and I created a $3,200 order. Since I was coming up to LA on August 9th, and travelling to England, Ireland, the East Coast and taking an Alaskan cruise before stopping in LA from September 14-20 before returning to Australia, I figured that I could have all of the parts sent to Westwood and I would pack them into suitcases and carry them back to Australia.

2 days before I left LA, I got a fax from the suppliers telling me that UPS was on strike and that they had shrink wrapped my order on a pallet and would send it by truck to my mother's house. I quickly phoned them and told them that my 87 year old mother might have a bit of trouble unpacking the order, and that they should hold off shipping the parts until the end of August - hopefully UPS would be back at work by that time. We arrived back in LA after a fantastic cruise to the news that the poor UPS man had to carry 13 boxes of Model-A parts through my mother's house and deposit them in the back bedroom. When I saw the pile of boxes, I started to worry. We started packing around our clothes and travel souvenirs, filled our four suitcases and two large bags that I had purchased, there were still six boxes of parts. Down to the post office we went.

In Australia, if car parts valued at under $200 per box and for cars built before 1962 usually pass through customs and sales tax officials and are ignored. This saves us 46% duty and sales tax. I had to ship the boxes to different addresses and on different days with the hope that they wouldn't be combined and go through inspection together. I am still waiting for the boxes to arrive (they told me it would take six weeks - five have passed).

Have you ever tried to board an international flight with six suitcases? United Airlines allows two per person. We checked in at LAX with such a load of goodies, the poor ramp attendant didn't know what to do. It is lucky that I have a client/friend at United in Sydney who had scrounged two one-class up-grade certificates for us. We checked in to Connesseur Class and were charged $90 each for the two extra bags. I queried what we would have had to pay if we had checked in as economy passengers, I would have had to pay $580 for overweight luggage. I owe my friend "big time". A casual stroll down the "green line" at Sydney airport saved us about $1000 in sales tax and duty as well. When the boxes get here, I am going to have to lay all of the parts out in our back yard and sort them into four piles so that they can be collected by my three friends - the biggest pile will be mine.

One of these days, I might start assembling my car. I WILL have it finished before we leave next September on our next holiday. I will bring pictures with me. If I get all of the grease off, I might even look presentable at our 40th reunion. Looking forward to October next year. Hello to everyone in the Northern Hemisphere."
Bob Conley (I used to be Bob Conviser)

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