I got an E-mail from someone named Hilda. She desperately wanted some help in evaluating and setting a price on her Dad’s old Ford truck. He had passed away and they were in the process of settling the estate. She said that she had absolutely no idea what the vehicle was worth, or even what kind of truck it was. (Ford made “AA” trucks that were “real trucks” with much heavier frames, wheels, running gear etc., and they also made car based pick-up trucks, station wagons and sedan deliveries). All she could really tell me was that it was crank start and that her Dad bought it to drive in parades. The crank start made me suspect that perhaps it was a Model “T” Ford truck though all Model “A”s also had the capability of crank starting but had electric starters. They are not generally known as crank start vehicles. Somehow the American Pickers TV show had become involved and she had no idea what the vehicle was worth. (Now, in my opinion the American Pickers are famous for paying way too much for antique cars which seems to be one of their frequent dilemmas highlighted on the show. I remember the time when they paid about $8K for a Model “A” barn find that I valued at about $3K— as a parts, or total restoration project. At the end of the show an expert noted that there were likely near a million Model “A”s still in existence and this was no great find. The Pickers ultimately admitted that they paid way too much for it.) Over the phone I was able to establish that the title listed the vehicle as 1929, and that Hilda said it reminded her of a pickup truck. My best guess was that it might be a 1929 Ford Roadster Pickup, condition unestablished via phone conversation.
Because I write old car columns that appear in several magazines and am the current president of the Northern Ohio Model “A” Club, I frequently get calls and E-mails of this nature. I am the contact person. Whenever the calls are reasonably close by I try to personally visit the person and help out. My ulterior motives include, 1) maybe a good story lurks here, 2) I like to help out people, 3) the America Pickers connection piqued my interest, and 4) probably someone in the Club will be interested in the vehicle. So, off I went to have a look.
As I got there and the garage door opened, what I saw confirmed that it was indeed a 1929 Roadster pickup, more properly known as an Open Cab Pickup Model “A” Ford. These days all pickups are generally sought after as “desirable to restore” vehicles. The open cab pickups were the lowest priced trucks at the time and even today are slightly less valuable than their closed cab counterparts. That being said, pickups generally sell well. Two ladies—sisters– proceeded to push the vehicle out into the sunlight, as it, indeed, would not run. They were careful to note that someone who looked at it yesterday said that it probably wouldn’t take much to get it to run and “these things are easy to get running—don’t let anybody tell you otherwise”.
I responded, “He didn’t buy it though, huh?” I got no response from either lady.
It quickly became apparent that the two ladies were somewhat disgruntled from yesterday’s experience, but exactly why was not so apparent. My objective was to do what they had asked, for me to look the car over and give them an idea of what it might be worth. So I proceeded to look over the car. What I saw was a vehicle that was probably restored 25-30 years ago and had little or no maintenance done to it since. The tires were worn out, dry rotted and dangerous. The car was restored to exactly as Henry had made it. There were no upgrades such as electric fuses, lights, brake improvements—all important safety concerns. The body was in very good shape with no dents and a paint job that was skillfully put on…..a long, long time ago. Now there was fading, chipping and much paint crazing (associated with older lacquers). The car had a general coat of dirt, dust and road grime associated with an old car. Though it had newer chrome bumpers (the originals were nickle plated and by now would have been very rusty and dull) the rest of the bright work was dull and rusted. In fact the radiator shell was so dull that I honestly couldn’t tell whether it was just faded nickle plate or just faded silver spray paint. As I opened the driver side door it promptly dropped a good inch indicating that the hinges were extremely well worn and in need of replacing.
To sum up, what I was presented with was a condition #4 car defined by the Old Cars Weekly price guide as: “a probably drivable vehicle needing minor work to be functional, also a deteriorated restoration or a poor amateur restoration. All components need restoration. Though it is useable as is, it needs a lot of help.” The fact that it did not run was offset by the good body that was in need of restoration and paint. The suggested value was $6,740. What this means is that a buyer, restorer, would likely have to invest $7-10K to bring it up to acceptable modern safety and display standards.
I told them my assessment which produced an obvious look of dismay on their faces. One lady responded, “I’ll let it rot for that. My father paid $15,000 for it; the lawyer has it insured for $25,000, and it is an antique. He should know what it is worth. It has to be worth at least $18,000 now and as soon as I get it running it will be worth $23,000.” I pointed out to no avail that most antique cars have lost value over the past 10-15 years and that value-wise, it was extremely important to maintain the car in good condition.
I suggested that they pick out an independent appraiser from, say Hemming’s Magazine, and get a more objective and formal evaluation. The response was more disgruntlement about the lawyers ripping them off, etc., etc., etc… About the American Pickers connection: one of the sisters had apparently called the show and was told that Mike Wolf (one of the Pickers) was no longer interested in old cars but would pass on the information to others. It turned out that the two people who viewed the car yesterday had offered a similar amount or less and the sisters were very insulted.
Sensing their anger and disgruntlement with the situation I thanked them for their time and offered that if they wanted to sell it I would be glad to put it in our Club newsletter. I further reiterated that they place a realistic price based upon an independent Old Car assessment.
It is too often that I find this story repeating itself these days. I suspect that some of the reasons include the much televised and publicized famous car auctions and the ridiculous TV shows wherein much over valued cars quickly change hands between a small group of millionaires and car fanciers. On these shows sometimes drivers in Nevada are stopped on the streets and their cars bought out from under them. Now this is certainly not the real world that I live in. One can only hope that cooler heads prevail as the sisters settle the estate. I can’t help but wonder though how many Model “T”s and Model “A”s are now sitting in barns and garages rotting because we common people can’t seem to pay those high prices for them!