Over 25 Model A Fords visit San Benito County Historical Park

Drivers feast on lunches cooked on their engines.
Model A Ford hood ornament. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Model A Ford hood ornament. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Model A Ford. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Model A Ford. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Ray Fontaine. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Ray Fontaine. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Santa Clara Valley chapter of the Model A Ford Club of America stopped for lunch in the San Benito County Historical Park on Aug. 21, as part of their most recent touring adventure, arriving in elegant style and smelling slightly of garlic.

The event was part of the President’s Tour, which brought over 25 Model A cars from the San Jose area to enjoy a picnic at the park, followed by a tour of the historic buildings guided by Anita Kane of the San Benito County Historical Society.

With lunch in mind, many of the members used their car engines as stoves, placing foil-wrapped meals on the hot manifolds of the cars and letting the heat cook the food.

The drivers tried a variety of foods, including hot dogs and beans. Bill and Linda Nicholson took it up a notch, feasting on shrimp and salmon seasoned with garlic and dill that their car had cooked to perfection.

“It is all based on mileage, not temperature,” Bill said. “A back manifold can get up to 575 degrees and the front is about 450 degrees. We wired them up to the engine when we left Gilroy, about 25 miles back. We could smell the garlic while we were driving. This is the way they used to do it on long trips. They’d put a chicken in the pot and then drive all day.”

The results were perfect, according to Bill, who said it came out, “succulent and flakey”—while Linda said the meal could have used a few more miles under the hood.  

The first time Bill tried to cook on his engine was not as successful. “I tried to do something easy,” he said, “just pork and beans. I had it way too close to the No. 4 cylinder and it just fried the sausage that was in there. It looked incinerated but I ate it anyway.”

The club celebrates the Model A, launched in 1928 as a follow-up to the immensely popular Model T.  Fifteen million Model Ts were sold between 1908 and 1927, but production on the Model A ended 1932, with almost 5 million cars sold. It has since become a favorite with collectors.

Tour participants Judy and Donald Cole have a special attachment to their Model A. “I got this car from my grandfather, who purchased it in 1929,” Donald said. “It is my grandfather’s original car and my wife and I went to our senior prom in high school in it. It can be a temperamental car, but it means a lot to us.”

Though occasionally in need of extensive care, the unpretentiousness of the cars is one of the attractions to collecting them. 

Club President Bill Cilker drives a 1931 Model A Town Sedan. The car has a 40 horsepower engine with an 11-gallon gas tank. It gets 17 miles per gallon and has a top speed of 50 miles an hour. The car cost $630 new and, depending on condition, sells today for $15,000-$28,000.

“The Model A is a pretty simple car,” Cilker said. “They drive well, and they can more or less keep up with traffic. They are reliable and easy to maintain; just enjoyable cars to own.”

The age of the vehicles offers few obstacles to the long trips the club has taken. Ted Kafer found his 1930 Deluxe Coupe at a garage sale 35 years ago and has put 85,000 miles on it since he restored it.

“I saw it and had to have it,” he said. “I have taken it to the East Coast twice, to Canada twice, all over the West, including Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Route 66. I have gotten a lot of driving out of it and it has been a great car.”

They can also be easily repaired on the road thanks to the availability of parts and the willingness of strangers to help travelers who need assistance.  

“These things break,” Nicholson said. “You have to keep up the water level, the fan belts break, you might have more complicated problems. But out on the back roads, you find these people in these old homesteads who will step in with incredible friendliness. We were out in the middle of nowhere and someone took us to find an alternator shop. There are parts houses all over the United States, and if you have the parts you can actually replace something like a clutch all by yourself.”

The Model A club’s Santa Clara chapter was founded in 1960 and has stayed active during the pandemic through monthly Zoom meetings. It’s recently been able to resume tours, including one to the Sweet Retreat ice cream parlor in Morgan Hill taking place on July 21.

“I have driven all over the country,” Nicholson said. “There are times I wake up and have to ask my wife ‘where are we?’ because we are traveling everywhere along all these back roads. You really get a chance to see the United States when you join the Model A club and meet some wonderful people.”


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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink approached me as a photographer by have since encouraged me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.