by Milton J. Webb

It takes more than a can of gas and a new battery to prepare a Model A Ford to go on the road, or to get it ready for sale.

This article provides some remedies to get your Model A going on the road. If you're mechanically restoring your Model A, or you need technical detail on "How To", get your Model A on the road, be sure to review the reference material at the end of this article.

You always hear, "It ran OK 10 years ago!" In my experience, it takes all the checks, cleaning, repairs, and adjustments outlined below to get through the first mile!

Here's how!


Install a new 6V battery, using the positive post as ground polarity. Remove and clean the ground strap bolt on the frame. Install a second ground strap from the frame to a transmission bolt. Use a heavy woven-style cable or a #1 gauge cable with flat ends. Loosen one mounting bolt on the starter and re-tighten. This breaks corrosion, if any.

Remove the starter switch button on top of the starter. Sand the starter button and starter switch contacts to shiny clean.

Install a new #1 gauge cable, from the battery to the starter switch. Old cables are usually corroded even when you cannot see the green corrosion.

Caution: Do not use 12-volt cables on a six volt system. Twelve-volt cables are too small and will get warm or hot during cranking, plus the cranking speed may be very slow. I have experienced Model A 6-volt starters cranking at 4.8 volts with a 12-volt [small] battery cable. With a heavy duty ground cable [one gauge], the cranking voltage increased to 5.2 volts!

It is best to test the starting system with a digital voltmeter. For best results, acceptable six-volt system voltage drops during cranking readings are:

Cable, batt. to starter switch0.2 volt max
Cable, batt. Pos.[+] to engine 0.2 volt max
Battery, pos. to neg.5.0 volts min
Starter draw [6-volt]300 amps max

If the current draw is over 300 amps on a 6-volt system, have the starter re-built.

The cranking rhythm should be smooth and energetic sounding.


Test the ignition system by holding the coil [out of the distributor cap] wire inch from ground. Crank the engine with the key on. The spark is very good if it is blue and will jump at least inch. It's better if it jumps _ inch. If it's orange, it will be a weak spark. Test and service the ignition system as follows:

Make sure the spark plug wiring straps are intact.

Loosen the distributor lock nut and set screw; remove the distributor. Note the offset blade on the end of the distributor shaft. Rotor location will be re-established after replacement using the timing bolt on the front timing case cover.

In some cases, the distributor housing will be rusted into the head. Using two large screw- drivers, gently pry distributor body up. Have helper gently tap the distributor with a light hammer as you lift it with the two screwdrivers.

Remove the distributor cap, points, condenser, the upper distributor plate, and the lower distributor plate.

Check the primary insulation washers on the lower plate using an ohmmeter. The ohmmeter should read infinity ['1' or 'OL' on the highest resistance scale] between the lower distributor plate and ground on the plate. If resistance or continuity exists in the pigtail insulation washers, replace the lower plate.

Also check the upper plate insulation on the point pivot. The resistance must be infinity between the upper plate and the point contact spring, with the points open. This ensures there is no short to ground

Both the upper and lower plate must pass these tests. If resistance exists, on these tests, a weak or no spark will prevent startup!

Install new points on the upper distributor plate. Make sure the point screws and nuts are tightened during installation. Test for shorts again as described above. Test with points closed. The ohmmeter reading should be aero or less than 0.3 ohms [digital ohmmeter]. This ensures good point contact.

Distributor plates for modern points and condenser are available from Model A parts houses.

Install the lower plate and the condenser [original style]. If using modern points and new condenser on the upper plate, leave the original style condenser out.

If you are using the original style ground point contact, make sure the distributor point block clamp is not cracked. Tighten the 'fillister' screw to just jam the ground point contact screw.

The Model A point gap spec is 0.018-0.022 inches. Adjust to wider spec [0.022 inches]. This allows for rubbing block 'wear-in'. Also note, as the rubbing block wears in, point cap closes up [dwell increases], resulting in a slight timing retard.

Temporarily tighten the distributor cam screw. Screw in ignition cable by rotating the distributor three to four complete turns or until the threads are hand tight. Re-install distributor aligning the offset slot on the distributor shaft. With aligned slots, the distributor locking pin should drop in. Re-install the distributor locking screw [tight] and then lock the jam nut.

