History of the Shay Roadster and T-Bird
Harry J. Shay founded the Model A & Model T Motor Car Reproduction Corporation in the spring of 1978 (which name was changed to Shay Motors Corporation in November of 1980).
Harry Shay had a great deal worked out with Ford. The plan was to send at least one car to every Ford dealership across the USA. Ford got publicity and attracted customers to its showrooms and Shay got access to an extraordinary distribution network. One dealer in New-Jersey even said he had people lined up in front of his dealership (shades of December 1927!). Other dealers reported floor traffic of 200 to 600 people in a single day when they first placed a Shay in their showroom. A California dealer said he had not seen such response since the introduction of the Mustang almost 15 years earlier.
The cars were advertised in glossy color brochures (see links at the bottom of this page) starting in late 1978: Golden
Anniversary Model A / Last of the Model A's / Limited production / Sold by Ford dealers, factory-built, warranted by
Ford Motor Company. This might have been the only time a major auto manufacturer participated in the reproduction
of a famous car out of its past. Ford waived design patents for its Model A so that the Shay Roadster could be built.
Ford supplied the platform, Shay manufactured the cars and Ford, Mercury and Lincoln dealers sold them. Nationally
advertised on CNN, the Today Show, Price Is Right, Hollywood Squares, in the New York Times, Forbes magazine,
Old Car News, Motor Trend, Car & Driver and other auto magazines which praised them as highly successful and more
reliable than the Model A, with the modern conveniences of today's automobile. Ads were saying there were orders to
last twenty years or so.
A 10,000 limit was placed on production since above this level, the car would have had to adhere more strictly to U.S.
Federal standards on design and safety. Shay was exempted from the following federal vehicle safety standards: #103
(windshield defrosting & defogging), #104 (wiped area of windshield), #108 (front side markers & reflectors), #109 &
110 (tire and rim width) and, the following more specifically relating to impacts: #201 (interior design), #202 (head
restraints), #203 & 204 (steering column & rearward displacement), #207 (seating system), #210 (seat belt attachment
points), #212 & 219 (windshield retention & zone intrusion from hood), #214 (side door intrusion and #301 (fuel system
After the initial 10,000 Roadsters, Shay planned to build these other replicas by batches of 10,000 units: a 1955
Thunderbird, a 1930 Ford, a 1932 Ford Roadster, a 1936 Ford Roadster, a 1937 Ford street rod, a 1940 Lincoln
Continental, a 1965 Mustang and a 1924 Model T.
Shay was to manufacture the following body styles and quantities for his Model A: 500 Super Deluxe Roadsters (twin
spare mounts), 1,928 Deluxe Roadsters (left spare mount), 6,641 Standard Roadsters (rear spare mount) and a
handful of Special Series models such as a pick-up truck, Polar Bear, College Classic and Golden Oldie models and a
very rare Model A C-cab/panel truck (between 3 and 10 of the latter were produced, with automatic transmissions,
before production was halted due to poor sales). In reality, few Standard models were produced and much more Super
Deluxe models were, because that's what the buyers were asking for.
Pick Up Polar Bear C-Cab Thunderbird
Orders and deposits were taken starting at the end of October 1978.
In March 1979, Shay hadn't even definitively chosen where his main assembly plant would be located, even though he
had already $12 million in orders for the Roadsters and even if the first delivery of Ford drivetrains were expected within
In early April 1979, he chose Battle Creek, Michigan. At that moment, he had only 12 employees working at a little plant
in Wixom near Detroit and only 2 prototypes had been built. But by then, orders for the Roadster exceeded $20 million!
The final assembly plant was located at 200 Elm Street (80,000 square feet - this building was razed by a fire in July
1986 and has since been replaced by a lumber yard) and a chassis assembly plant was located at the Customs Cargo
Facility in the Fort Custer Industrial Park (50,000 square feet). The city subsidized part of these installations. A fiberglass
body production plant situated in Holland, Michigan, was eventually added (25,000 square feet).
The cars were not to be built according to the rolling assembly line technique. (Click here to see rare pictures of the
factory) There were teams of six men working on a single car at a time. Each team would produce two cars each day.
Part of this team concept of production was to put the name of team members on a brass plate that would be placed on
each car, instilling pride in the workers and providing incentive for them to do a good job. However, it proved too difficult
to teach relatively inexperienced employees that many production steps. Although this costly team concept stretched out
production time, it wasn't abandoned in favor of an assembly line until the spring of 1980.
