Ford Model T Buyers Guide (1908 – 1927) –

Ford Model T Buyers Guide (1908 – 1927) –

my name is Richard I run a company
called The T Service based in Oxfordshire. We’ve been specialists in the Ford Model T for just over five
years. We do pretty much everything involved with Model T’s from selling
complete cars, selling parts for the cars, servicing and repair, spending time teaching
new drivers how to drive them, how to care for them, so we can cater for pretty
much any requirements. They’re one of the most accessible
vintage cars. The parts are reproduced in large numbers, particularly in America.
They don’t require any special tools, really in general you can maintain them
with a typical home toolkit. Leaded fuel wasn’t available when these were new so
they will run without any modifications, they use a bit of oil, it’s a very
straightforward oil, available easily and they’re just a real feel-good car, you
get out on the road, you’ll have people smiling and waving at you, camera phones
will be whipped out, they make everyone smile. Essentially with Model T’s
there’s three different Eras. The earlier cars are classed as the brass era cars
and that’s defined more by the radiator style and color than anything else. As
the cars developed Ford we’re looking to reduce the cost of them, they introduced
the steel radiator shell. Steel obviously being cheaper than brass this was then
just painted black just to to protect the metalwork really. There were two
different eras of black if you’re being picky separated by about an inch and a
half height difference on the radiator. After this they went to a
nickel shell. There’s not a great difference underneath the skin, they’re
all essentially the same car, using essentially the same engine, transmission
and rear axle. They were developed considerably but to all intents and
purposes underneath they’re the same car. Model T’s were made of very high quality
steel. Some of the British built cars where they’ve been in the UK environment
all of their lives may suffer more from corrosion but generally the cars that come over from the States, they’re in drier
environments, they last incredibly well. The open cars in particular use a wooden
frame that all the metal panels are then nailed onto if that’s been kept in a
particularly dry environment the wooden joints can become loose. It’s very hard
to ascertain the condition of that because it’s all hidden away under
panels but in general if you open the door and everything feels a bit floppy
that’s time to start thinking that there may be some work needed underneath. You can get replacement parts, they are remanufactured in the States the gauge if the steel isn’t quite the same but to the untrained eye you wouldn’t
notice the difference. Something to consider when you’re looking to buy a Model T is the condition of the interior. If it’s an unrestored car and you like
that particular look you can always just throw a blanket over it if you’re
looking to restore a car you need to consider the costs. The open cars you’re
looking around 750 pounds for an interior kit that will cover the kick
panels, the door panels, the seat coverings, they come with the padding
already sewn in. The enclosed cars however used a wool cloth type interior,
that’s far more expensive, you could be looking at around 1500 pounds for an
interior re-trim and that’s plus fitting. So consider what type of
interior you are looking for, what sort of condition you expect it to be in. Can
you put the top up? Ask the owner to give you a hand to put the top up. Check the
condition of that. Again replacement kits are available but you need to consider
that within the price that you’re looking to pay. At the front Springs you’ve got two
outer shackles and then a third point that mounts to the back of the
transmission. What you want to check for is the condition of the shackles. These
are wear and tear items. It depends how well the car has been looked after
as to what sort of mileage you’ll get. They are plain bushings, so they rely on
regular oiling to keep them in good condition. Likewise the leaf spring
itself, they should be kept oiled regularly. I would always prefer to see
an oily car than a dry one, it suggests that the owner is taking care with it.
Whilst you’re looking at that front suspension, check for play on such things
as track rod ends and kingpins. Rear end of the car very similar to the front. You’ve got the leaf spring which is attached to spring shackles. Again check for wear
in the plain bushes. Again a nice oily car suggests that the car has been
maintained. Check the wood spokes on the wheels.
Modern garages are much drier than the conditions these cars would have
originally been kept in. The wood can actually shrink, you end up with loose
spokes when you’re driving along, it’s quite frankly dangerous. Tyres, easily available but you’re looking at around150 to 200 pounds a corner. Fire up the engine have a listen to that. They’re not quietest engine, they’re
essentially the same as a tractor engine. The water jacket only covers the top end
of the motor, so you do get a fair bit of noise but listen for anything that sounds particularly deep that could indicate that you’re in for an expensive
rebuild. Given that the cars start at 10,000 pounds a rebuild by specialists could
cost you 5,000 pounds, so it’s very important to listen for that. The place to look for cracking on the Block on the water jacket, take a look particularly down the left-hand side of the engine that’s
where it tends to show the cracks. The gasket surfaces aren’t up to modern
standards, don’t be surprised if you see a few drips of oil underneath the car,
particularly after a run once the engine oils up to temperature. If there’s particularly large pools of oil you need to investigate a
bit further. The engines themselves will keep running until they’re in
really poor condition, on a Model T rally and you’ll hear some cars that you
think they just shouldn’t be running it’s not how we recommend you drive them,
