Building A 1929 Ford Model A Pick-Up (Part 1)

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We met Nathan Kostelecky on the first ever Zip-Tie Drags cruise from Irwindale out to Arizona. He was the only person to brave the journey on a bike, and it rained, and he kept smiling. Since then we’ve had a chance to to talk more, and found out that Nathan has a ton of cool projects, from dumpster scrounged tool repair to casting and machining his own parts. Dude has a foundry! It seemed that if his projects were entertaining us so much, that you, our beloved readers, might like them too, so here’s Nathan’s first entry at Roadkill.com – How and why he decided to build a Model A truck in 2015.

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On a bitter cold and windy night in 2015 in central Illinois, I scurried my way across an icy driveway and into the barn of a Craigslist seller. The weak lighting inside teased at car, truck, and tractor shapes stretching off into the shadows. A couple of cars back from the big doors was the beast calling my name, a 1929 Ford Model A closed cab pick-up, dented, rusted, and lacking interior and glass. Perfect. The story I was told is that it had just retired from years of faithful duty as yard art of the sellers neighbor. A deal was struck and the truck was headed to its forever home.

My story with Model As began years prior when I was investigating a curious old car in my grandma’s shed, a 1929 Tudor. My grandpa bought it decades before I even existed, and in the meantime an uncle had taken it apart but lost interest. My grandpa passed away when I was seven years old and I mostly just respected the car from a distance. One day it just clicked and I decided that in my life of wrenching, I needed to add a Model A to my resume. I began working on the engine, then drivetrain, and that sort of inspired my uncle to finish what he started. He’s a meticulous guy and a fantastic mechanic, so it was in good hands, but then I needed my own A. It took a few years to find the right one.

I bought the truck during a particularly snowy period, so it sat under a tarp on my trailer until I could really assess the situation. The weather eventually cleared and my discoveries were bleak, but not at all unexpected. The engine was beyond seized. There was a big hole in the gas tank. Almost every nut and bolt was missing. Surprisingly, neither the interior nor glass materialized while it sat in my driveway. Great. Time to get to work.

Quite a few spare Model A parts were kicking around the shed from my grandpa’s days, and that included an engine block or two. I picked the best one and set to rebuilding it. There will be no chopping, channeling, LS swapping.. not even an old flathead V8 swap, as cool as that would be. I’m keeping this truck stock and powered by an original flathead 4-banger. That engine worked for folks in 1929 and I dare say it can work for me.

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The Model A engine is from the days of poured Babbitt bearings. Suppliers do make modern main bearing inserts, but that requires specialized machining. While some day I do want to try a Babbitt pour myself, for the time I relyed on a local old timer. He hooked me up with new line-bored Babbitt main bearings and refreshed connecting rods on a freshly-ground crank. The block was decked, with hardened valve seats installed, and bored 0.100” over with new pistons. That pushed it out to 211 cubic inches, versus stock the stock 200. The flat head is about as basic as can be, so all it required was a surface mill job to square it up. Same story with the flywheel. Yes, facing the block and head will slightly increase compression, but it’s nothing to write home about. A stock Model A produces a monstrous 40 horsepower at 2200rpm with a 4.22:1 compression ratio. I’ll let you know my quarter mile time, likely measured in fortnights.

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The valve train is where I deviated the most from stock. I plan on driving this truck at least weekly, if not daily, so I chose modern valves, guides, seats, and adjustable lifters for ease of maintenance. Original Model A valves are the mushroom stem style with split guides and non-adjustable lifters. To adjust that style’s valve clearance, one would have to grind the end of the valve stem. I’m really not interested in that level of authenticity. I had the camshaft ground and I installed a new fiber cam gear. I lapped the valves and set the gap as a function of lift while it was on the engine stand.

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For the oil pump, water pump, and distributor, I installed all new shafts, bushings, and fasteners into the original castings. The carburetor was able to retain a bit more of the original parts during its rebuild. All of the above had a phosphoric acid bath treatment to remove rust. I power-sanded the outside of the oil pan and cleaned the inside via putty knife, unearthing some oil patties that could have been there since the great depression. I found a replacement gas tank off Craigslist and had it boiled and coated at a local radiator shop before power-sanding and priming the outside. I sandblasted the outside of the transmission and installed all new bearings around the original gears. The rebuild of any one of those components could be an article unto itself. (ED NOTE: Want more details on any of this? Complete articles? We have shocking photos of Nathan and he’ll do what we say.)

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At this point, I had a solid foundation for a good running machine. I knew that the only thing separating me from a rolling frame was a few after-thought fasteners holding the body together, and only a few more until I was at a bare frame. I recognized that this is exactly the slippery slope where project creep sets in. You say to yourself: “While I’m this far, I could just restore this, and that, and.. every last part like factory new.” Instead, I recognized that if I went down that road, I would end up with just another over-restored Model A garage queen. That’s not my style.

Admittedly, I did tear the truck down to a bare frame. I needed to access the VIN, stamped awkwardly under the body, to get it verified and the title released from the state. I won’t beat myself up too much for sandblasting and coating the frame with a heavy duty chassis paint while I was that far, but that’s as far as I need to go. There aren’t enough original Model A’s out on the road, so I’m going to be a trendsetter at a blazing 40mph of rust, dust and dirt.

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That’s where I am today. I have a rebuilt engine and transmission, new radiator, new clutch, clean gas tank, a shiny frame, all the glass, new wiring, enough of the interior, and a never-ending parade of delivery trucks. It’s time to reassemble. Almost.

We are eagerly awaiting Part 2 of this build, and in the meantime, if you have questions about Babbitt bearings, lapping valves, engine decking or any of the other details in this story, let us know in the comments. We’ll get you the answers you need.