confusion, anger, compassion, melancholy and sentimentality. All this from a hulk of Iron and Steel. We all have one of these cars. For me, it’s my 1927 Model T roadster.
I bought my Roadster on July 6th , 2006 as a rusted-out hulk for a whopping $800.00. When I dragged it home, my Dad playfully joked that I had lost my mind. I however, had a vision. I had always been fond of and influenced by the very early Hot Rods from the pre World War II era, an era that has become more or less forgotten. As a kid I had come across pictures of the legendary Roy “Multi” Aldrich’s ’23 T roadster and Robert Hodge’s T touring and I was hooked. I knew my T had to be a tribute to cars like this.
At the time, I was a complete novice at building cars. Having poured over books on them since I could read, I knew just about everything about them. Yet I had never touched a welder, swung a wrench or designed a car from the ground up. Undaunted I dug in with un-bottled enthusiasm, learning as Iwent. The farther I went, the more I knew she was really something special. The original roadster doors on my car had been missing for 50 years, long before my friend’s Grandfather had purchased the body and chassis from a local kid (it had done some time as a Hot Rod and Circle track car in the 1940’s) in 1966.
Fast forward to 2006 when my neighbor comes over and says “Ya know…I have 2 full sets of those doors if you want them” “Yes, of course!” I replied, eager to finally find a set. “I used to buy them up whenever I found them when I was restoring my old T Dragster in the early 80’s. The T is done, so I don’t need them, $50 and they are yours” He says.
After I paid for them and picked them up, I immediately picked the best RH door, the best LH door and set off to hang them. That was when I noticed they had half a racing number painted across them in spray paint. Funny part was, the body had the other half of the same number which lined up to a perfect ”357”. I thought to myself “No way!” then checked the other side. Sure enough, it had the same “357” number. Not only had I bought back the missing doors from MY car, but the two that I pick from the four that had been offered to me, were the two that originally came from my car. The odds are trillions to one.
By the summer of 2008 the T was triumphantly on the road but I was still learning and getting to know her and what she needed. With a little more experience under my belt I started pondering how I could improve a few things. The front suspension I had built was based around a set of knock off Laurel “Underslung” brackets I had picked up at a local swap meet. The problem was, the spring shackles tended to bottom out and pin up against the bracket. The suspension was awfully hard and was making my butt miserable on the potholed streets of Portland. The rear was an experiment in new methods of lowering which did work, but didn’t yield enough clearance. The 75 year old Babbitt bearings were also running on borrowed time. It had already chucked two rods on me and one of the three main caps. None of these things deterred me from enjoying it, or detracted from the fun it got from driving it mind you.
In 2010 Chris, a very good friend of mine whom I consider to be a bit of a big brother and I decided to drive our two T’s to Bonneville, Utah for the “Speed Week” National Land Speed Trials. It was an event both of us had wanted to attend since childhood. We had just finished building his T speedster, so it was a perfect time to go through my 85 year old engine after pounding on for 5 years. We knew we would really have to do it right if I was going to ask her to make that kind of a trip.
In September, 2011, I jumped in and started tearing the car down to get the motor out. Since the T firewalls are low and the transmission is a part of the motor, it was necessary to pull the body off to remove the engine. Once the body was off and the engine was out, I started looking over my chassis contemplating minor improvements. This was a quick refresh after all.
The “Quick Refresh” soon turned into me following a breadcrumb trail that led to more of a “Scrap the entire suspension system and design a whole new chassis” type project. Late nights and weekends cutting, welding, riveting (in the old school way), machining, painting, assembling and coming home to a grumpy but supportive wife was my life for next few months.
The design of the new suspension came to me in a dream at 2:30 AM, after struggling with designs for a week. I sat up in bed and excitingly scribbled it down on the back of a utility bill I had by my nightstand. The next day I had a decent plan drawn out and started hunting for parts to fabricating it up. I started with an un-dropped T axle and a pair of Split Model A wishbones that I made custom ends from Model A tie-rod ends. The bones were cut and angled for the right caster before my custom, incorporated spring perches were added. I didn’t shorten them, so as to push the axle forward 2-3/4 inch forward. The frame mounting plates for split wishbones are historically flimsy on most T racers and I like to over build. I made mine instead from 1/8” plate and hot riveted them to the frame with the help of an old locomotive mechanic and his air rivet gun. My shoulder hurt so fucking bad for days after that...
The rear suspension was redesigned using an old set of elaborate lowering brackets from a period accessory add. They were a tad sketchy, so they got a beefy redesign as well. The brackets pushed the axle back about 4 inches and hung the spring below and in front of the rear axle. No more clearance issues. As for the engine, the incorrect 1922 block that I had started with was tired. It had been bored, had slight pitting and the bearings were shot. I was able to hunt down a really nice June of ’26 Block and a late ’27-’41 “EE” series crankshaft which are made of the best Chrome-Vanadium Steel alloy ever devised, the strongest of the T cranks. This new block and crank became the foundation for a powerful new flathead T engine that would run a full-race cam, 302 Ford V8 valves, hardened seats, aluminum pistons, Burns 2x2, a pair of 81s, the works. The Chicago Mark-E Overdrive also got a major overhaul including new bearings, and several handmade bearing retainers to replace the damaged ones.
After 9 months of hard work and a few beers, we fired the new T successfully without a single initial adjust or fight of any kind. I was a bit nervous about the twin Stromberg 81s being too much for the naturally asthmatic T engine, as many of my fellow T’ers voiced similar concerns. On the first test drive however, it was apparent that the pair was perfect and really went like hell! After the first fire of the new motor, we had just two weeks left to get the car finished before we were due to leave on the 1,700 mile road trip to Bonneville. I completed the last phase of the build just 8 hours before we were supposed to leave. I couldn’t be prouder to say that she made the 1,732 mile trip flawlessly, with only a fan bushing and battery switch as casualties. Shortly after Bonneville I set to sort out the issues we found needing improvement. One of which was the top end, so I upgraded the rear axle to an original Hall-Scott Ruckstell 2-speed with 3:1 gearing.
Since that time, The Roadster has had numerous adventures. It made an epic road trip to the East Coast to participate in the 3 rd Annual Race of the Gentlemen in Wildwood, New Jersey in 2014 and on July 6th , 2016, exactly 10 years to the day I purchased that rotted out little T, we made a once in a lifetime visit to Jay Leno’s Garage and were featured on an episode of his YouTube series. This would be the first of two appearances on Jays show.
She’s been an amazing partner on the road all these years and I look forward to many more adventures!