but they will keep going until the last legs. Transmissions are particularly difficult
to check on a Model T. There is a small inspection cover on top of the
transmission that allows you to access the transmission drive bands. Now they
are a wear and tear item. A typical new owner to a Model T will be a bit harder
on them than someone who’s more experienced. Relatively inexpensive to
replace, around 50 pounds each on an exchange basis, a couple of hours work for
a specialist to fit. The early cars unfortunately didn’t use a removal type
of band, so that involves removing the whole transmission cover to get at them.
So ask the owner, when did they last change them? Is there much adjustment
left on them? That will give you a good idea as to whether you’re going to have
future maintenance issues. The exhaust on the Model T is a very
simple setup. You’ve got a cast-iron manifold that bolts directly to the
engine. Over time these can warp slightly, they tend to droop at the back end.
There’s a cheap gasket setup that you can buy that allows you to still use
these manifolds but, realistically, the the best option is to look at replacing
it if it’s got to that stage. The cast manifold itself costs about 100 pounds, not a huge amount, from there you’ve got a down pipe, very inexpensive, very simple you’re
looking at about 15 pounds for one of those. At the back end you’ve got a very
simple muffler, there’s no sound deadening material as such within these,
they’re simply three tubes that recirculate the air within them reducing
the noise. The later cars use a much simpler pressed steel end which is
fairly inexpensive, the earlier cars used a cast end muffler a little bit more
pricey. The electrics on a Model T are
essentially very simple. They don’t have a great deal running on them. The early
cars run a gas carbide system for the lights, so they no electrics there.
Later cars use very simple single wire electrics. With those the car will run all
day long on a battery – no problem. The early cars didn’t run a dynamo system so
you’d be looking at recharging the battery every two or three days. The magneto set up allows
the car to run without using a battery at all. So you tend to use a battery just
for starting and then switch over to Magneto. It’s not uncommon for Magneto’s to fail on Model T’s It’s not too detrimental to the the use of
the car, you can still run it all day long on battery with no problems
whatsoever. Unfortunately to rebuild the magneto is an engine out job. If you
particularly want a car that’s 100% original and running as it would have done and the magneto has failed it’s an expensive job, so consider that in your purchase price. Model T’s user an unusual ignition
system compared to modern cars. Where the typical modern classic will have a single coil, the Model T uses four trembler coils. Originally these were a
wooden coil box on early cars mounted behind the firewall. On the very late
cars they sit on top of the engine. They make an unusual sound but it’s part of the character of a Model T to hear the trembler coils operating. Over the years they’ve developed a very poor reputation because people haven’t looked after them.
They can be troublesome but once refurbished they can be very reliable. If you can drive the car or if you can get an owner to take you out in the car, you
want to see how well it conducts itself on the road. It’s not uncommon for parts
to wear but you should be able to drive a Model T one-handed with it not
wandering around the road or shaking the steering wheel. The low speed drive is particularly noisy. It’s a common trait with Model T’s don’t be
alarmed by it. Unless it’s particularly bad, accept that
as a normal Model T trait. In direct drive in top gear the car should be
pretty quiet. You shouldn’t get any abnormal noises from the back end. Sadly a lot of the cars that come in
from the states don’t really come with any history at all. It’s just American
culture that they don’t keep much in the way of records of the cars. Which is a
real shame they’ve all got such a story that they
could tell us we know nothing about them. Other paperwork – registration
document, take a look at this make sure the car is correctly registered. Many are
registered with the incorrect engine capacity. The standard engine capacity
for a Model T is 2892 CC but you will see them registered as 3 litre, 3.3 litre
people just get confused as to what they are. Chassis numbers weren’t a common
thing on the Model T’s until the 1926-27 cars at which point they were
stamped on the chassis rail underneath the right hand side of the front floor. Engine numbers, easy to find they are on the left hand side of the engine.
Adjacent to that on the casting you’ll often have a date casting for the the
engine block, which gives you an idea whether that’s a correct unit for that car. Engines from early and late cars are interchangeable, so you will
often find that engines have been swapped. Don’t get too hung up on that,
the condition of the engine is the key thing. The Model T was such a popular car in
its day, there was a huge aftermarket business for accessories and so-called
improvements to the car. You can buy all sorts of weird and wonderful things for your Model T from a cooker that attaches
to the manifold. Practical options such as step plates that bolt to the running
board to save you scratching your paint. Many of these are actually reproduced
these days but there’s a certain cachet to having an original optional accessory. Two of the most popular things that you could look for when you’re
looking to buy a Model T are a Ruckstell axle. These are a two-speed rear axle so they run an epicyclic gear setup which allows you to change into a different ratio for hill
climbing. Particularly on the heavier cars, the enclosed cars or the four
seaters – where you’ve got four people in the car, 20 horsepower will
get you there but it’s going to take its time. Having a Ruckstell will allow