The cylinder head hole, the distributor body, and the set screw must be shiny clean prior to installation to maintain a good ignition electrical ground back to the battery (+).

Rub a small amount of 'cam lube' or 'dielectric grease' on the cam leaving a small blob behind the point arm rubbing block.

Check the coil polarity. In a Model A, the wiring from the starter switch is connected to the coil (). The coil (+) is routed to the ignition switch. From the switch, the primary wire goes to the distributor.

If this is not wired correctly, coil maximum and reserve voltage may be low resulting in ignition misfire under load.

With the engine off, retard the spark lever [up]. Remove the timing pin and re-install with the round point facing inward to camshaft. Watch out for the fan while cranking to locate the timing notch.

With key off, crank engine by 'bumping' starter switch. Note, the rotor turns counter-clockwise. Crank engine with starter until you feel the timing pin drop into the notch; it may jump on past as you bump the starter. Stop at this point and put transmission into high gear. Have your helper push the car backwards, just a little, to turn the engine. As you push it backwards you will again feel the timing pin drop in and slip by just a little. Then push car forward very easily until the pin just drops in. This forward motion also removes all gear lash for timing accuracy. Put transmission in neutral, so the engine won't turn during your adjustment of the distributor cam. Also, don't crank with starter at this time.

Now, the distributor is set up to fire number one cylinder.

Loosen the cam screw. Install rotor and rotate cam until it points to number one in the distributor cap. This is about the 'four o'clock' position in the distributor cap as you look towards the right side of the engine.

Remove rotor. Turn cam [screw loose] until points just start to open on number one cylinder. Remember, the cam will be turning in the counter-clockwise direction. Tighten cam screw gently trying not to turn the cam on the distributor shaft. The shaft will turn in the clockwise direction as you tighten the screw. For now, this is good enough to start the engine. If the timing is too slow or too fast, minor adjustments can be made later during final tune-up adjustments.


Remove the spark plugs and measure the compression. Continually crank the engine until the compression pressure has built up four times. Record the compression pressure of each cylinder. A good engine should crank up to 90% of the specified pressure. If the variation from cylinder to cylinder is over 10%, consider a valve job. Most early Model A engines should crank up to at least 65 psi. Check the reference specifications for acceptable compression pressures.

Insert a couple of oil squirts into each cylinder. Crank for 30 seconds. Then check compression again.

If compression is still uneven, valves are burnt or sticking open.

If all cylinders increase far above the 'dry' check, the rings may be weak. After running the engine, test compression again.

When sitting in mothballs for years, the rings may 'glaze', and there may be lots of soft carbon in the combustion chambers. After running, the compression may improve.

Drain the oil. Install pan plug using a small amount of RTV gasket maker on the washer. If previous engine history is unknown, install five quarts of 30-wt non-detergent oil. If the engine is newly re-built, install five quarts of 20-50 weight oil.

If the old oil is 'jelly' or 'syrup' let it drain overnight. I do not recommend a flush. Clean new oil will provide a good flush.

You may want to review other references for the pros and cons on 20-50 wt oil. I have never experienced any engine problems using 20-50 wt oil on newly rebuilt old car engines or in engines sitting for 10 years. Clean oil is the key!

After running car 100 miles, change oil again. If the engine exhaust emits white oily-smelling smoke, change oil again. If white oily smoke continues, it's time for an overhaul with new rings.

After start up, let engine warm up for one minute at around 1000 RPM.

Increase the RPM to 1500 and hold it steady. Then, short each cylinder, one at a time, to detect rod bearing knock. Rev the engine to a steady 1500 RPM [the exact RPM doesn't matter, just hold it steady with the hand throttle. Then short each spark plug wire with a screwdriver to the cylinder head. The RPM will drop on the shorted cylinder. If the knock diminishes, it's loose. It should be adjusted (remove shims)]. If the rod knock(s) continue with a warm engine, the rods are loose. Refer to engine re-build manuals for adjustment procedures and correct bearing clearance.


Drain coolant water and re-fill. Add a cup of Sta-Lube 'soluble oil' [order from NAPA stores].

If the radiator tubes are rusted on the top end, remove radiator and have it professionally flow-checked, rodded-out, or flushed at a radiator shop.

