Francis Ransley admits that he built his car collection backward.
When health concerns forced him to retire in the early 1980s, and not only from setting speed boat records but from his radio and electrical repair business, Ransley started collecting cars. His first was a 1913 Ford Model T.
“Most people start with a Model T and then get later models,” Ransley said, “but I went the other way.”
As a result, Ransley built not only the largest collection of full restored pre-T cars in Australia, but owns — and drives — one of the two oldest Ford vehicles on the planet, a 1903 Ford originally called just “Ford” but later designated as a Model A.
But that’s not Model A as in the car that succeeded the Model T but a vehicle from the fledgling days of the Ford Motor Co.
According to The Ransley Veteran Car Collection: Wonders of Wynyard, a book about Ransley’s collection, his Model A is one of the two oldest Fords still existing; the other is owned by the Ford family.
But how did such a historic vehicle wind up on the Australian island of Tasmania?
Being a Fordophile, Ransley knew that two of Henry Ford’s early Model A cars had been imported to Australia in 1904. Those cars are long gone, but he had purchased a Model K from a collector in Ohio and knew that the collector also owned an early A. After many conversations over a period of time, and as the collector was in his 70s but needed money for a honeymoon trip with his new bride, Ransley was able to negotiate a purchase in 1989.
The car was in remarkably original condition, and back home in Tasmania, Ransley went even further, even relining the car’s hood in red velvet just as it had been when the car was built by Ford.
But rather than hiding such a vehicle away, earlier this century Ransley staged a 100th birthday party for his car, and then convinced Ford Australia to sponsor an 11-month, 58-city tour of the continent by the car as part of the overall Ford Motor centennial in 2003.
Although it is listed as 1903 Ford Model A No. 31, the book notes that the number refers not to its production but to its engine, which was built for Ford by the Dodge brothers. Records indicate that Ransley’s car was the 23rd 1903 Ford sold, on August 4, 1903, to F.E. Avery of Columbus, Ohio, who also bought Car 22.
Also sold that day, to Herbert McNary of Britts, Iowa, was the other oldest-surviving 1903 Ford, No. 30, which was purchased for $264,000, presumably by a Ford family member, at RM Sotheby’s Hershey auction in 2012.
The early Ford is part of the Ransley Veteran car collection, a museum in the Wonders of Wynyard Exhibition and Visitor Information Centre on Tasmania.
The book includes stories by Ransley about his collection, which comprises mainly early Fords, but also some motorcycles, a ’32 Ford roadster, as well as a some early Darracqs, Cadillacs, a Brush, an Oldsmobile, an International Harvester Motor Buggy, even a 1960 Australia-built Ford Falcon.
To put the cars in context, there are two chapters by curator Tracey Judd Iva, one on the automobile and society, and the other on early automobiles and fashion, especially clothes for motoring and how they changed when automakers began enclosing vehicle seating areas, which previously were open to the weather.
The museum is open from October through April. For more information, visit the Wonders website.
The Ransley Veteran Car Collection: Wonders of Wynyard
By Francis Ransley and Tracey Judd Iva
Waratah-Wynyard Council, 2017
Soft cover, 76 pages