Resurrecting the past

By Russ Olexa

New manufacturing technologies help bring back Ford's Model A and '32s

Henry Ford would be proud of the Gollahons at Brookville Roadster.

While the Ford Motor Co. probably has 30 to 60 days of inventory sitting on dealer lots, Brookville Roadster has a 10-month waiting list for its Model A cars and '32s. Ford would be envious.

Resurrecting these cars all started back in 1972 when Ray Gollahon started Brookville Roadster. He was a sheet-metal apprentice working in heating and ventilation. He built his first hot rod when he was 18, then started making rust repair patch panels for his cars, and his friends wanted them also. In Hershey, Pa., where one of the largest automotive swap meets happens once a year, he took a truck load of parts to sell. By the end of the show he had sold out and taken orders for more.

"The company has just evolved from there," says Kenny Gollahon, Ray's son. "From about 1972 to 1982 my dad developed parts for the Model A Fords. The reason he did this was because there were 7 million Model As compared to 100,000 1932 Fords. So the part market for the Model A was extremely good, and the parts for '32s were hard to find. But there weren't enough cars to justify building tooling to do the '32.

"So in 1982 he had all the basic chassis sub-rails for the Model A," says Gollahon. "Then all he needed were quarters, doors and deck lids and he could build a complete car. With these parts he built the first Model A roadster body in 1982 and then kept developing the parts from there."

Even though he had worked for the company part-time his entire life, in 1994 Kenny Gollahon graduated from college with a mechanical engineering degree and began full-time work. When he came on board they decided to do a 1932 Ford roadster. There was a market for the body because it was hard to find.

Gollahan states, "Bodies back in '97 were bringing $8,000 for a rough, rusty one that needed patches filled. So we came out with the '32 roadster that revolutionized the industry. Now in 2005 we introduced our '32 three-window coupe, which will be the first closed car in the industry. And once again, that's another car that everyone looks for--body parts or whole bodies--but there just isn't anything out there to be found."

It was a major undertaking for the company to offer every internal and external sheet-metal component for the car because of the high cost of dies for the parts, along with producing the challenging exterior class-A parts to complete them. Also, the company had to purchase all the production equipment such as expensive stamping presses. Gollahon says they were even able to find several rare wire-beading machines that place a bead around the side of the Model A's fender.

In fact, the only thing the company doesn't offer is wheels and tires along with the original drive train. This niche market is exploding because of the baby boom generation that is now moving into retirement with money and time on their hands to be able to buy a complete car or build one themselves from the kits that are offered by Brookville. However, they aren't inexpensive.

The cost of quality
Gollahon says, "Today the industry has come a long way in the quality of the cars that people are building. The car that won the Ridler award (a prestigious car award honoring individuals who are creative in building cars) probably has $1.2 million in it. Whether or not it's justifiable I don't know, but that's the kind of thousands of hours of manpower that are involved in making all the door gaps, seams and everything perfect in a car.

"When we did our roadster we had a nice body shell that we made all the die molds from, but then we didn't have any doors for it," says Gollahon. "So we had to find the best pair of doors that we thought would work on that car. When we found them, we had probably 10 pairs of doors that all varied anywhere from 1/8 in. to 1/4 in. in final dimensions. Those were Ford's specs. So everyone thinks that original is better, where really original isn't any better at all, it's a lot worse than what we're reproducing today."

So Gollahon had to figure out what size to produce his parts to and still make them compatible with other Ford produced parts. They ended up taking a middle-of-the-road average and found it to be the best configuration.

"Really, our parts are better than the original Ford parts," states Gollahon. "With people today demanding better fit and finish from their cars, we also had to make sure our fit-up tolerances between exterior class-A sheet metal parts had to be tight and look good."

Especially when you consider that a completed hot-rod roadster can easily be worth well over $100,000.

Evolving parts
When Ray Gollahon produced patch panels, he was primarily doing them by hand-rolling or forming. He had a jump shear and some hand brakes. Around 1975 he bought his first press brake. To make the sub rails, cowl panels, quarter panels and deck lids for the Model A, it was going to take tooling to do this and Ray Gollahon understood the process of getting to that point. He opened a tool and die shop in 1979 and hired tool makers who made all the Model A dies for him. Back then he would try to amortize about 100 parts to pay for a die. At that time he probably had 200 pre-sold. So it was just a natural fit to continue to buy equipment and increase his stamping capacity and capability.

