Photo taken in Rochester, NY - by Ken Keeley

Our Deluxe Roadster*

From Dream To Obsession

By Marco Tahtaras, Pleasanton, California

Who really understands what drives us to this hobby that eventually brings friendships, camaraderie, frustration, satisfaction and more emotions than we ever realized existed? For myself, my earliest recollection is walking home from elementary school and periodically seeing an old car passing me and watching with interest as it certainly stood out from the rest. I would soon find out from my older brother (who had a similar fascination and six-year advantage in age) that it was a 1930 Model A Coupe.

After borrowing every book I could find at the public library, by the age of twelve, I was enthusiastically identifying almost every year and body type of both Model A and Model T Fords. I began saving every dollar I could earn, knowing that driving age would come soon enough, and I couldn’t settle for just anything. In the meantime, my brother purchased a very nice 1930 Town sedan for use as everyday transportation. This provided the means to gain experience in maintenance and make new acquaintances that share the same affliction.

One new acquaintance, a proud owner of a 1930 Town Sedan and an early 1928 AA Express, soon became an outlet for my energy on weekends. The Summer I turned thirteen I spent several days doing maintenance on his 68,000 mile Town Sedan while my friend was at work. I just dug in and took care of problems like pulling the front end and replacing king pins, shackles, and their respective bushings. No more shimmy! On weekends I assisted in doing a cosmetic restoration on his AA truck. The truck soon provided my first driving experience.

Growing impatient by age fifteen and a whopping $262 burning a hole in my bank book, I began looking for a car I could afford. To my dismay, Model A’s had increased in price starting around $450 for a complete car (rough but complete). I settled for a 1917 Model T Touring "in a basket" for $175. Over the next year I spent most days after school (occasionally skipping homework) and weekends working in the garage alone. I assembled the chassis with what new parts I could afford and refitted the body with all new oak (with barely enough of the original for patterns).

At age sixteen I was again becoming impatient, as I still really wanted a Model A. With the Touring in primer and completely assembled, less a few key parts (such as a carburetor), I put it on the market and soon sold it for $750. It still wasn’t enough for an 'A' that I could get in and drive.

Over the next couple of years still without an 'A' of my own, I continued to help others restore their cars. I collected books and other information with a growing interest in original photographs and the details they could provide. With increased exposure to restored cars I became intrigued with the interiors and tops since they were rarely (if ever) done like Ford produced. Being nineteen and feeling I could conquer the world, I bought a commercial sewing machine and set out to do what no one had done since the cars were produced. It wasn’t my idea of a career, but I thought the challenge would keep me going until I found something more meaningful.

By now I had determined that a Deluxe Roadster was what I really wanted. They had increased in value much faster than my budget, and if I was to have a car of my own a compromise was in order. I found a respectable 1929 Roadster that only needed a quick top and interior, and I would finally be on the road.

Three years and 35,000 miles later the desire had grown to have a Roadster that not only looked but drove like it just came off the assembly line. The ’29 just wasn’t suitable for the effort. The original floor pans were replaced, the rear fender wells were rotted, and well, it just wasn’t a ’30 Deluxe.

About this time I met Susan, and priorities shifted a bit. She shared my enthusiasm to a point (she really didn’t know what she had gotten herself into). We went on long tours to regional meets, put the top down on warm nights, drove through the hills, and in general just enjoyed the car, but it still wasn’t a ’30 Deluxe!

Two years, 13,000 miles later, a new house, and things settling down a bit, it was time to get serious. I found a ’30 Deluxe that I was certain was the answer. Only one of the original floor pans was gone (I was sure I could find an original to replace it), and the rest of the sheet metal appeared to be restorable. By the time I was able to acquire the car it had been disassembled. Upon sorting all the parts, I discovered a lot of the original pieces had been discarded in favor of new ones (for which I had no use), so the want list was started.