If the engine loses water and emits white steam like smoke, try a 'block sealer'. If it doesn't stop smoking, check head gasket and/or for cracked head. Surface the head and install a new head gasket. Clean studs thoroughly right down to the block. Clean the head bolt holes using a 15/32 drill bit in a drill.

Check the fan blade for fatigue-type cracks near the center hub and in the flat surfaces. If in doubt, replace fan blade with a two-blade aluminum fan blade.

Beware, if it breaks, you won't believe the noise it can make, and it may go through the hood! It may also break the water pump!


In the fuel system, checks should include the fuel tank, fuel lines, filter, carburetor, and intake manifold leaks.

Start at the fuel tank. If it's full of flaky rust inside, or there is 'algae' and/or it has rust holes in the tank bottom, have it restored professionally or replace the tank.

Use aviation, gas-resistant sealant on the threads. Do not get sealant inside gas passages.

Do not use 'Teflon' tape. Gasoline will dissolve the tape, and it may cause flooding problems.

Pour in one gallon of gas and test for leaks.

Disassemble carburetor and clean in carburetor cleaner.

Replace the needle valve and seat with a new needle and seat.

Test the float [brass] in hot water. If small bubbles escape while immersed, the float is defective. Replace it! Adjust the float level to one inch [Zenith] from the float seam to the machined surface of the carburetor top surface.

On Zenith carburetors the cap and main jet tip must be at the middle of the venturi for correct operation and fuel atomization. If not, full throttle power will suffer.

Install a new gasket kit.

Carburetor repair books and gasket kits detail bench adjustments. They also show 'exploded' views of parts. Adjust float level exactly to specifications.

Pre-set the carburetor idle mixture screws one turn out from seat for start-up.

Flush the entire fuel system with new gas before final hookup. Install carburetor fuel line and a new in-line filter. With line disconnected at carburetor, turn gas jet on and flow gas into a plastic jar until clean. This is all very necessary to minimize carburetor flooding.


Drain gear oil from the transmission and differential. Install 600 wt. [as specified] gear oil to the fill plug level. Do not flush. You may want to change the gear oil again after 100 miles. During a second refill, you may want to consider adding gear oil additives to reduce gear noise

If the transmission howls or jumps out of gear and/or the differential whines, re-build these units as specified in other references. Be sure you understand gear dimension tolerances. Consider professional help in solving difficult noise or shifting problems.


Start with the steering gear box. Fill the steering box with 600 wt [as specified] gear oil.

If it leaks out, consider complete re-build.

Tighten the steering gear housing mounting bolts to the frame. Many times they are loose!

Check the pitman arm on the shaft. Many times the clamp bolt and nut, and arm are loose on the steering shaft. Oil threads and tighten clamp bolt and nut.


On Model A's, test the drag link ball caps for looseness by turning the steering wheel free play [wheels on ground]. Put your finger between the cap and the steering arm. If there is 'slop' [more than 1/32 inch] remove cotter pin and tighten the big slotted screw.

The end plug should be screwed in until it contacts the spring, and then turned in about one turn more.

If drag or tie rod link binds as you turn the wheel [wheels off ground], loosen screw.

On the connecting link tie rod ends, the adjustments are the same as the drag link.

If binding occurs, disassemble each tie rod and inspect for flat spots on the ball. If worn, replace appropriate parts. If flat spots, left as is, hard steering may result.

Check the radius rod 'wishbone' ball and cap. If less than 1/64 inch play side-to-side when turning the steering wheel [front wheels on ground], grease wishbone ball cap, tighten and /or replace studs, springs, and nuts. The wishbone ball must be tight in the socket with no side-to-side play. Install cotter pins.

Disconnect the brake rod and loosen brake adjuster until wheel turns freely.

Remove and inspect the front wheel bearings. Clean bearings in solvent ['paint thinner', not lacquer thinner]. Blow dry with air and then wash in solvent, again. If rollers are pitted, replace bearings and cups [races]. Do not spin bearing with air.

Grease bearings using moly wheel bearing grease. Install inner wheel bearing into the axle shaft. Install hub on spindle shaft and install outer wheel bearing.

Tighten axle nut until snug and back off until light bearing play exists. Tighten nut to line up cotter pin slots. Bearing play should be just snug without wheel binding.

Turn wheel [off ground]. If it stops abruptly, loosen nut one more notch and re-test for free turning.

Lastly, test the spindle and bushings [king pins] for end [up and down] play and for vertical plane play [wheels off ground].

