Europe Tour 1998 – Retrospecive

By Keith Smith

EUROPE TOUR 1998 Once in a Lifetime Tour? We are almost certain that most of the folks that signed on for the 1998 Europe Tour did so thinking that it would be their “Tour of a Lifetime.” Happily, we found that if we were to put a tag line to the tour, more probably it would read, “A Tour of Discovery!” Why is that so? Read on and you will discover why!

Some of us had read a notice in a 1996 issue of the 15 Cabriolet Newsletter to the effect that a European Tour for Early Ford V-8’s was being planned for the fall of 1997 and openings were available for a few Model A Fords, as well. Those that read it and fanaticized on such a tour thought that it would be so extraordinary that one surely could only afford one such trip in a lifetime. Talking it over with some friends in the hobby, a determination built up in a few adventurous souls who had enough time and the money in their piggy banks to possibly swing such a deal – if the wife would be agreeable. The wives of a few of this group were not only agreeable, but decided it was about time that a tour destination of such proportions was put on the schedule. They wanted more than a picnic meal cooked on the manifold!

The fact that the 1997 tour didn’t find enough cars to meet the economic minimum caused the tour to be slipped into 1998 and gave more time to recruit more Fords of both types. By late 1997, enough of us had signed on for the tour that it was a definite “GO!” At that point, the excitement began to build and we’re certain that we weren’t the only car owners that widely spread the news that we were going to take our Model A’s to Europe for a tour of The Netherlands, France, Germany, Luxemburg and Germany! This exchange of news brought more interested parties into the tour.

From that point on, we became very busy getting our cars in tip-top shape, selecting the spare parts and tools we thought might be required and trying to find space to fit them all into the space that might be left when we had packed all the clothing that we would need for the trip.

This group of mostly strangers with the common bond of a passion for old Fords and the urge to drive them on tours began to coalesce even though we were scattered from New York to California and with a group of Texans, to boot! We started a little newsletter to pass on information periodically about the tour and its planning progress. We scheduled a few meetings where we could meet one another and see videos of previous Model T tours planned and conducted by our tour organizer,Lee Chase. Some discovered that they were not too distant from one or more of the tour group that we could get together and become better acquainted. Others in the group were too far away, or had commitments on their time that prevented their getting to the meetings.

The first big date we all met was about six weeks before we departed for overseas; this was to get our cars to warehouses at their ports of embarkation at Los Angeles, Houston and New York.

Finally, the great day came when we assembled at our various air terminals for the flights to Amsterdam and then we had an opportunity to meet all those on the tour from our section of the country. We were really on the move now and our excitement was building! Our arrival in Amsterdam, a bit tired from the long flights, was really a milestone and we were met by our Dutch tour guide who assembled us and took us by bus to a small town near Rotterdam where we would spend the next two nights to collect our cars, make an introductory drive with some members of the local Ford Club to get us familiar with the roads and the signage in a foreign language before taking off on our own in this country so new to us.

From the time we arrived until our departure, the experience became “A Tour of Discovery.” Most of us had visited foreign countries before, but not with our Model A’s. The ‘discoveries’ were what we found out by having our Model A’s with us.

We didn’t know what this experience would be and were concerned about such things as: ‘What if we have a maintenance problem?’; What if we get lost and don’t have an interpreter?”; ‘What if we have bad weather?’; ‘What if we have an accident?’; and on and on. Each of us had our own pet concerns. Let me list some actual instances of our personal discoveries.

Our first discovery was that soon after retrieving our cars at the Port of Rotterdam that upon exiting the security gate each car received a large bouquet of flowers as a welcome gift to The Netherlands. This thoughtful gift was appreciated by all.

Only a few miles (oops! Kilometers) from the port, we spied a filling (petrol) station. Since cars had to be shipped with no more than two gallons of fuel, we all made a bee-line to fill up. Our second discovery was that petrol sold for the equivalent of approximately $6.00 per gallon! Remember, this was in 1998 with gasoline in the USA well below a dollar a gallon! Petrol was priced by the liter, not by the gallon, so we discovered that it was difficult to comprehend the comparative prices of any goods relative to what similar goods cost in the USA. This was before the Euro had been established, so the problem was much more complex than it is today, as we would be traveling in five countries all with different values on their currency vs the dollar. To make matters more confusing some of the countries used the same names for their currency (Francs) although with a different exchange rate!