Production of the 10,000 Roadsters was to be completed by August 1980. By May of that same year, production of the
T-Bird was to gradually replace that of the Roadsters.
As Shay reached his 10,000-order limit in August 1979, his first cars finally rolled out the plant's door. Lots of owners
had to wait a year between the original order and the delivery of their car.
Some owners said the doors didn't fit well on earlier models, rattled and just were a bad mold job. Doors and cosmetic
parts were worked upon to fit better. Early wheels were also reportedly thin-spoked and sometimes out of round. This
problem was also corrected by having better wheels made by a new supplier.
In late October 1979, the company was examining ways to improve production time. A new one-piece body and fender
assembly design was expected to save 75% of the time then needed to construct the 23-piece body and fender assembly
favored until that time. Each set of molds could produce 2 bodies per day.
In March 1980, the 1,000th Roadster came out of the factory. Letters were also sent to dealers announcing the T-Bird
In June 1980, the 2,000th Roadster was produced. By now, Shay Motors was the 6th largest auto manufacturer in the
US, trailing by a "few" million units GM, Ford, Chrysler, AMC and VW.
In mid September 1980, Shay announced price hikes effective immediately in order to cover inflation and to maintain
government standards. The Standard Model would now cost $9,995, the Deluxe Model $10,500 and the Super Deluxe
$11,900. He also added that he had just started to equip his cars with the 1981 Ford Fairmount four-cylinder engine and
drivetrains in replacement of Pintos' which were used in earlier models and which had been discontinued by Ford. Side
marker lights were also added to the tail lights. By that time, Shay had produced 3,400 Roadsters and start of production
on the T-Bird was delayed until November (see at bottom of page for the T-Bird publicity brochure). A Shay Thunderbird was one of the prizes awarded to 1980 Miss USA & 1980 Miss Universe Shawn Weatherly.
At the end of October 1980, Shay wrote to GM, Chrysler, AMC, VW dealers inviting them to join his 1,000 strong (Ford, Lincoln and Mercury) distribution network. He explained to them how much the car's mere presence in a showroom generated customer traffic and thousands of dollars of free publicity from local as well as national newspapers, magazines and television stations. He concluded his pitch by reporting to be the sixth largest automobile manufacturer in the US.
By mid-March 1982, faced with cash-flow problems and heavy interest payments on loans, Shay had to shut down
operations in all locations. 310 workers were laid off. By then, the company was also beset with legal problems, including
about 125 lawsuits filed in several states plus 14 counter-lawsuits including a $50 million one against the Illinois Attorney
General for libel. On March 29, 1982, Shay Motors filed for reorganization or sale under Chapter 11 of the Federal
Bankruptcy Act. In the Court papers, it was declared that 5,000 Roadsters and 200 T-Birds had been produced and
delivered. Shay Motors reported having $9.5 million in debts and almost $8 million in assets. Sales had been highest in
Michigan, Illinois, California, Florida, New-Jersey, New-York, Connecticut, Arizona, Oregon and Washington.
On July 6, 1982, Shay Motors filed for liquidation of its assets, negotiations with the Creditors' Committee having
reached an impasse.
In April 1983, Camelot Motors Inc., doing business from a former warehouse in Marshall, Michigan, was authorized by
a Federal Bankruptcy judge to purchase the tools, patents and other equipment of the defunct Shay Motors Corp. for
$2.4 million and to re-start the production of the Model As and T-Birds. These cars were to be sold from $10,000 to
$20,000. Camelot planned to build 400 cars in its first year and no more than 2,000 cars per year afterwards. They
beefed up the Model A's frame and added windshield defrosters. In June 1983, they sold the Roadster for $11,765 retail
($9,975 to dealers), the Pick-Up for $12,495 retail ($10,595 to dealers) and the T-Bird around $19,000 retail (including
a V-8, whereas Shay's T-Bird had only a 2.3 liter 4 cylinder). The Roadster's optional equipment list was shorter than in
Shay's time, including only a rumble seat heater, automatic transmission, chrome spokes or entirely chrome wheels, radio,
whitewalls and the rear trunk & rack. They were produced until 1986 and a phaeton model was eventually added to the
line. After a short stay in Marshall, they relocated to the big town of Quincy, Michigan, in a larger building.
