Restored Model A catches eyes, snags trophies

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 3/22/19

Model A sightings are, understandably, much rarer on contemporary roadways. But around Pittsboro, you stand a good chance of seeing one. And if you do, it’s likely you’ll find James “Peanut” Collins behind the vintage steering wheel.

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Restored Model A catches eyes, snags trophies

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Posted

PITTSBORO — Between October 1927 and March 1932, the Ford Motor Company produced more than four million Model A automobiles.

Once ubiquitous on roadways throughout the United States, the Model A was available in several incarnations: coupe, sedan, station wagon and truck, with variations including three- and five-window models.

Model A sightings are, understandably, much rarer on contemporary roadways. But around Pittsboro, you stand a good chance of seeing one. And if you do, it’s likely you’ll find James “Peanut” Collins behind the vintage steering wheel.

Collins — who has maintained a lasting association with cars, as a professional and as a hobbyist — realized a longtime goal in 2016 when he purchased a 1931 Model A coupe from a seller in Sanford. He spent the next few months restoring it.

On a recent morning, the venerable vehicle was parked in a clearing at the summit of Collins’ steep, tree-lined gravel driveway in Chatham County’s hilly midsection, a few miles east of Pittsboro off U.S. 64 via Hadley Mill Road. But the car, not just a prized showpiece, doesn’t sit idle for long. Despite its 88 years, the antique car sees a lot of road action.

“I drive it just about every day,” Collins said.

The 72-year-old car enthusiast purchased his Model A from its previous owner at a price he was very happy with — “I didn’t argue with him one bit,” Collins said — and immediately began investing hundreds of hours working on it at his home shop. He re-sanded it, re-primed it, and painted it, spending eight months on the project. His wife Faye helped with the upholstery work on the car’s original seat.

“I built the motor, the chassis,” he said. “I did a lot of welding and drilling and measuring.”

A glance at the tight, two-seat interior reveals not only the couples’ careful restoration work, but also a number of stickers affixed to the wood-panel dashboard — all of them souvenirs from the wide variety of car shows where Collins has displayed the prized automobile.

For all his work, Collins has been rewarded with numerous trophies and plaques. A wall of his home’s living room is dedicated to a display of the 24 awards he and the restored Model A have won at classic car shows, near and far.

“It’s his hobby,” Faye said.

Retired now for several years, Collins, a native of Saxapahaw — who acquired his nickname at birth courtesy of his grandfather — spent much of his professional life around automobiles. He worked for several years for Ford Motor Company in Burlington and later worked at Cone Mills Corporation in Greensboro before establishing his own business, Peanut’s Detailing Shop, in Siler City, which he operated until his retirement.

He rebuilt his first car at age 14. And for many years, Collins was a fixture every Saturday night at Asheboro’s Caraway Speedway, where he raced cars. A Chevy emblazoned on the sides with his old racing number — 29 — still sits in his yard, now unused, a reminder of the many hours he spent on the Randolph County track.

“I’d just go out there and have fun,” he said of his years as an amateur race driver and one-man pit crew. “I spent a lot of money and had a lot of fun.”

Whether rebuilding them, repairing them or racing them, Collins has never been far away from cars.

“I couldn’t tell you how many cars I’ve had over the years,” he said.

He came up with an estimate once, figuring that he’s owned, over the course of his life, 485 of them. But that figure is now several years old and he’s owned a few more since. And besides, Faye observed, “he’s probably forgotten several.”

But of those hundreds of cars, old or new, the striking blue Model A stands apart.

“It’s number one,” Collins said. “I’d been wanting a five-window coupe for a long time.”

After the eight months he worked on it, the car — its license plate reads “P-NUTS31” — is as close to its original condition as possible, he said.

“The body is all steel,” he said. “There’s no fiberglass.”

Among classic cars, he said, his is “different,” partly because of its unique blue exterior.

“Everybody loves it,” he said. “It gets attention. People take pictures of it everywhere I go.”

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