The Agawam couple make a Model A into history
AGAWAM — A 1931 Model A coupe, abandoned and left rusting in the woods nearly half a century ago, is now a sparkling family heirloom for a Feeding Hills couple.
What’s even more remarkable is that the car has been owned by the same family for over 80 years.
“It was my grandmother’s pride and joy since she bought it in 1940 for $40,” said Elaine Corriveau, who lives in Feeding Hills with her husband Ron. She inherited the restored five-window coupé after her maternal grandmother Helen Gumbus died in 2004.
Growing up in Granby, Connecticut, Elaine has many fond memories of riding the rumble seat as a little girl.
“I remember many summer nights riding there when my grandparents would take us out for ice cream.”
Prized by collectors today, the Ford Model A had become so common by the 1950s that they were not considered valuable. Many have been customized, turned into hot rods, raced as stock cars, or scrapped.
Corriveau’s coupé could easily have suffered this fate. His maternal grandfather had converted the coupe into a car in the 1950s for use in the yard. After leaving it in the woods for several years, he began restoring it in the 1970s.
“When he died, my father, who restored Model As for 50 years, finished the restoration,” Elaine recalled. She said her grandmother was very proud of her car and loved driving it. “The coupe is very sentimental to me,” adds Elaine, now in her early 50s.
She often went to car shows with her parents and her grandmother: “I was very close to her. I was born on his birthday, so we’ve always had a special bond.
When Ron met Gumbus about 20 years ago on his second date with his future wife, Gumbus asked him if he wanted to see his Model A.
“When Helen took me to her basement garage to show me the car, it was obvious the coupe was very important to her,” he recalls.
The little coupe made such an impression on the Corriveaus that they decided to purchase two more Model Aces about five years ago from retired Agawam Fire Chief Russell “Rusty” Jenks. An avid car collector, Jenks sold them a 1929 “woody” station wagon and a 1931 “widebody” pickup.
The brown and black coupe is their only restored A model. All three are registered and regularly driven by the Corriveaus and their two sons, Ben and Mario.
“We don’t tow any of our cars, so we generally try to stay within 30 miles of where we live,” Elaine said.
The vehicles require minimal maintenance, but Corriveau’s father made some major repairs, such as replacing the ignition key, redoing the brakes and replacing the leaf springs.
Elaine said she tried to be more careful when working with her father. She listens and watches to learn how to do more repairs herself. Recently they worked together to replace the coupe’s choke.
“I can make small adjustments – adjust the carburettor, tighten the water pump, start the starter – but nothing major. I do all the oil changes and watch all the fluid levels.
The family operates a business that provides cleaning services for unwanted household and real estate items, and estate buyouts. They are also active in the Agawam Historical Society.
Members of two nationwide Depression-era Ford clubs—the Model A Ford Club of America and the Model A Ford Restorers Club—the Corriveaus maintain a camaraderie with other Model A owners. of the nearly 5 million built between December 1927 and March 1932. Nearly half a million survive today.
Although the coupe has sentimental value, the Woody is Elaine’s favorite Model A to drive. Larger than the coupe and pickup, it can carry five passengers.
“You also sit higher in the station wagon. With a higher gear ratio, it also drives faster,” she added.
When Elaine went to local car shows and swapped dates with her parents, the original woodies were always one of her favorites. She never outgrew that love.
“I love it,” she says of the woodiness. “I take it out more in the summer. I often use it to run errands around town or take my friends out to pick strawberries. People love to see it in parades because it’s so unusual.
Model A station wagons – mostly constructed of maple wood – are identical to regular cars from the hood and front windshield struts forward. Model A woodies – coveted by enthusiasts – can be expensive to restore due to their wooden parts.
Despite its unvarnished wood and faded tan and black paint, Elaine said the family’s woody is the rarest of their three Aces models.
“He’s an unrestored survivor,” she said.
But this Woody is more than just another classic car. He is also a Hollywood star. The Corriveaus discovered their woodlot had been featured in the 1999 film, “Cider House Rules,” a period drama set in Maine during World War II.
Jenks told them he bought the Woody in 1957 for $75 and then stored it from 1960 until 1997. Just months after taking it out of storage, the film’s producers came calling.
The Corriveaus’ dark blue pickup isn’t as rare as the Woody, but it’s still an important Model A. Ron, who usually drives the truck, said it was once used to deliver the courier to Agawam in the 1960s.
He said driving a Model A is very different – but in some ways more enjoyable – than driving modern cars. With a 40hp four-cylinder engine and a top speed of around 65mph, the A models are no speedsters.
“You don’t have to go fast. It’s just a relaxing walk. There are no distractions, no radio. People are happy to see the cars on the road and wave at you,” Ron explained. “They are also simple to repair and relatively easy to restore.”
As the third generation in her family to own the coupe, Elaine said its sentimental value means it will be passed on to her two sons. They will become the fourth generation to own the family’s beloved Model A.
“I can’t put a price on that,” she said.