THE BODY BUILDER

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Words and images by Stuart Grant

When Ian Morgan spotted the 1931 Ford AA Truck, he knew he had to have it. His desire to own this truck becomes somewhat less surprising when you learn that he is the Managing Director of Motor Body Constructions (Pty) Ltd, a company that specialises in the manufacture of truck bodies, including tippers, tankers and trailers. The company, founded in 1948 by Ian’s grandfather, McPhie Morgan, has been in the family since its inception and runs out of Cleveland, Johannesburg. Clearly determination runs in the family, and although the truck belonged to one of Ian’s business competitors at the time, this did little to quash his determination to acquire it. When you delve a little deeper into the story of the Model AA Ford, a few little similarities are uncovered.

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The Ford Model AA truck came about when it was realised that its predecessor, the Model TT, was fast becoming obsolete, and initial design began in 1926. The general style and design of the body was conceptualised and the manufacture was then outsourced to a number of body manufacturers. The Ford Model AA and Model A (its car counterpart) shared several parts and materials, including the body and engine but the interior style of the truck was plainer than that of the Model A.

Inside the cabin it is a sparse environment with a steering-wheel, three pedals, gear-shifter, floor-mounted handbrake, light-switch and a pair of levers mounted on the steering wheel. The one lever is to adjust the Model AA timing while the other offers manual control of the throttle. The column-mounted light switch features three stages for headlights, high-beam and parking lights.

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Three gauges are laid out in a diamond formation on the dash and give the bare essentials such as petrol level, amps, speedometer and odometer.

The engine and mechanicals of the Model AA Ford are identical to the Model A Ford in all respects except one: the radiator, which in the truck had to be heftier to deal with cooling under heavy loads. It has a 201-cubic-inch (3.3-litre) engine that features an up-draft carburettor, six-volt generator, 2-blade fan, mechanical water pump, mechanical oil pump, electric starter and four-row radiator. The engine can also be crank started by a hand crank that is inserted through a hole in the radiator shell. The Model AA is based on a chassis that is similar to that of the Model A Ford, but as with the radiator, it is substantially larger and heavier.

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The gearbox is a four-speed manual with lower-geared transmission than that of the car, as the truck would need more power when loaded, which also means that the top speed of the truck is lower than that of the Model A. The suspension in the car and truck are similar, in that they both have a leaf spring centred in the front ‘A’ frame over the front axle. However, the rear suspension is where the Model AA differs from the Model A. The AA has leaf springs mounted to the chassis and shackled to the rear axle and the rear suspension does not have shocks.

Controls in the Model AA are along the ‘Keep it simple and functional’ lines. Brakes, which see four oversized drums at each corner, are operated by a mechanical pull-lever system that applies the force from the pedal to a pivot that then pulls brake rods. These rods work the shoes, expanding them inside the drums and stopping the workhorse. Even the windscreen wipers started life as hand-operated items but these were changed to a vacuum operated assembly in the later stages of production.

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Produced between 1927 and 1932 the Ford Model AA proved a popular choice and manufacture of the vehicle was licensed to various countries throughout Europe. Highlights of the production contracts though had to be when, in October 1931, a Model AA was the first vehicle produced at Ford’s Dagenham plant in England and 985 000 units built in the Soviet Union. Sure the USSR items of 1932 through to ‘52 were known as GAZ AAs and not Fords but still an impressive number.

Perhaps the coolest bit about the Model AA Ford was that it was almost entirely customisable. It was available in a variety of body styles to suit whatever your individual needs may have been. Some of these specialised bodies included funeral coaches, ambulances, express pickups, dump trucks, and generic cabs without a bed – this aimed at customers who wanted a custom body to be built by an after-market company. Corporates could also order their fleets from Ford and could have them custom painted and modified as they needed – just such an example was the US Postal Service, who ordered a fleet from Ford and then had bodies custom built by other companies. Much like Ian Morgan’s company would do today.

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The 1931 Model AA Ford bought by Morgan was repaired and restored to full running condition by his mechanic. Today it lives at the factory in Cleveland and is used to trundle around the grounds of the factory. It occasionally makes appearances at various club meets and get-togethers and sometimes even surprises trendy supercar drivers by parking alongside them at fashionable hangouts, bringing much amusement and entertainment to passers-by. Surely Henry Ford would be smiling if he could see his brainchild still being loved and used today – more than 80 years later – although maybe not quite in the way he imagined…

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