Thanks to Ed Pugh, we can show you this ad published on June 13, 1983, on page 18 of Automotive News and which read: «A lot of people thought I'd lost my mind! Maybe some still do. You see, I bought the inventory and assets of Shay Motors Corporation, formerly Model A and Model T Inc., a company that cost a lot of dealers a lot of money and goodwill. I bought it because I happen to believe that there's a large market for a quality replica car made by a reliable company. Because I intend to have both, I have already spent a great deal of time selecting the right team to maintain the highest standards of excellence. We're at work right now in our Marshall, Michigan, plant building Camelot Motors authentic replicas, the 1929 Model A Roadster and Pick-up, and the 1955 and 1957 T-Bird. Our strengths are engineering and production. What we need now are dealers who would like the opportunity to make money selling these popular cars. We build the cars to order on a no-deposit basis, guarantee the quality, provide a five-year or 50,000 mile warranty, deliver on schedule, provide advertising support and give you a territory without a licensing fee. In return, you display the cars, take the orders and provide service. If you feel as I do that there's a market for quality replicas, pick-up the phone and call us, or write for more information. We'll send you our full color brochures and price list. We'll even tell you about our special introductory price offer. Write or call today. Paul G. Housey, President.»
Camelot Motors Inc. had been founded in March 1983 by Paul G. Housey in Indiana. Housey, a native of Detroit, attended Wayne State University until he went into the Air Force. After his discharge in 1965, he went to work at the Ford Motor Co. as a process engineer. Housey had also briefly been employed by Shay in 1979.
From 1982 to 1993, Speedway Motors of Lincoln, Nebraska, a firm specializing in kit cars since the late fifties was
selling the Roadster as a kit under the name Modern A. Base price originally started at only $4,495 (without upholstery,
top and wheels), but was very soon raised to $5,750 + $1,500 for a set of spoke wheels. Please note that, at those
prices, you had to find and provide your own Pinto and disassemble it in your backyard. Speedway funished a 92 page
assembly manual which contains step-by-step instructions on how to completely put together this car from the frame up.
It is amply illustrated (see examples below) and lifts the fog of mystery on a lot of questions as to how our cars are built.
I have examined everything in detail and, other than an improved box frame, I cannot find a single small difference
between the Modern A and the Shay. Furthermore, this manual also contains a copy of the most precious wiring diagram
(instrument & chassis harness). Finally, there was a 3 part article on the assembly of the Modern A in the March, May
and July 1983 issues of «Kit Car, The Car Builder's Authority». (Information and documents generously contributed by Pat Johnson.)
From 1986 onwards, Regal Roadsters has been producing a T-Bird replica which, although it was designed from the ground up, might very well incorporate some components from the Shay and Camelot T'Birds since that company bought
a lot of Camelot's parts after the latter went out of business.
Shays are sometimes confused with Glassics, another Model A replica built around the same time. (See the Glassic-webSite.)
For his part, after WWII, Harry J. Shay worked for General Motors as an automotive engineer, where he developed
mechanisms for which he held patents. In the early 70's, shoulder belts were in all the cars but were a nuisance since they had to be adjusted with a slide-buckle. Harry Shay had invented a type of seatbelt device that locked on impact, allowing the belts to retract or stretch at all other time, the way they do on today's cars. He died at age 70 on August 4, 1995, at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit after suffering a stroke. He entered the hospital a day earlier, said his son Joseph. It was just his second hospitalization ever added the son, noting that his father continued recreational skiing into his 60s.
He was proudest of his eight grand-children said the younger Shay. When someone would ask him about his cars, he'd say «Let me show you this article about my grand-son's sports accomplishments.»
BOOKS: Aside from the few periodicals' articles mentioned previously, nothing has ever been published on the Shay
Roadster. However, it now has been mentioned for the first time in a book (1 picture and 2 paragraphs) : «The Legendary
Model A Ford» (ISBN 0-87341-615-5) by Krause Publications. A second book entitled «The Big Guide to Kit &
Specialty Cars : Past & Present» is supposed to mention the Shay on page 108.
TV & MOVIES: In the 2001 version of «Pearl Harbor», you can see a Shay in one scene, where several of the actors
were heading to or from the beach in one. Also, several years ago, the infamous Boy Band N'Sync made a music video
where they are in a Shay for most of the video. It was not shown much in the US, but was shown in Europe heavily.
And, of course, there are reports of Shay's being in the «Untouchables» with Kevin Costner in background scenes.
May 2002 : If you wish to have much more historical details and insight into Shay Motors, please go to Nathan Shay's page. Nathan is Harry Shay's grandson and he has most generously allowed us to publish a very interesting research paper he has written on the subject.