In the vertical plane check [wheels off ground], grab the top and bottom of the tire and wiggle in and out. If the in and out movement at the spindle [king pin] bushing is more than 1/64 inch [0.015"] the spindle pin bushings are very loose and should be replaced.

Next, test the bushing end play [up and down movement in the vertical plane]. The end play clearance should be zero. Test by placing a tire iron under the tire [wheels off the ground]. If end play clearance is greater than 0 [like 0.010", 0.015"], replace king pins, bearings, and end play shims.

Grease all the fittings with moly lube.

Test for wheel runout as discussed below in the wheel section

Test for camber, caster, and toe-in ['gather']. Make a 'plumb bob' with a string and a nut tied to one end. Measure camber by holding the string at the top outer surface of tire. Move forward until string clears the hub cap. The horizontal measurement at the bottom should be around inch, wheels on the ground. This is around degree of positive camber.

Measure the 'gather' [toe-in] by holding a tape measure the inside front rim edge about halfway up from the ground. Measure distance to same spot on other rim. Move the tape measure to the inside rear rim edge. The 'toe-in' should be around 1/16 - 3/16 inch. For example, if the front measures 53 inches and the back is 53_ inches, the toe-in is _ inch.

Many times, the toe-in measurement will be inch toe-in or up to inch toe-out! Needless to say, the car will wander all over and severe tire wear will occur if the above toe measurements are incorrect.

The above checks and procedures are necessary to get your Model A on the road.

Review the service manuals for more accurate and detailed procedures to measure camber, caster, and toe [gather].


The wheel(s) may be slightly out of true in the vertical plane.

Check for out of round and cracks on steel rim or wire wheels used from 1928 to 1932. The wheels are useable, if runout is not over 1/16 inch in the vertical plane and/or out of round.

Check tires for out of round and balance.


Grease the drive shaft front bearing with moly grease.

Test the rear axle up and down play with wheels off the ground. Any play up and down up to 0.005 inches is OK. Test the play with a tire iron on the bottom side of the tire using the iron as a lever. Lift it up and down. If it's over 0.005 inches, it's loose! The hub [wheel], roller bearings, or axle housing may be worn. Check service manuals for specifications.

On tapered axle shafts, jack up one side. Install a rear axle hub puller on opposite axle shaft. Tighten the puller bolt to the end of the axle shaft. Strike heavy blows on end of the puller bolt with a 'sledge' hammer. If really tight, re-check puller bolt. If, after three hard blows, it is not loose, install a Ford 'wheel puller' to remove the hub.

While the hub and bearing is off the axle, check the axle end play. If over 1/32 inch [0.031"], it's excessive. If left this way, the axle may shift in and out causing the drum to rub the brake lining edges. It may squeal!

Grease the rear axle bearings with heavy duty gear oil. Install new grease seals. Leave drum off to check brakes.


Play it safe! Brakes must be installed and adjusted according to specifications.

Remove all brake drums.

Check the brake shoe lining and drums for grooves.

If grease is on the brake lining surface or lining is worn to the rivet heads, replace lining.

Donot use bonded lining on old 'soft' drums. The drums will score. Use original-style woven lining and rivets. Follow specifications for correct thickness, width, and length. Review Model A car repair manuals for procedures and adjustments.

Recently [1997], I had my Model T 11-inch rear brakes relined with a 'molded Kevlar' lining used in industrial brake applications. The brand name is Redco Heavy Duty Woven Lining. This Kevlar lining will withstand higher temperatures before fade. This Kevlar is soft enough so drum wear will be normal. On one long 10% downgrade, my lining was smoking and the brakes were still holding!

In all cases, have the lining professionally drilled and riveted with brake machinery. Don't skimp and do it 'by hand'! It will work loose! There goes your safety factor!

Oil brake arm lever and roller pins. Oil all brake rod pivot points.

Prepare rear axles. Remove axle burrs and shine taper surfaces with 80 grit-type sand paper. Peen the outer end of the axle keyway. Insert the axle key by tapping into the burr. You don't want this to move when installing the wheel hub. Clean axle threads with nut to clean thread.

Lightly oil axle surface, axle thread, and nut for a better mating of parts. Install hub and drum. Rotate drum. If you hear a metal scraping, it may be the brake lining edge rubbing the drum. Remove hub and install an axle shim lightly coated with oil. Re-check for scraping sound.

