The Shay Hey Kids cruise in their Model A Ford replicas

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 15, 2011

ALISBURY — They’re the Shay Hey Kids.
“We have a lot of fun,” Larry Curlee says of a group of friends in Rowan County who often draw second looks when they get together for a drive.
They all own Shay Model A Roadsters — replica 1929 Ford Model A’s that were manufactured and sold briefly through Ford dealerships from 1979 to 1982.
The Shay reproduction owners — Rowan County has a generous helping — have the best of several worlds.
They drive replica cars that look vintage. And the production of their replica cars three decades ago was quite limited, making them owners of vehicles that seem to be increasing in value, monetarily and sentimentally.
The Shay reproductions originally sold for between $5,950 and $12,995. Local owners say they now see them going for $12,000 to $19,500.
Curlee says $25,000 would not buy the Shay Model A he owns with his wife, Pat.
“If you got one, you normally want to keep it,” adds Ronnie Clement, who has both a 1929 Shay Model A replica and a Shay copy of the 1955 Ford Thunderbird.
Today and Saturday, the local “Shays” are hosts for a Mideast Regional gathering of Shay Owners Club International. The event is drawing 17 vehicles and 40 people, who will be touring through Rowan, Davidson and Cabarrus counties on their way to various destinations.
They’ll wind up with a dinner and meeting Saturday night at Calvary Baptist Tabernacle on Stokes Ferry Road.
The public is being encouraged to visit the church to see the cars up close.
The Friday and Saturday tours will be taking the club members to Gary’s Barbecue, Farm House restaurant, Boone’s Cave, the Richard Childress winery, Kerley’s BBQ in Welcome, RCR Racing Museum, Kannapolis points of interest related to late NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Gibson Mill in Concord, Troutman’s Restaurant and Reed Gold Mine.
Salisbury’s Hampton Inn serves as headquarters for the out-of-town Shay owners, who started arriving Thursday afternoon and come from states such as Massachusetts, Indiana, Virginia, West Virginia, Florida and Tennessee.
Harry Shay’s company — Shay Motors Corp. — built the replica cars in Michigan, and Ford allowed them to be marketed through its dealerships.
They have Fiberglas bodies; a Ford 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine; electronic ignition; rack-and-pinion steering; disc and drum brakes; and the option of four-speed or automatic transmissions.
The local owners say the Roadsters and pickups actually have Ford Pinto, Ford Fairmont or Ford Ranger engines and drivetrains. “Parts are not a problem for these cars,” Curlee says.
Do the owners of real Ford Model A’s look down their noses at these reproductions?
Some do, Clement acknowledges.
“It’s a practical little car, for what it is,” he adds of the replicas, “because you can get out and drive it.”
Ronnie and Joy Clement bought their replica of the 1929 Ford Model A Roadster about 14 years ago. It came from South Carolina, and the Clements later found their reproduction Thunderbird in Buffalo, N.Y.
Larry and Pat Curlee’s Roadster came to them from Pennsylvania. Around here, Lawrence Ridge, a retired Ford dealer in Denton, has always been a good connection for people looking for the reproduction Fords, Curlee reports.
The Shay Model A’s came in gel-coat Ford colors, with specialty models of gold, white and “college” hues. Model options included a standard Roadster with a rear spare tire, a deluxe model with a side spare, a super deluxe with twin spares and the pickup and C-cab panel truck.
Ford waived its design patents, and roughly 5,000 of the Roadsters were produced and 200 of the Thunderbirds. Shay Motors Corp. had much bigger plans and many other classic Ford models in mind, but it was beset by production problems, rising costs, debts and lawsuits.
The Shay plants shut down in mid March 1982, laying off 310 workers. By the end of the same month, the company was in bankruptcy.
Camelot Motors Inc. took over production in April 1983 and manufactured the Roadster, pickup and Thunderbird replicas on a limited scale until 1986, when it also quit.
By the way, Ford built 5 million of the real Model A’s between 1928 and 1931.
The Shay Roadsters feature convertible tops, lots of chrome and rumble seats. On the road, they attract the attention of young and old, the local owners say.
Lois and Steve Stirewalt love to give their grandchildren, 4-year-old Caleb and 10-year-old Zachary, rides in the rumble seat of their yellow Roadster, which they bought from Greg and Mildred Ball.
The Balls have a replica 1929 pickup, black in color, that also is a show-stopper. It came from an owner in Alaska.
“Yeah, that’s a (Sarah) Palin truck,” Greg Ball laughs.
Judy and Eli Basinger make the scene in their “oldie goldie” Shay Model A, which they purchased about a year ago in Carlisle, Pa. Judy Basinger says it may be one of only about 10 gold Shay Roadsters in existence.
It came with factory air-conditioning.
“Our air is 40 miles per hour with the top down,” Larry Curlee says of his Roadster.
The Shay owners say they achieve about 30 miles to a gallon of gas in their replicas. They tend to cruise at about 45 miles per hour. The cars will go faster, but the skinny tires are not great for higher speeds.
Greg Ball says he likes to put wider tires on his pickup so he can go faster.
Salisbury also was host to a regional meeting for Shay owners two years ago. Many of the local members attended the June national meeting of Shay Owners Club International in Williamsburg, Va.
The Shay-owning friends usually drive their cars in the July Fourth and Christmas parades in Mount Pleasant. They have shown off their vehicles at places such as the Price of Freedom Museum near China Grove and the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer.
They also are known to pull into drive-ins, such as your local Sonic.
“People enjoy looking at them,” Curlee says.
“These cars — they’ll draw a crowd,” Clement promises.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@