Nick Sieber may be young, but he is an old soul.
He is just 21, but the car he drives — a 1930 Ford Model A — is 91 years old. Oh, and one of his other cars is a 1925 Ford Model T Coupe.
Sieber is not content to drive his antique cars just around Elizabethtown, Manheim and Lititz. This summer, he is driving his Ford Model A from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast, traveling more than 5,000 miles from New Jersey to California on his own.
He is set to start the trip with a send-off party on July 10. “The plan is to drive through 15 states in 35 days,” Sieber said.
He is taking more than a month off work from his jobs at Integrity Landscaping and Ironstone Ranch to make the ambitious journey. (In case you’re wondering, Sieber does own a more contemporary car, a 2014 Mazda, that’s a little more practical for getting to and from work.) Sieber plans to stick mostly to back roads.
The Ford Model A has 40 horsepower and is capable of reaching speeds of up to 65 mph. The Model T is much slower, with only 20 horsepower and a top speed of 35 mph, making it less suitable for a cross-country trip. The Model A is also bigger, with a full back seat and plenty of room for storage.
“I will probably drive around 40-45 mph, which is a comfortable speed for the Model A, even though it can go faster,” Sieber said.
He has his trip all mapped out and has figured out where he will stop along the way. In the spirit of his old-fashioned method of transport, he’ll be staying in vintage-style motels and checking out the towns that make up America’s roadside history.
Preparing for a journey
“Everyone wants to know what I will do if the car breaks down,” Sieber said. “I have that all figured out.”
He’s had major work done on the Ford Model A. He got the engine rebuilt by a man in Ohio and then rebuilt the transmission himself. The previous owner had rebuilt the rest of the drivetrain on the car.
Sieber plans to take spare parts, including spark plugs, points, condensers, coils, headlight bulbs, a fan belt, a set of radiator hoses, intake and exhaust gaskets and fuses. His parents, Tammy and Todd Sieber of Elizabethtown, are prepared to ship him parts, too.
Sieber said he’s also taking a copy of the Model A Ford club member roster. If his car breaks down, he’ll look for someone who can lend a hand.
Sieber has done most of the maintenance and repairs on both of his antique vehicles. The Model A Ford used to be burgundy, but he has repainted it to be a deep bottle green with grass green wheels. The Model T is a classic black two-seater.
Falling in love with a time period
So how did such a young man get interested in cars that are more than four times as old as he is?
A grandmother, Ellen Gepfer, used to tell him stories about the antique cars from her youth in the 1920s. He became fascinated with old cars and antiques like vintage typewriters, radios and wind-up Victrola record players.
“I just sort of fell in love with that time period,” Sieber said.
At 14, he saw a 1928 Ford Model A up for auction but couldn’t buy it. Three years later, when he was 17, found a 1925 Ford Model T for $8,000 and bought it with help from his parents. The car had been tenderly cared for by a elderly man. It even had wooden spoke wheels.
Sieber enjoyed taking his Model T out for rides near his family’s home in the countryside between Elizabethtown and Manheim. One day when he was out for a spin, a woman flagged him down. She wondered if he would be interested in buying a 1930 Model A Ford she and her husband wanted to sell.
“It was fate,” Sieber said.
He bought the man’s beloved Model A Ford Town Sedan for $8,500.
Doing the ‘Model T Dance’
Sieber has painstakingly researched antique Fords and joined the Model T Ford Club of America as one of its youngest members. He knows his two vehicles inside and out.
His Model A is a 1930 Deluxe Town Sedan with 73,000 miles. It was built in March of 1930, and as far as he knows has spent its entire life in Pennsylvania.
Production of the Model A started in 1928 and ran through 1931. More than 5 million of them were built over the fouryear run. All Model As came with a four-cylinder, 40 horsepower engine. The car has a top speed of around 65 mph and averages 15 to 20 miles per gallon.
“As opposed to the Model T, the Model A has a lot of nice upgrades including a fuel gauge, speedometer, odometer, and a heater manifold, When I bought the car, it hadn’t been run in almost 10 years, but it required very little work to get it back on the road. I had to replace the water pump, rebuild the carburetor, clean the points, and flush the gas tank in order to get her running again,” Sieber said.
His much slower Model T will have to stay home at the barn where he stores his vehicles. The car has been in Pennsylvania since it was new, with the previous two owners living in Myerstown. The Model T was introduced by Henry Ford in fall of 1908 and ended production in late 1927.
“Over the course of 19 years, more than 5 million Model Ts were produced, and at one point, over half the cars in the world were Model Ts,” Sieber said.
Sieber, in a high school research paper, explained the risks of starting a Model T without knowing what you were doing: “The exciting part of this is the danger involved. When starting the Model T, if the levers are not adequately adjusted, the engine could backfire. If your hand is on the crank when this happens, it could result in an emergency room visit for a broken arm and some snapped tendons.”
That’s nothing like starting today’s cars with a press of a button and stepping on the gas pedal.
As he wrote: “To make the car move, the hand-lever needs to be put into first gear, the throttle needs to be increased to raise the rpm of the engine, and the clutch needs to be completely pressed in. With the car moving in first, the clutch must be held in the entire time until the hand-lever is dropped, and the transmission is put into second gear. With all of these maneuvers that must be completed, it is obvious why the old-timers called it the Model T Dance.”
As he travels across the country, he will be using Instagram and YouTube to track his journey.
“I figure it’s not too often a 91-year-old car gets driven across the country,” Sieber said.