An A-wesome Barn Find

Confession: The Ford Model A you see on these pages is mine, passed down through half a century of single-family ownership. For the bulk of its lifetime within my wife’s family, the Ellers, it lived in a barn in Sagle, Idaho. Does that make this late- ’31 coupe a barn find? Truth be told, it’s never been lost… the Ellers always knew where it was. And they certainly know where it is now. How did it come to be?

Doug Eller was conscripted into the United States Armed Forces two weeks before the end of World War II. By the time he arrived in Southern California and got the lay of the land there, the war was over. Needing to get back to Spokane, he bought a car and hot-footed it home, after which he immediately flipped it for triple what he paid. Faster than you can say “There’s a business model here!” he opened Eller Motors on Sprague Avenue in his hometown.

Soon Doug’s son, Dick, was drafted into regular trips to the City of Angels to buy new stock for the dealership. As the years passed, Doug amassed an array of vintage machines of varying quality for his own collection and amusement. By the late 1960s, Eller Motors was profitable enough that Doug bought acreage on Mount Schweitzer in Sagle, not far from Lake Pend Oreille.

During the spring of 1969, a farmer from Western Montana drove across two states to be rid of the Ford Model A seen on these pages. All reports from the Eller family indicate that little beyond maintenance (and truth be told, barely even that) was given to the coupe. When it arrived in Spokane, the Ford had already been given its thick coat of Earl Scheib green, on both body and (incorrectly) the fenders, which then lost its gloss and faded into something more resembling suede. Its original mechanical brakes had been converted to a 1939-’48 “juice” system, and the mohair cloth interior had been replaced with a root-beer-colored Naugahyde. The vinyl top patch had been replaced with a piece of riveted sheetmetal slathered with white house paint. But rather than flip the forlorn Ford, it was absorbed into the family collection.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Koch

There’s junk in the trunk because there’s no rumble seat.

By the mid-’80s, Doug had retired, Dick moved on from the used-car business, and Eller Motors was no more. The family story goes that a barn was built around Doug’s cars, just as he called time on the business. Fifteen years later, Doug passed; his three kids split the cars, but only Dick held onto any of his father’s collection—including this Model A.

When relocated, the (perpetually flat) Allstate tires—last sold by Sears in the mid-Seventies—mounted to the wheels had sidewall cracks that you could stick a nickel in. The trunk full of bumperettes, spare grille shell, and other parts had never been emptied, and an Eller Motors stock number was still taped to the rear-quarter window. It was all there, though not entirely as-factory-built stock, and needed to be thoroughly gone through and sorted.

Alas, with time and talent in equally short supply, I sent it out to Sam Guthrie at Arizona Model A for all sorts of work to get it drivable again: brakes, wiring, and heaven knows what else. A local shop cut out the parcel shelf and moved the front seat-track hardware to the rear bolt holes; it did wonders for the ergonomics of driving, with me no longer hunched over the oversized steering wheel, and better able to access the start button located between the steering column and cowl. Once that was completed, we pooted around the block a couple of times, with Dick grinning like a Cheshire cat the whole time, and that was that. The Ford sat once again.

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