Kenny Gollahon says, "Tool design is a big challenge. Your parts are only going to be as good as the part that was used to make the die. With today's technology--the difference between when we did the Roadster in '97 to '05--the tooling industry has revolutionized itself. When we built the roadster, we had to take five of them apart to get all the parts. Each one of those parts was actually taken off a plaster shot that they made the tooling with. Today, we visually scanned the whole coupe with metrology equipment and made the lines perfect. As far as the complexity of tooling, it's gotten a lot easier to make today. But the cost has gone up as opposed to years ago when my dad had to find the best part he could to take the plaster mold from and produce a kirksite stamping die."

Gollahon uses kirksite that is an easily castable alloy of aluminum and zinc for his dies because of the low volume of parts they produce. Plus they can get the quality they need from them. If they had the stamping volume, they would produce all-steel dies Gollahon noted.

One part the company produces is a quarter panel that is roughly 4 ft. by 5 ft. and is a class-A panel. Another stamping that is part of the three-window coupe has a deep draw of about 9 in. and is composed of one part, while the original used three individual stampings. Gollahon says that modern tool tech-nology allows them to produce this part in one piece and not the three that the original Model A needed.

He adds, "We're up to over 1,000 parts on our roadster dies and we really haven't seen any kind of wear. As long as the dies are maintained and not crashed, the tooling will probably run indefinitely."

Brookville uses an AKDQ-quality cold-rolled steel for most of its parts. It varies anywhere from 20 gauge to 16 gauge. Gollahon says, "Whatever Henry used we use in the sub-rail area. In the bracing area Ford used 16, 14, and 12-gauge parts, and the body panels used 20 or 19-gauge steel."

Gollahon also says they've decided to use Galvaneal (zinc coated) steel on their three-window coupe for the door and the deck lid areas. "We're trying to get away from so much paint priming on the body. By using Galvaneal, the seams will be sealed in the doors and the deck lid, and customers won't have to worry about trying to get primer in there."

A chassis is another part of the complete Model A or '32 roadster. The originals used a C-channel frame. But with the roadster and Model A using either a stock four-cylinder engine, or a high-performance V-8, Gollahon decided to use a boxed chassis to handle any high-horsepower engines. Side rails for the chassis are stamped by another company. Then Brookville fixtures the parts in a framing jig, straightens the rails, boxes them in with other stamped sheet-metal pieces, puts a cross member in and TIG welds them all together. Of course, for extreme horsepower, they recommend alterations to the frame to handle it.

To do all this stamping, Brookville has seven presses with a 1,000-ton Clearing hydraulic press and a 750-ton mech-anical press for the large parts.

Gollahon adds, "Probably the deep-est draw we do is for the '32 fender. That takes a lot of stroke. The hydraulic press that we have is pretty much limitless on size now. It has a 10-ft.-by-12-ft. bed."

Because trim dies are expensive and another step in the stamping process that takes a lot of labor and setup time, Brookville uses both a five-axis laser and a six-axis robot with a high-definition plasma cutter to trim stamped parts. They also have a three-axis laser to cut flat sheet-metal parts such as chassis brackets.

Gollahon says, "We probably have well over 700 or 800 parts that we manufacture here. We produce about 250 bodies a year. We are adding our new three-window coupe and have 170 of them on pre-order. We're at about a two-year backlog on that car alone. Our price range for a Model A body is $5,900. The cheapest glass body, a nice fiberglass body in the industry, is about $8,000. So you can buy a brand-new steel body for $2,100 less than you can buy a good glass one. Our '32 roadster and the coupe are a little more, but that's the influx of 1982 tooling costs versus 2005. It's just gone up that much. We also build a complete 1928 to 1931 Model A rolling chassis."

How many people build an original Model A from Brookville's parts? Gollahon says, "I would say 10 years ago that market was probably 40 percent original versus 60 percent street-rod. In the early '80s when dad first came out with the body, we were probably selling 70 percent original and 30 percent street rod. In the '90s, when the street-rod industry started to really pick up, we sold 80 percent hot rods to 20 percent original cars."

Why this difference now? "You also have to look at the cars this way," he says. "A Model A original car costs about $35,000. Whereas a '32 roadster street rod would be $125,000 turnkey by us because of all the customization that's done on it. But built as a street rod by someone else, they'll start at probably $75,000 and go up to the moon in price from there. So why wouldn't someone build a street rod that's going to bring a lot more money than an original car? So, many of them end up as hot rods." FFJ


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