With limited space for work and storage (not to mention money), the ’29 Roadster had to go. It was now 1980 and the prospect of not having an 'A' to drive left me a little uneasy, but after all, this wasn’t going to be one of those ten-year projects I so often saw.

Five years later, with a one-year-old daughter, life was moving along, but my work space was again filled with someone else’s dream. My hunger for knowledge of the Model A had grown well beyond the interior trim. Hundreds (if not thousands) of hours each year were going into research and study of original Ford blueprints, engineering information, service instructions, and anything else I could get my hands on. Increasingly unhappy with the worn or replaced parts that came with the Roadster, the collection of unused original parts grew. Each item, whether visible or not, needed confirmation as correct for an October 1930 production car.

Three more years, a one-year-old son, and still no Roadster to drive. Something else still filled my workspace. I found a new outlet for my research in the soon to be published 1990 Judging Standards and Restoration Guidelines. Many more hours were spent on research and writing to share what I had learned. Working with many superb people made it a pleasure, but I should have been spending the time on the Roadster!

Another three years passed and not much change except increased frustration. The only way to free up my work space would be to finally give up my non-career. I went into the personal computer business (another interest I picked up along the way). After about two years the business was settling down, 60-70 hour work weeks were no longer required and it was evident the time had finally arrived to get started on the Roadster.

Working nights and weekends totaling 30-40 hours a week, I was sure I would be able to complete the project for the joint meet in Tacoma the following year. After assembling the body, doors, decklid, etc. on the frame for fitting, I discovered the factory fits on this particular Roadster were appalling. I was going to have to move metal around in ways I never dreamed of. The work went slowly and by the following Spring it was clear we would be attending one more national meet without our Roadster.

The next deadline would be the MARC meet in St. Charles. Much to the dismay of Susan and the kids, the busy work schedule was to continue throughout the following year. Problems persisted and the work continued to move slowly. Many of the NOS mechanical parts collected must have been rejects from the assembly line, and the necessary corrections varied from simple deburring of surfaces to major re-machining.

Another Spring arrived and the Roadster progressed far enough that finishing was possible. There were still some things I wasn’t happy with and being stubborn, I wasn’t ready to compromise. I continued to work more and sleep less, but it just wasn’t to be, for one more year.

The final deadline, Rochester, NY. and onto Toronto, Ontario. From the west coast the trip seemed absolutely crazy. After all these years I couldn’t wait for a national meet near the west coast and I just had to go. Over-confident that there was plenty of time for the little I had left to do on the Roadster, I spent a couple of months on other things that had been sorely neglected.

It was now Spring of 1996 and there were a few remaining obstacles, time was growing short, and a full night sleep was no longer an option. We were scheduled to depart on our cross-country journey on Wednesday July 3rd, but on Thursday afternoon I was still sewing side curtains. By Thursday evening, a few remaining uninstalled parts were boxed, the truck and trailer packed, and we were on the road heading east.

After three days and 2700 miles, my co-pilot Jordan Heath and I found ourselves in Rochester with enough time to get the car buttoned-up for Wednesday’s judging and squeeze in a little visiting with friends we had been looking forward to seeing. The only remaining question was how would the Roadster be perceived by those who have seen and judged so many incredible cars over the years?

Wednesday’s judging came and went, but the compliments didn’t stop. The Roadster was well received and everyone was so gracious and complimentary that the potential awards became much less important. But the best thing of all is we finally have our 1930 Deluxe Roadster!

Finally, as many before me have said, no matter how much you do yourself, it is never done alone: From help with the little projects to keep from falling further behind schedule, to the help in locating that little part you overlooked but need yesterday, and the ongoing moral support. Many sincere thanks to Doug, Larry, Rob, Jordan, Tim, Ron, Dave, Doc and my father Nick. And thanks most of all to my wife and partner Susan, kids Heather and Brandon for their help, support, patience and endurance.

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©1998 Marco Tahtaras