Lifestyle

Collectors travel back in time with Model As

Joe Biller, of Coupeville, owns three Model A Fords, including a 1931 AA Fire Engine he acquired from a seller in Beaverton, Ore. The fire truck was restored from the ground up by his family. - Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Joe Biller, of Coupeville, owns three Model A Fords, including a 1931 AA Fire Engine he acquired from a seller in Beaverton, Ore. The fire truck was restored from the ground up by his family.
— image credit: Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Whenever Joe Biller feels like getting reacquainted with old friends, he retreats to the rear of his property, lifts the garage door and steps back in time.

Inside, underneath covers to keep the dust off, are three automobiles from a different time period in various states of restoration. All three are Model A Fords, a passion he shares with his wife Sharon.

“I’ve always had a fascination with the car that reminded me of Bonnie and Clyde,” Biller said.

The Billers of Coupeville are part of car club on Whidbey Island that rides in style.

The Whidbey Island Ford Model A Club, established in 2005, has more than 40 members with about 60 automobiles, including a fire engine.

The Model A, known as the “new Ford” when it was introduced in 1928 to replace the Model T, is represented by models from 1928-31.

The Billers own a 1929 four-door Blindback, a 1930 Coupe and a 1931 AA Fire Engine.

“I have everything but a ‘28,” said Biller, a retired fire chief with the Central Whidbey Fire & Rescue.

The ‘29 Blindback is actually Sharon’s. It was purchased from a doctor in Port Angeles.

“She told me I could not take it apart,” Biller said.

The Whidbey Model A’s, as they’re called, evolved from a vintage car club formed by Jack Rasmussen of Greenbank, according to club president Gary Formhals.

The club meets monthly in Central Whidbey, participates in parades and travels to car shows.

A chapter of the Model A Ford Club of America, it is dedicated to the “restoration, preservation and enjoyment” of Ford vehicles from that era.

The club is the largest in the world dedicated to one make of an automobile.

Ford assembled nearly 5 million Model A’s after 18 years of producing the Model T.

“My grandfather used to have a Model A. We used to drive it around the farm,” said Formhals, who lives in Clinton and owns three Model A’s, including a 1930 DeLuxe Delivery.

“I always liked old cars.”

Formhals has found the feeling to be contagious on Whidbey as well as for a few off-island members.

The way he sees it, the club is a fun hobby with certain advantages.

Such as sharing wisdom and parts.

“I do a lot of work on guys’ cars to help get them going,” Formhals said. “Most of the time, we’re swapping out parts.”

Biller might be calling soon.

Although he and his family meticulously restored the fire engine “from the ground up,” it didn’t need a complete overhaul, he said.

“It still has the original brake lining of ‘31,” Biller said. “Fire engines never got driven much. The engine and brakes are stock, which means it doesn’t stop very good either.”

Biller said it’s amazing how simple it can be to get a Model A’s four-cylinder engine to run again.

“I bought one from a guy in Gig Harbor,” he said. “It didn’t run. In a half hour, we had it running with all four kids in the backseat.”

Biller and his wife have been immersed in Model A’s for decades. They’ve been members of Seattle’s Evergreen A’s club since 1974.

The cars are not about speed. Formhals said the top speed of a car with a stock engine is about 45 mph.

“Forty-five is probably the top comfortable speed,” he said. “You can do 50-55.”

The local Model A community getting ready for a special summer.

The 2014 MAFCA National Convention will be held in Puyallup July 14-18.

Biller will continue to retreat to his garage to tinker.

“Thirty years ago, the job and kids got in the way,” he said. “Even my retirement seems like it’s gotten in the way.”

 

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