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Worth the Wait

1931 Roadster Restoration Takes 37 Years

By Karsen Palmer Price

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Growing up with a body man as a father, my sister and I grew up watching cars come and go at our South Charlotte home. My father, Claude, worked by day for Toyota and by night for himself. He could fix anything, from totaled cars to rusty antiques, but he never kept anything for long.

One car never went on the chopping block — the restored 1930 Ford Model A Tudor Sedan that belonged to my grandfather. The car was like a member of the family. However, as most Model A lovers can attest, “You can’t have just one,” Claude says.

A member of the Queen City Model A Ford Club since 1973, Claude’s dream was to build a Roadster, “because they looked neat.” In 1976, fellow Club member Reid Robinson told him about two Roadster bodies that were for sale nearby. My dad appraised them, quickly realizing one was in better shape than the other. He bought both for $350, then stored the good body in my grandmother’s garage. He repaired the other and sold it for $700.

Over the next 30 years, Claude collected Roadster parts. The family joke was that he had an entire car stored in the attic!

In August 2007, at 62 years old, my father started on his dream project. “I decided I wasn’t getting any younger,” he jokes.

By this time, the good body he’d bought in ‘76 wasn’t so good. Every panel needed to be replaced or repaired, including the floor pans and rails. “I sandblasted the body and started cutting,” he says.

But then came a roadblock. In early 2008, Claude was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer and had a radical surgery. He was out of work for six weeks – the longest hiatus of his life. We weren’t sure he would live long enough to complete his dream build. He started back on the project that summer with a renewed focus.

In 2009, my dad decided to find out if the engine that had been sitting for 33 years would crank. My mom, Beth, and I watched as he hooked up a lawnmower gas tank to the engine, installed a battery, and turned the ignition switch. It ran like a champ! Mom put a video of the engine running – and my dad dancing happily – on YouTube.

Still working full-time, Claude devoted every extra minute to the Roadster. His grandson, Zach, and granddaughter, Peyton, helped with the car on weekends while visiting “Nana and Poopaw.” They learned to do light sanding and some assembly. I spot welded a quarter patch panel with my dad watching on, and my sister helped get the running gear in the garage, plus turned her hand to sanding. My mom photographed the car’s transformation along the way, helped with nuts and bolts work, and gracefully accepted being a “Roadster widow.”

When the body was ready, my dad took it to Town and Country Toyota, and asked painter Scott Williams to do the honors. The car was painted Bronson Yellow with Seal Brown trim, with orange wheels and pinstripe. Shue’s Auto Top and Trip installed the upholstery kit. Then came the installation of body to chassis.

In 2013, the Roadster finally was finished – 37 years after the first part was bought. The finished product contains parts from 21 different Model As, including an original 1931 N.C. license plate.

In 2014, my parents took the Roadster on its first overnight trip to Hendersonville, N.C. The car has since been driven all over North and South Carolina, and won second place at an AACA show at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Sadly, my parents only had four years to enjoy the Roadster together. My mom died unexpectedly in 2017 from rare uterine cancer. Today, the Roadster is a cheerful spot in my dad’s garage, residing comfortably beside the Model A Sedan. And I can happy say that, as of this writing, my dad hasn’t decided to sell it … yet!

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Click on photo to enlarge.

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1930 Model A Sport Coupe

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Click on photo to enlarge.

Click on photo to enlarge.

In 1959 my father who wanted an old car to drive, asked me if we should get a go-cart or a Model A. As a thirteen year old I had no idea what a Model A was but I knew it was bigger than a go-cart and I figured it would go faster. I said the Model A. We purchased it at the Standard Oil station on the corner of Maple and Telegraph in Birmingham, Michigan for $150. The same price as a go-cart. After a tune-up and a new vinyl top, we brought it home. My dad and I had no Idea how to fix the car, but he knew how to start and drive it. He gave me shifting and driving lessons in our driveway and in parking lots. I got some books and started working on the car. Occasionally I was able to fix things on the first try. The Model A got one of the garage spaces so my dad’s car sat outside.

I took my drivers test in the Sport Coupe in 1962 and began using the car as a daily driver. I found out shortly thereafter that my parents always knew where I had been. Their friends would report any time they saw the car parked at someone’s house.

After 50 years of ownership my dad confided in me that he thought we would keep it 2 to 3 years and sell it. I have had it to many of the National meets. The farthest meet I drove it to was in Branson, MO over a 4 day period. I still enjoy driving and fixing it.

Steve Burton

Stephen@theBurtons.us