Paul Wagner shows off his Model A replica

PAUL WAGNER OF Bridport has had a long love affair with old cars. But he has driven enough of them to know how temperamental they can be and fixed enough to know how expensive repairs can be. So last year he bought a Shay Model A — a replica of the classic 1928/29 Ford Model A Roadster.

BRIDPORT — Paul Wagner likes old vehicles. He owns a 1957 Dodge D200 pickup and a d’57 John Deere 520 tractor, and is a member of the Vermont Automotive Enthusiasts Classic and Antique Car Club.
A retired farmer, Wagner occasionally organizes informal antique tractor parades, including through Middlebury last June and around the Helen Porter nursing home and EastView retirement community in October.
“Maybe we’ll do another one this June,” he said.
After owning the Dodge truck for more than 40 years, it wouldn’t pass inspection. So he overhauled the whole thing, with fixes including, among other things, a new bed, master brake cylinder,  air shocks, radial tires, seat belts and a nice paint job. After the steering broke, Wagner added power steering from an old Toyota pickup (he said the parallel parking is much easier now).
“It cost more (to fix up) than it cost new,” Wagner said after calculating the parts and labor involved in the process.
But there was one old car that he wanted for a long time but just couldn’t get his hands on — a Model A.
No, not an original manufactured by Ford Motor Company in the late 1920s and 1930s. He wanted a Shay Model A. For the 50th anniversary of the Model A in 1978, Ford released the patents to Henry Shay with permission to reproduce the 1928/29 Ford Model A Roadster, Wagner explained. About 5,000 replica Model A’s were built from 1979–1980.
They were sold in Ford dealerships across the country. Each dealership was given two to sell for $10,000–$12,000 each, depending on the extras.
The Shay Model A looks like an antique but it’s got features from a more modern era (though, of course, it is decades behind the 2021 cars on dealer lots right now). For one, the original 40-horsepower engine was replaced with an 88-horsepower, four-cylinder, 1980 Ford Pinto engine. The frame and suspension on the Shay was the same as the 1979 Ford Mustang, and they sported rack and pinion steering and a 1980 Pinto braking system featuring dual braking with disk brakes in the front and drum brakes in the back. Some Shay Model A’s came with an automatic transmission.
There was a rumble seat and lap seatbelts standard with each car. It had a custom fiberglass body.
With a top speed of 83 mph (Wagner can get it from zero to 60 in under 20 seconds), the Shay Model A gets 25 miles per gallon of gasoline. 
Ford made 5 million Model A’s, but Wagner, 73, said he never rode in one.
“I wouldn’t take one if you gave it to me,” he said. “I had three speeds and you had to double clutch.”
He’s happy with his 1979 Shay Model A, which he bought last year after a long search. Wagner said he ID’d one for sale in Charlotte, but it was gone by the time he contacted the seller. Then there was one in Waterbury, but it was painted fire engine red (“I didn’t like that,” Wagner said.) and they couldn’t come to terms on the deal.
Then he found one near Albany, N.Y., but it sold before he got to that one. But the buyer contacted Wagner with a change of heart and wanted to sell.
“I went and looked at it; it had no brakes … and needed a new radiator,” Wagner said.
But it also had only 13,000 miles on the odometer.
“Not much for a 40-year-old car,” Wagner chirped.
And the car was gray — not anywhere near fire engine red.
He paid $11,500 for the Shay and trailered it home. After bleeding the brakes and adding an automatic transmission (“I had to monkey with that”), a new radiator, a heater under the seat and $3,000 worth of white-walled tires, he was ready to hit the road.
Wagner stores his new old car over the winter in a barn at Field Days, but he just got it out for the season three weeks ago. Last week he took it for a drive to see how it was running. During a 10-minute interview in a Maple Street parking lot two different people stopped to shout out their appreciation for the Shay Model A; one asked if it was for sale.
When Wagner drives by he often sees passersby smile and wave. “I get a lot of attention,” he says. “I toot the ooga horn.”
During a recent drive up to Hardwick, a state police cruiser appeared in his rearview mirror, then the trooper pulled up alongside the Shay Model A. Wagner wondered what he had done wrong.
“He gave me a thumbs up and took off,” Wagner said.
Although a few of his hard core antique car friends say he really should be driving a true original Model A, Wagner is happy with his new ride.
“It looks like an old one but rides like a new one,” he said proudly.

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