By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
In 1928, Mickey Mouse was on movie screens in “Steamboat Willie,” one of the earliest sound cartoons. Flappers were bobbing their hair and dancing the Charleston that year. And Mike and Janet Leighton’s snazzy convertible rolled off a Ford assembly line.
The Leightons have two modern vehicles, a Chrysler 300 and a Dodge Dakota pickup. Where’s the fun in those? For most errands and outings, the Everett couple drive a Model A.
They have two to choose from, a 1928 roadster coupe and a 1929 four-door.
“The 1928 roadster is an open car,” Mike Leighton said. “It has a convertible top, and canvas sides you can snap onto the cloth top. It’s drafty as all get-out.” It also has a rumble seat, a recessed bench that can be pulled open in back.
That car belongs to his wife and was a gift from her father in 2004. Restoring it was how Mike Leighton got hooked on the Ford Model A.
Replacing Ford’s “Tin Lizzie” Model T, the Model A cars — nearly 5 million of them — were made from late 1927 through 1931.
The group meets monthly, at 7:30 a.m. the second Sunday of each month at the Collector’s Choice Restaurant in Snohomish. “It’s very informal. People drive their old cars. We range from two cars to 12 or 13,” Leighton said.
A retired mechanical engineer, the 66-year-old Leighton hopes to get the word out about the club and bring in new members. It was started years ago. Explaining the club’s name, he said members used to take their old cars on camping trips. “They would be sitting out in the woods under the moon,” he said.
Among early members, Leighton said, were Dale Campbell of Everett and Don Harris of Monroe, both now deceased. “The founders of this club grew up with Model A’s. They were driving them when they were kids,” he said.
Leighton said the ‘28 roadster was running when they got it, but it needed work. “The engine went out, and I ended up tearing it totally apart,” he said.
Working in the garage of his home near Silver Lake, Leighton needed more help than he could find in books. “Club members taught me how to rebuild this thing,” he said. The engine was rebuilt in a shop.
Depending on styles and models, prices for a new Model A ran from about $400 to $1,400. Leighton guesses he put about $20,000 into the roadster.
He bought his four-door in pieces, and is just finishing the upholstery. “It was a lot more work than the roadster. It’s a lot bigger car,” he said.
He kept the burgundy color his father-in-law had on the roadster, which is not an original hue. The four-door is Andalusite Blue, which was a 1929 Ford paint. “It looks black until the sun shines,” Leighton said.
Unlike Model A purists who use only original parts, Leighton bought some new parts that are available through catalogs. “I drive mine, I don’t show it,” he said. “You have perfectionists and you have people like me who want to get their cars on the road.”
The road is where the fun is. In a Model A, the Leightons have driven to Bellingham, Anacortes and on the Mountain Loop Highway. “We’ll go for a drive and have a picnic someplace,” he said.
They have driven on I-5, but with a Model A’s top speed of 50 to 55 miles an hour, they stick to the slow lane. Others in traffic often slow down to wave or take pictures, Leighton said.
The three-speed cars, with the shift on the floor, have a key plus a push-button start — and just in case, a crank for starting the engine.
Leighton would rather drive a Model A than a newer car, but he has made a few concessions for safety. He added lap belts, brake lights and turn signals. “Remember hand signals?” he said.
Some drivers fret about reliability when cars are over a decade old. The roadster is 85. Do the Leightons worry about getting stuck someplace?
“We’re fairly confident,” Leighton said, then added “but we always have our cellphone.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, email@example.com.
Model A club
The “Moon on A” Model A Ford club meets at 7:30 a.m. the second Sunday of each month at Collector’s Choice Restaurant, 215 Cypress Ave., Snohomish. Information: 425-338-3229.
The club is a chapter of the Model A Ford Club of America: www.mafca.com