The oiled axle shaft surfaces will provide a better seating of the hub on the axle. Install the hub, axle key, and nut. Torque nut lightly [for now].

With brake rods disconnected, adjust the brakes to a very light drag.

Follow manufacturer's specifications when re-connecting brake rods. Check cross shaft-lever-arm angles. If this is not right, brake performance will be poor.

On Model A front brakes, the brake front lever must be at a forward tilt about 1/4 inch from vertical. If not, remove drum and install new operator actuator pins or cup-shaped shims on the old pins. Re-install drum. Check brake lever angle again. Make sure the shoe adjustment is at a light drag with the brake rod disconnected when making these checks. Brake lever should only move about 1/4 inch back to lock the drum.

After adjusting the brake shoes to a light drag, adjust brake rods to fit the brake arm with the mechanical lash removed. Push brake pedal 1". The rear wheels should have a distinct equal drag. Adjust rear rods for same drag on back wheels.

Push brake pedal 2". Rear wheels should lock when trying to turn by hand. Adjust the front wheel rods until the brakes just drag.

Be sure brakes are free and releasing with pedal released.

As new brake lining high spots wear in, re-adjust brakes at backing plate for equal drag.

If all the above adjusts out as discussed above, tighten brake rod clevis jam nuts, oil clevis pins, and install cotter pins in clevis pins.

Torque the rear axle nuts to 100 foot pounds, align the cotter pin slots, and insert the cotter pin. Re-check torque after 100 miles.


Follow the Model A specifications on lubrication. If running gear is lubricated, wear is minimized.

Beware, after long storage, grease congeals in joints. Ports in grease fittings may plug up. Many spring and steering systems and joints may be dry and rusty after many years of sitting.

I have experienced systems that were cleaned only during restoration or after long storage, but never disassembled for wear inspection and lubrication during re-assembly! If you find one joint with rust, no grease or a plugged grease fitting, you can bet most joints will be in this poor condition.

Good lubrication leads to long and safe touring.

The special grease fitting tip is available at Model A parts houses. Some Model As have been converted to the 'zerk'-type grease fitting. Grease guns can be converted to either style.


Now, for the big test! If all the above has been performed with good repair practice and adjusted to specification, your car should start in 5-10 seconds and almost be ready to drive on tour! The order of start up and drive events are as follows:

Turn idle mixture screw one turn out

Turn choke rod turn open

Crank and start [pull choke rod momentarily while cranking

Test for rod knocks, cold engine

Test for vacuum leaks

Drive car, test shifting and clutch

Drive car, test brakes [light application]

Drive car, test for front wheel "shimmy"

Test for overheating

Clean car, detail it, or

Drive car on tour!

With gas at half throttle and full spark retard, crank engine for five seconds. During crank, momentarily choke.

Upon start up, be prepared to choke slightly as the engine begins to rev up. If it's 'sputtering', open choke [no choke] to let engine rev up more. To lean the mixture, gently push choke in. Advance the spark halfway.

Return to idle slowly. Adjust idle throttle screw and idle mixture screw to maintain good idle smoothness.

Adjust idle mixture to peak idle RPM.

During warm up, rev engine to around 1200 RPM. Leave it at a steady RPM. Listen for knock(s).

At 1200 RPM, short [with a screwdriver], one spark plug at a time. That cylinder should drop in RPM. Simultaneously, listen for knock while the spark plug is shorted. If the knock goes away while shorting out the cylinder, the rod is loose.

Perform the same test on the remaining cylinders.

After a long warm up, perform the same rod knock test, again. If it still knocks, the rod(s) is/(are) very loose.

Sometimes, single disk clutches will stick on the transmission spline or to the flywheel surface. Adjust clutch for one inch of 'free' play with engine off.

If it doesn't release, stop engine. Put transmission in high gear, set emergency brake, depress clutch pedal, and crank engine to start. If it won't crank, or it drags during crank, replace clutch!

Test for vacuum leaks by spraying water on the two intake ports. If RPM changes and intake leak exists, install new gaskets.


Now the big plunge! You're ready for the road!

If you are not experienced in driving Model A Ford cars, ask an experienced friend who regularly drives on tours to drive your car the first time.

