Midtown Abbey Scramble

Posted: October 2, 2019 in Uncategorized

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The call comes in late Thursday.  The voice on the phone asked, “Do you still have your 1929 Model A?”  Of course I say “yes” which receives a rapid “Is it available for a shoot on Tuesday?” Of course I say “yes” which receives a “let me show some photos of the car to the producer and see if it works for them.” I warn them that the car looks great at 25 feet but isn’t a show car.  I get a call on Friday letting me know that my car is booked for a Downton Abbey related thing. What is that thing?  I have no clue.  I just know that the car is needed in Midtown by the Essex House on Tuesday. I was going to drive it to the shoot but decided that I would just let them flatbed it as I have been so busy and as flat bedding a Model A typically gets you where you want quicker.  If you know me, when it comes to the car I like to be prepared.

Here is where the fun begins.

With ONLY the weekend ahead of me (and most of that time already planned for other things), there are now car-things to do. It will be tight, but I should be able to get everything done if I get minimal sleep and nothing goes wrong (Yes, this is foreshadowing)

  • Clean the car (it is dirty),
  • Get gas,
  • Fix the split upholstery (front seat – backrest),
  • Patch and touchup paint (currently painted with primer), and
  • Do my already overbooked plans for the weekend.

On Friday I attempted to start dealing with the split upholstery.  I mean, can you really show up to a professional gig with a car that has seats like this?

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I can’t figure out how to sew this all back up and no one seems to have any matching materials. I decided that I can try to address this Saturday or Sunday. I am definitely not using black duct tape — but don’t think that it didn’t cross my mind.

The car is old and the existing paint is flaking in several spots.  I decided to paint to the primer patched area of the car with a foam roller. I figure this takes the most time because it will have to dry. It is time for a full car repaint but that is going to be the subject of many future posts. Now I need to figure out how to use incorrectly matched paint I have from years ago to cover up the primer patch I have on the back of the car. I started and moved the car before doing this.  It drove beautifully. The paint went on, dried its “off-color” but was better than the primer patch.  I did a few other small touchups.

I had Saturday plans on Long Island, so Saturday was really a dead day in terms of getting things done. It was however a good day to get a little gas for the car. I drove the car to get some gas.  It drove beautifully.  I made some calls about upholstery.  No luck.

On Sunday I worked in the morning with a client and then rushed home to drive to the detailer.  He did a nice job cleaning the car. It drove beautifully.  I made some calls about upholstery.  No luck.

On Monday I had to work but also new I had to deal with the upholstery.  I my mother suggested a little hidden fabric place that is only a few miles away.  I called and they told me that they have the material. The photo here is of the backrest.  Not for nothing, but if the gig has me showing up and transporting the cast of Downton Abbey, I can’t have the backrest split.  I drive the car to the fabric place and picked up a PERFECTLY matching material which I would later tack onto the seat to cover the old seat. It looks like a toddler was doing upholstery work, but all I needed was a patch.  I can get away with this!  Just need to tuck the fabric a little better and I am fine.

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I also then decided to lightly sand the paint patch and put some wheel polish on it.  This didn’t look great but looked good enough. The key was using the wheel polish to cover the finish from the roller.   Again, the car drove beautifully.

I bet you can get how the day started on Tuesday when it was time to load the car onto a trailer.  I get a call 10 minutes before the flatbed driver arrives and the car just won’t start.  The battery is acting dead.  The scramble began to try to start the car.  The flat bed driver shows up. I don’t have a jumper box, but ran around the block to borrow one from a friend who owns a garage.   He only had a 12 volt one – which wasn’t charged… but what the hell.  I take it and then attempt to jump the car.  Something didn’t smell right when I did it. Oh, I reversed polarity for a fraction of a second. A stock Model A is a negative ground car – which is the opposite of what most people would expect.  With the polarity correct I started the car and DAMN the starter revved the engine like it never has revved before.  When you use 12 volts to run a 6 volt starter, you get that thing to hummm!

The car was running.  BUT NOW THE AMMETER WON’T go positive.   Ok, so I can’t charge the car if the generator isn’t giving a positive charge.  Here is how I trouble shot this: 1) check the connections with the generator and the cut out.  They seem to be good, 2) use a heavy cable (I couldn’t find a smaller wire) to bypass the cut out – this “jump” should remove the cut out and enable the generator to provide charge, 3) use an meter and read low charge on the battery, 4) try not to show panic as the driver is waiting and we are running late.  Ok, now I am convinced I either have a bad cut out or bad generator.  I check some other connections and then realize that we have to load the car up if we are going to make it on time.  I know I can jumpstart the car so we jump it and load the car onto the flatbed.  We do just that.

In route to the city I make calls to a few local model A gurus and no one has any solutions – excepting to swap out my cut out and/or generator.  I have a non-functional back up generator and can’t find my back up cut out.  We plug in the “dead” 12-volt jumper box that the garage lent me and basically I spent the trip trying to figure things out.

We make it to the shot at the Essex House with about 30 minutes to spare (we planned for about 1 hour).  I get the car started and decide that I am going to try to trouble-shoot again.  I find a length of wire I keep in the car and again jump the cut-out.  NOW THE AMMETER STARTS TO SHOW A CHARGE!  So, what happened?  I probably had a stuck cut out that was now loose or had to repolarize the generator.  Regardless, it works.  I figure If I let the car run for 30 minutes at high idle, it would charge the battery.   Regardless, I was NOT going to turn off the car (good thing I put in some gas).  I let it run for 30 minutes while NYC shows the car some love.  The producer and purchaser for ABC come and say hello and get in on the fun as well.  I happened to dress in a suit knowing that I may end up in the shoot.  You can’t imagine how many people approach you to tell you about family Model As and their memories as children.  Tom Hiddleston’s personal assistant was one of those people as he is staying at Essex House. I got to meet her and his dog.  It would have been great if “Loki” appeared for the shoot, but he didn’t. I think every doorman and manager at the Essex House posted photos of them sitting in the car.  

My wife is working around the block.  She calls and is going to rush over with a battery charger from a local Home Depot if I need.  I tell her that I think the car is going to be OK and not to worry.  She is great.

The talent shows up.  It is Sarah Haines of ABC’s GMA Strahan Sara and Keke show.  She seemed lovely and was dressed in period appropriate attire.  As a sidenote, my car is a 1929 Ford.  Downton Abbey takes place in 1927 — but hey, it’s close enough — they had this body type released in 1927/1928.  I am then told that the gig is a bit she is using as a lead up to the Downton Abbey movie release and her interviewing the cast and that I am in the shoot.  They did about 5 or 6 takes.  I basically had to back up the car 20 feet and then roll it forward.   One of the  cast members walked by while we were filming.

Here is what ABC did.  The Model A shows up at around the 55 second mark. Strahan expresses his delight with the car at the end of the segment.

Without getting too much into everything, I finally get home after the successful shoot (see videos) and then end up replacing the battery which has a dead cell – only giving 4.3 volts instead of 6 volts.

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Greg (an automotive upholstery expert who works with classic cars) is scheduled to  redo my lackluster upholstery job in Mid October.

I’m hoping the car is picked up for more shoots/work soon.  It would be awesome to have more excuses to continue restoring it.  I am now considering what an appropriate timeline will be to repaint the entire car.

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