Fortunately for us, all the countries drove on the right side of the road, but, of course, they used the metric system rather than the US customary system, which used the mile. Some of us had compounded the problem by having the Borg-Warner overdrive, but without the necessary output drive for the speedometer. This meant that when we were in overdrive, neither our odometer or speedometer would read accurately. These errors made conversions to the metric system much more difficult. However, it was relatively easy to mentally calculate (or remember) some of the key numbers for converting speed limit signs.

My first ‘personal’ discovery came the first evening after we arrived with our cars at the hotel. I had parked in a spot convenient for the front door, but not so much so for our departure the next morning. I decided to park to facilitate departure. It was getting dusk and I started to back out of my parking place and saw in my rear vision mirror another car, that of the hotel manager, backing out toward me. I hit the horn button, but as sometime is the case, the horn didn’t sound! All I could do was to stop and hope. That wasn’t enough! The other car smacked my 1928 Phaeton a good one.

I got out to survey the damage and met the very apologetic hotel manager already looking over the situation. I had a trunk on the car, which extended behind my rear mounted spare tire. Those familiar with the 1929 might know that the mounts for trunks, for this year are very flimsy as they are small enough to pass between the two bumper bars and since they have to extend beyond the spare, they are quite long. The collision had bent these skinny support bars into a “Z” shape! There was no visible damage to the trunk, the fenders or the body. The manager’s car, an ancient London taxicab, was undamaged.

I unbolted the trunk and the damaged support brackets from the Ford by flashlight, with the help of my brother (my passenger). That afternoon, we had toured locally with the Dutch Ford club and I had met a Model T owner who lived a block down the road from our hotel. I walked to his house, which was his home, veterinary hospital and garage that we had visited on the tour. When he found out my problem, he quickly straightened the brackets and even gave them a coat of quick drying black paint! My car was back as good as before in less than 90 minutes ready for the big adventure of the morrow. Thus, we discovered very early on that it appeared that foreign old car owners are pretty much the same as they are here in the USA – helpful and hospitable. This fact held true on this and all our other tours.

The next morning, we were all eager to be on our way. The day was overcast and drizzly, but we were away with our group curious to see how well we could read our instruction which at times include such direction as, “…watch for the yellow house with the blue sign on the porch. Turn right after passing.” Some how my brother and I managed to get separated from the rest of our group, but we did follow the instructions, we thought. Suddenly, we were confronted by a ‘Detour” sign with an arrow pointing to the left. We began to worry that this might be a problem. It was not long thereafter, that we confirmed that we were lost!

We got out the map and had no luck in determining where we were, but we did know where we were going, so we drove around looking for a signpost that might point the way. We passed a group of three women talking on a street corner. My brother, who had spent some six months in The Netherlands before (but didn’t speak the language) took his map over to ask them directions. He was back in quick order. He didn’t have the way, but one of the women had signed for us to wait, she would be back. Soon she drove up in her car and waived for us to follow her. Bless her! She took us right to our destination, a distance of some 10 or 12 miles! We discovered that people are quite helpful and we attributed a part of this helpful attitude to the fact that were driving a Model A.

We soon discovered that everywhere we went the people were very interested in our cars. When we would stop to await the arrival of a ferry boat, and there were many of these, people would come up to us and talk to us about our cars. Many spoke English, but even if not, we were able to communicate and willingly opened our hoods and doors for them to peer inside. Children loved to get in the front seat and ‘drive’ the car and we invited them to honk the horn, which simply delighted them. We spent a full hour on the street of a small German village with the fifth graders of a near by school. The teacher spoke good English and all of us had a blast with the kids. Driving down the streets of towns, villages and big cities, a honk of our horns would evoke waves and smiles from all whom we passed, just the same as here in the USA. We got attention and courtesies in our Model A’s that drivers of modern cars could never capture.

