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By Drew Truitt
Associate Editor 

Florida Pickers #3 - Model A Replica for 50th Anniversary and Other Vintage Finds


Last updated 10/22/2019 at 8:30pm

Drew Truitt

When Harry Met Henry...

Well, not exactly. Because if in 1978 Harry J. Shay had actually met THE Henry Ford things may have turned out differently for Harry and his Model A & Model T Motor Car Reproduction Corp. (later changed to Shay Motors Corp.), and his better idea of teaming up with Ford to purchase Pinto powertrain and chassis, and more importantly, the use of thousands of dealerships to sell his anniversary Model A roadsters.

In the early 70s he began building a prototype Model A on his own. Shay, who worked for Ford Motor Company at the time he was planning on launching a reproduction of Ford's venerable 1929 Model A, actually used his Ford co-workers to help construct a prototype leading up to his grand plan to strike out on his own.

Although in the late 20s it was actually Edsel Ford who was credited with bringing Ford back into the limelight with the introduction of the Model A for which Shay would become synonymous in 1979, but it was Henry Ford who made cars affordable to all with the advent of the automotive assembly line.

Which was mistakenly ignored by Shay who decided to construct his Model A in the mode of RV production using a team of worker who build the entire vehicle rather than moving each car down a line where workers would add components at stations with each employee having their own particular job and specialty.

In retrospect, perhaps Shay misgauged the popularity of his concept car, and marketing was not his particular forte. In fact, Harry was an engineer who found his calling early in life as a tot with a propensity for taking things apart and putting them back together.

Shay had the fortune of working for the Big Three U.S. car makers-Ford, Chrysler and GM-and did a stint at a small manufacturer in Rockford, IL where he did what he did best: tinkered with parts. While at the small, aggressive manufacturer Shay helped invent the modern door lock system.

At General Motors, fresh out of the University of Michigan, he was on a team that developed the first automotive A/C units, and at Chrysler he spent 10 years designing vehicles. Again, this played into his strengths of making individual components work together as a whole.

Ford loved his proposal when his idea was finally presented. As a fellow Ford employee Shay was able to convince the "suits" to go along with his plan to introduce an all new Model A replica to be sold across the United States as a 50th Anniversary show car which would in turn draw dwindling customers to the dealerships. And, boy, did it work!

For their part Ford didn't invest money or provide one iota of marketing help, but they did supply Shay with 70s Ford Pinto motors and underpinnings at a cost, of course. The dealers did jump on the bandwagon, however, providing lots of enthusiasm and excitement in advance of the expected timely deliveries.

Customers flocked to dealerships and placed deposits quickly depleting the limit of 10,000 As he could produce without strict government restrictions, and while Shay's bank account grew to over $20 million he had yet to construct more than a handful of actual finished vehicles, much less solving the transportation issue of getting them to the dealerships and anxious customers.

Due to a number of factors including logistics in keeping trained workers, having to finally switch to an assembly line set up, continual shortages of outsourced parts, and transporting the Model units to the dealerships, not to mention a late in the game price increase and the introduction of dealer participation fees, it was too late to right the ship. In 1982, Shay Motors Corp. filed for total liquidation of assets.

Because the replicas have all fiberglass bodies and they were simple vehicles to begin with, many still remain on the road or in garages. We have two particular units for sale here today, both located here in The Sunshine State.

One such owner, Gary, originally purchased his Shay in 1983 at a dealership in South Paris, Maine over 35 years ago.

Here is his post for the ad on Facebook:

The 1929 Ford Model A replicas built by Shay have an interesting history all of their own. They look like a 90-year-old classic, but beneath the vintage looks is a more modern drivetrain. This is a pretty cool setup that Ford dealers officially helped distribute as part of a very special Model A anniversary. 1979 was the 50th anniversary of the Ford Model A. This golden celebration was not going to go unnoticed by Ford and their fans, and so Harry Shay started a new car company within the same offices as Ford. Ford granted the rights to use the Model A design and provided the drivetrain components. Shay built the bodies and assembled the vehicles. There were less than 10,000 original Shay Model As produced, and of those, it's believed less than 2,000 were Deluxe Roadsters like this one. The Deluxe was a more expensive upgraded model that included the side-mounted spare tire and rear luggage rack with locking trunk. The black is exactly how you would expect a 1929 Ford to look, but it has the benefit of the lighter fiberglass body. First look at the interior, and you would not immediately notice this is a replica. The black vinyl seats and door trim are very well presented. And this one also gets the details right from the wind wings on the side of the windshield to the fantastic rumble seat. But then you slip into the driver's seat and find a more comfortable wheel than an original Model A. The gauge package is in the center and simple looking, just like any other Model A, but the special "Shay's A" readouts are much clearer. There's even a quality heater and full top/curtain package to keep this one useful in all weather.

Where there's no mistaking this car's pedigree is when you lift the hood. The 2.2-liter four-cylinder motor is close to the size of what came on the original Model A, but a half-decade of progress means this 1979 engine is much more powerful than what was in a '29 Ford. It's not just the engine that's upgraded. There's a four-speed manual transmission, front disc brakes, and an independent front suspension. So in the end, you have a classic roadster that looks great but drives substantially better. There's no greater feeling than cruising down the road in a true classic that sounds authentic right down to the "Aoooga!" horn. And now you do that with a more modern vehicle with an interesting story that ties it to Ford's original.

Looking back Harry did the right thing wrong. He may have been better off not following in Henry's footsteps hiring his family (Harry "Joe" Shay, Jr. was an executive), but seeking investors besides banks and traditional financial sources to bankroll his invention. But Shay took pride in doing things himself and with an absent father during his childhood responsibility was something Harry accepted and performed without asking for help.

Drew Truitt

1984 Johnson Presidential for sale through Florida Pickers at $36,900. One of only 50 made out of the Ft. Lauderdale facility.

Perhaps Shay didn't take the time to look at the big picture and prepare for the onslaught of orders that poured in from dealers who in the late 70s were unimpressed, as was the public, with Ford's lineup which included the quickly disappearing and disappointing Pinto since his focus was on cobbling together finished Model A replicars as fast as he humanly could.

What he did accomplish was monumental in retrospect, and survives to this day.

Numbers vary with estimates of having built 10,000 units while other sources say the total is more like 5,000. During that time Shay also introduced a reproduction of the 1955 Thunderbird which is purported to having only built 200 of these rare birds, 100 of which are said to survive today.

Florida Pickers enjoys reporting on classics whether original or replicas-cars as art is my focus-but it's the people like Harry J. Shay and the owners who love and care for their vehicles as if they were their children that floats FP's boat.


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