Engage reverse gear gently and back out of the driveway.

Take off slowly in first gear, shift to second, and then high gear. Double clutch to minimize gear clashing. Note how smooth the shift is! If it chatters, the disk may be 'hanging up' or it may have oil on it. I have experienced 'chattering' clutches. But, after only a few shifts, the clutch may get smoother.

By now, you have been applying the brakes gently, noting pull. At 30 MPH in high gear, let off the throttle and push foot brake to lock the wheels [panic stop]. Be prepared for a pull to right or left.

If it pulls to the right, adjust the left front clevis pin one turn tighter and re-install cotter pin. Try panic stop again. If you cannot get equal pull, re-line brakes as discussed in brake section.

Test for shimmy [wobble] at low speed.

Proceed over chuck holes slowly [5 MPH]. If shimmy develops, re-check front end looseness and alignment checks, as outlined in the 'Front Axle' section.

Test the radiator. If it boils on a cool day during these pre-tour tests, consider a 'flat tube' radiator re-core or a new radiator.

Run car at 50 mph. If steering wheel feels like a 'shimmy', balance wheels.


A sparkling clean car is easier to sell even if the 'cosmetics' are not the best. If the dirt, oil, and grease is slight, start by washing the grease and oil off the undercarriage and engine with solvent [paint thinner, not lacquer thinner]. Spray with engine de-greaser and let it sit for at least 30 minutes. Cover distributor and carburetor with plastic. Hose off with water. Apply engine de-greaser a second time to get it clean.

Wash the engine and chassis with liquid detergent. Wash under the fenders and the inner and outer wheel and tire surfaces.

Scrub tire rubber with a brush and liquid detergent. Finish off the tire rubber with a 'tire black' liquid to make it shine while still wet with water. This makes a nice, clean look without over shine when dry.

Clean whitewalls with SOS pads. Finish off with a tire cleaner bleach. Scrub until they are white! There's nothing more distracting than yellow whitewall tires!

Scrub the chrome with cleanser or pumice powder.

Wash the car's outer surfaces with car wash soap. Keep water and soap below the windows to minimize water getting inside the doors. Dry the surfaces with a chamois. Wipe the top area and glass with a chamois.

Polish the chrome, nickel, or stainless steel. If rust pits are still present, use a mild rubbing compound to polish the rust away. Re-apply polish to shine it.

Clean top vinyl-type material with car wash soap using a heavy towel. If the top is really crusty dirty, scrub with a brush and car wash soap. Use 'tire black' on a moist towel to shine and make it black.

In my experience, tire black works better than a vinyl cleaner.

Polish the car with a cleaner polish. Do not use wax or a silicone polish. You, or the new owner may want to re-paint the car. Just make it look clean and 'spruced up'!

Lightly clean the upholstery [seats and panels] with a foam cleaner. Scrub it with a soft, wet [water only] wrung out towel. Let it dry allowing the foam cleaner to 'work', then vacuum.

Vacuum the head-liner, seats, and panels until no dust comes out as you pound the seat cushions. Clean the floor mats [carpet or rubber]. While the mats and seat cushions are out, vacuum the floor pan. Include the trunk area. Wipe it clean with detergent and a wet rag.

If the floor pan is crusty with lots of dirt, check for drainage crevices and lightly spray with water. Wipe out the dirt flakes as it drains and drys.

Wipe all sill areas and door jambs with detergent and water. Clean off latch areas with solvent. Re-grease [lightly] latches so the doors close easily and sound solid. Check alignment of the rubber door bumpers. Adjust door hinges to realign.

Clean all windows, inside and out, with glass cleaner. Do it twice to make it sparkle and 'squeaky clean'. Everyone likes to look through clean glass.

All the above, is just to make your car presentable. Depending on how dirty the car is; this could take up to two days! If you're going for show or want it spotless, review appropriate books for concourse quality cleaning. It will take many days.


Review old car price guides, auction results, and newspaper ads to determine the price range. Try and judge your car according to the definitions in the judging guide. Review want ads in collectible car magazines and local newspapers to determine a reasonable starting point for a dollar value.

Have the car professionally appraised to check your price range.

All this will give you a reasonable place to start your selling price and negotiations.

A sparkling clean well-running car will sell much quicker at a higher price than an unattended car! However, I would rather see you drive your car on tours!