rallys de monsIn the city of Mons, Belgium, we joined a Rally of 76 cars driving from Mons to Charlieville, France. We discovered much on this rally. We met at the Mons City Hall, where we joined all the other cars and drivers for a reception by the Mayor of Mons for speeches, instructions and refreshments. The rally was sponsored by the Royal Veteran Car Club of Belgium whose logo is on the side of the picture of the car on the license plate each car received. The”76” represents the number of cars registered for the year 1998. Soon after the start of the rally, we crossed the French-Belgium border, which didn’t take much time. The European Union had been formed thereby reducing considerably the formality of border crossings at this time. The rally provided a very nice luncheon with rows of long tables with sparkling white linen and center lined with bottles of the local wine. After a leisurely meal, we were once again back on the road. Maybe it was the influence of the wine, but the drivers of the local cars had become more aggressive. The Rally turned into a race between a number of the European drivers with some of the drivers who resorted to such tactics as passing on these narrow roads when the unpaved shoulders would possibly suffice! Fortunately for our members, there were enough cars with drivers who were more cautious, or whose cars were less capable of such speeds and abuse, or we might have been forced to keep up, or have been left in the dust to find our own way to Charlieville.

We eventually got to our destination and wound slowly through narrow traffic and pedestrian crowded streets to our parking area near where we would spend the night. One of our tour cars was late and we waited to see if it might arrive before we had to be at dinner. The parking area was packed and we hoped that the couple would find us. At last, they arrived and we immediately saw why they were late. The bumper was missing and one of the fenders, which happened to be made of fiberglass, had been hastily ‘bandaged’ with duct tape to effect a repair! The cause of this situation had been a dispute with a bus over the right of way! Some more ‘discovery’ en route to Charlieville!

In our 16 years of long-distance touring, our club and its members have discovered many things about Model A touring that we can share with those so interested. The best way to learn these discoveries is to join us on a tour! Just what are these basic truths of long-distance and foreign touring in a Model A?


The interest and curiosity regarding the Model A is pretty much the same in most places in this old world. People of the world are willing to be helpful to strangers driving a Model A in their country.

Driving practices and courtesies differ from one place to another, so Model A drivers need to recognize the differences and take necessary precautions.

The use of the metric system is the standard in almost everywhere except the USA. One should learn how to convert the US common system units to metric for those parameters used in driving a motorcar.

It is most helpful, if a car that is equipped with a Borg-Warner Overdrive, to have the overdrive’s ‘speedo’ output drive the car’s speedometer – not the transmission output. This is even true if you drive locally in the USA.

Owners of Antique Cars are pretty much the same the world over and are willing give of time, tools and parts if they know you have a problem. There is something about old cars that invites the general population in various countries and whether they are old car buffs, or not, they are willing to provide help to the drivers and passengers when in some form of distress.

The Model A is an ideal car for ‘overseas’ travel: First, because its length allows three cars to fit in a standard marine container, whereas, more modern standard sized cars are longer allowing only two cars to a container, resulting in 50% more on the cost per car for transportation. (The Model T is similarly blessed.); Second, because we have found, as in the USA, there are a number of Model A clubs overseas and their members belong to MAFCA and MARC and are listed in the national membership directories. Thus, parts, tools and help are more readily available in case you forgot something; An overseas Model A tour should be about three weeks in length in order to effectively amortize the significant cost of shipping a car to the car tour starting point.

The cost of an overseas Model A vacation is very similar to that of a three-week ocean voyage – and a whale of a lot more fun!

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT WE DISCOVERED ! Touring with a Model A overseas in NOT “The Tour of a Lifetime!” (Pause to let that sink in.) The reason we say this is that “Tour of a Lifetime” implies that you will only do it, but once. Our experience is that having done it once, it is somewhat addictive and it is hard to suppress the desire to do it again and again! As we pointed out, the cost is comparable to a three-week ocean cruise and for a goodly number of Model A owners, this cost is not enough to forgo this wonderful experience for the want of the finances. It is more likely that the desire will prompt one to save for another tour. Time seems to be the more precious commodity when considering taking a three-week tour. Unless one is retired, time coupled with the somewhat significant monetary cost can produce some caution.