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Mount Chestnut man devoted to ‘Vicky’ — a 1931 Ford Model A Victoria

Bill Raabe, of Connoquenessing Township, owns two show cars, a 2006 Mustang GT convertible and 1931 Ford Model A Victoria, known in car circles as a “Vicky.” Submitted photo
Hot rod with a royal connection

Bill Raabe, of Connoquenessing Township, is a self-described “Ford guy,” which he attributes to his late grandfather, Francis Raabe, who owned a 1932 Ford three-window coupe with a V-8 motor, which was the first year that model had a V-8.

“I can remember, as a young boy, sitting on his lap,” Raabe said. “He said “That flathead was a heck of a motor. I could go up North Main Street Hill in high gear.”

It’s safe to say Francis would be proud of his grandson, as the younger Raabe is the owner and exhibitor of a ‘31 Ford Model A Victoria, known as a “Vicky” in car circles.

Raabe bought the car from the father of his best friend, Bob Warheit, when the antique vehicle was in pieces. The elder Warheit had purchased the Vicky from his cousin, the late Walter Voland, of Marwood, who had bought it new.

Raabe said he and Bob Warheit spent lots of time on the Warheit farm in Mount Chestnut as they grew up, and Raabe helped the family out each summer by assisting with baling hay.

Bill Raabe's grandson, Finn, gets a rare look at Grandpa's '31 Model A Vicky from the inside. Finn's mother, who is Raabe's daughter, Shanea, watches from behind. Submitted photo

“That’s when I decided farming was not a career I would pursue,” Raabe said.

After a hot day of pitching hay, the boys would cool off with a swim in the farm’s pond, then they would venture into the garage where the elder Warheit stored a 1930 Ford, a Packard, a 1908 Franklin, a ‘57 Thunderbird and other classic machines, including the Vicky.

“I’d always get behind the wheel of the Vicky, not knowing the meaning of it at the time,” Raabe said. “Henry Ford was infatuated with Queen Victoria of England, so he decided to build a car in her honor. So he built the Ford Victoria.”

He said Ford made the Vicky a “courting car” for couples on a date, and even placed vases on each side of the back seat.

“When you go to pick up your best girl on a Saturday night, you would present her with a rose,” Raabe said of the vase’s purpose.

He said Ford put the lock on the passenger’s side of the Vicky, so the gentleman would open the door for the lady, who then had to reach over and unlock the driver’s door.

“I kind of like that story,” Raabe said of his love for the Vicky, which was only manufactured from 1930 to 1934.

When Raabe brought the ‘31 Vicky home from the Warheit farm in the early 1990s in hundreds of pieces, it took up the whole basement in the house he had built in Mt. Chestnut.

“My daughters, Britley and Shanea, were little, and I told them I was going to build a hot rod,” Raabe recalled with a chuckle. “When Britley saw the car in pieces, she said ‘Dad, this is a hunk of junk!’”

The Vicky’s bones resided in the Raabe basement for about five years, as Raabe focused his time and energy on his young family and job as a machinist at Armco Steel.

But during that time, he was turning the restoration of the Vicky over and over in his mind.

Bill Raabe, of Connoquenessing Township, poses with his '31 Model A “Vicky” shortly after he finished its painstaking restoration in 1998. His daughters Shanea, left, and Britley pose with him. Submitted photo

By the mid-1990s, Raabe knew what he wanted to do with the car, which are now few and far between in the U.S.

Raabe had the frame rebuilt in Cleveland, added independent front suspension, an 8-inch Ford rear end, a 4-bar anchor system and a rebuilt Ford 302 engine.

He chose a 1993 serpentine water pump system so he could use the original hood, and installed a rebuilt C-4 transmission kit.

“When it shifts, it catches tire a little bit,” Raabe said of the tranny. “I still like that.”

He also put in a vintage air conditioning system and a 1932 dashboard.

“I didn’t like the looks of the Model A dashboard that came with it,” Raabe explained.

He found two small bucket seats for the front at a junkyard, and built a back seat out of wood that was big enough for his young daughters.

“It fit them perfectly,” Raabe said.

The red tweed cloth interior was done by Jim and Marge Blackburn, who had an upholstery shop in Herman at that time.

Raabe could not make the vases fit as in the original design, so Blackburn suggested embroidered roses on the car’s interior walls on either side of the back seat.

An embroiderer in Pittsburgh made the roses, plus the “’31 Vicky” on the backs of the bucket seats. Red carpeting put the finishing touches on the interior, and Raabe made an overhead console for a radio and speakers, as well as adding speakers under the back windows.

The body work and candy apple red paint job were completed by Paul Stamp.

“I wanted graphics on the side,” Raabe said. “I always kind of loved the graphics on the ZZ Top car on the ‘Eliminator’ album.”

While the Vicky’s graphics are based on the ZZ Top car, they were created just for Raabe’s car.

By 1998, the Vicky was finally finished to Raabe’s exacting standards.

Showing off Vicky

Raabe, who has serious reservations about the appearance of boastfulness, reluctantly admitted he has won innumerable first-place trophies, ribbons and other awards showing the Vicky over the years.

He said while judged car shows were more prevalent in years past, car cruises that are not judged have largely replaced shows.

Raabe has taken the Vicky to the Butler Cruise-a-Palooza since he finished the car, and also takes it to cruises at the Autumn Leaf Festival in Clarion, Mingle on Main in Saxonburg, Slippery Rock VillageFest, events in Mars and Evans City, and the GoodGuys Summer Racing Nationals in Columbus, Ohio, where the Vicky’s restoration competes with about 7,000 other vehicles.

“The furthest I drive it is Saxonburg, and only when it’s (not raining,)” Raabe said. “Whenever I go any distance at all, I have an enclosed trailer I take it in.”

The Vicky had 17,000 original miles when he bought it, and he has put just 7,500 miles on the car since finishing it in 1998.

The Vicky spends the winter under a cover in the climate controlled garage at Raabe’s house, where the temperature is always 68 degrees and the humidity is steady at 35%.

“I made a barrier around it so nothing can touch it,” Raabe said, “and I don’t allow people in there.”

He said the first 2024 event for he and the Vicky will be a cruise in June at Armco Park in Slippery Rock.

“I don’t drive in the rain and I want to make sure all the potholes are patched,” Raabe said of waiting until June to take the Vicky out. “I only have 3.5 inches of clearance, so I don’t do potholes.”

Bill Raabe's '31 Ford Model A Victoria street rod on the lift he installed in his garage to keep close tabs on the show car's condition. Submitted photo
The '31 “Ford “Vicky” street rod basks in the sun in East Brady at the camp of its owner, Bill Raabe, of Connoquenessing Township. Submitted photo
Bill Raabe, of Connoquenessing Township, shows his 2006 Mustang GT convertible alongside his '31 Ford Model A Vicky. While the Mustang is well cared for, it spends the winter under a cover in Raabe's barn as opposed to the Vicky, which winters in Raabe's climate-controlled garage. Submitted photo

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