you to change down the ratio and makes life a lot easier on the car. The way to tell if a car’s got a Ruckstell fitted is you will have an extra lever within
the cockpit of the car. It’s a two-position system. It will
either be mounted in the centre of the car or there’s a modification that
allows you to run the lever in the same slot as the handbrake lever. They’re quite an expensive thing to retrofit to a car you’re looking in the region of
two and a half to three thousand pounds. So if you can find a car that’s already had one fitted – great! They’re (Ruckstell axles) not hugely common but lovely to have if you can find one. Rocky Mountain brakes are another popular upgrade to the Model T. They essentially add a connection to the rear wheels and the
foot brake. They have certain safety benefits. For example, if you were to
break a prop shaft or a universal joint you would lose your transmission brake and
you could only rely on the handbrake as a stopping method. The Rocky Mountain
brakes connected directly to the foot brake will stop the wheels. Limitations of them – in the wet they don’t work particularly well, but you’ve
still got the transmission brake there as a backup, and they don’t work too well
in reverse. If you want the ultimate improvement you can even get a disc brake conversion these days but they don’t look particularly period. With the brass era cars, if you can find one that’s had an electric start
conversion, that’s great. It’s an expensive conversion that can be
done to a non electric start car but you’re looking in the region of two and
a half thousand pounds. The other thing you can look for in a car is the demountable wheels. Very desirable, allows you to carry a spare rim on the car with
an inflated tire. It’s a five minute swap as opposed to having to take a tire off
and replace an inner tube. Consider where the cars being used. Is
the Model T being used on rallies regularly? It suggests that it’s a good
working car. Has the car you’re looking at come from a museum? Ask why it went
into the museum in the first place. These cars are designed as static exhibits, in
many cases they’re designed to look good from a distance, once you get closer up
chances are there’s filler that’s been used, the cars gone in with a broken axle
for example. You might be buying something that’s got trouble. Has the
car being built as a show car? Some of these cars are designed to drive on and
off of a trailer, drive around a show ring and be judged. In that situation
they don’t want to see oil everywhere. But has the car been built with the
correct amount of grease and oil in all the joints or are they gonna start
wearing very quickly as you start to use the car? The other thing you should
consider is whether you’ve got the space for the enclosed cars. Some of the
enclosed cars are much taller and won’t fit in a standard up and over
garage. The convertible cars, you can
pop the top down and they’ll go in a conventional garage. The footprint they
take up is similar to a modern fiesta so they will fit in a standard garage. Period correctness is something that does
concern some people when they’re purchasing a Model T. What you’ve got to
be mindful of is that the Model T was in production for quite a number of years
and a lot of the parts are interchangeable. Going back 30, 40, 50 years people didn’t have the aftermarket supply of parts that we have today.
So they would find a Model T in a hedge and if there was a working part
on that vehicle that would repair their own car, they would take it and put it on.
You’ve got to decide whether you particularly want something that’s a
hundred percent accurate that you may end up searching for parts the rest of
the cars life and never have it on the road or you accept a few things that are
incorrect, get out there enjoy it. The later black-radiator cars and the nickel radiator cars are less susceptible to this. Generally people that own these cars are more
accepting of things not being a hundred percent correct. The brass-era cars, less so. People that are buying these like to have things as
they should be, particularly if they’re getting involved in veteran car club
events. Realistically it makes no difference at all. The important thing is
to get out there and enjoy them, use them, make the most of them. You should take
some care with buying Model T, obviously it’s a hundred year old car. Metal
fatigue isn’t really an issue with them but making sure everything’s safe or as
safe as a vintage car can be is paramount. The ideal situation is to take
someone who knows Model Ts with you. They’re going to be familiar with the
noises they make, they’re going to be familiar with the driving technique and
they’re going to be familiar with the points that wear on them. In an ideal
world take a specialist, they’re working on these cars day-in day-out and they’re going to know where to look for trouble.

About the Author: Michael Flood


  1. Great video guys some wonderful details on what to look out for.
    The steel used was Vanadium Steel on the bodies and they very rarely rushed through at least on the cars in the US. and a lot of spare parts are just stored outside even in the snow belt. you'll see they have a nice surface rust patina but very rarely do they get a hole through the panel. Little sanding and fresh paint that is new.

  2. A very comprehensive and accurate guide to the Model T. Thanks Richard. Wish that I had known all this when I started.

  3. A very well done video, thank you. Quite a lot of very good information, with a well organized presentation to boot. Easy to watch to the very end, makes me wish I still had the 23 T bucket, a car with only one door.
    The camera work is also very well done. None of the herky-jerky camera movement seen in too many videos on youtube . With not one scene shot while the camera person must by any account be standing on a soccer ball.

  4. How often could you run one of these?
    I live in a small village and work very close to home, the most I'd need to travel is about three miles to work and three miles back, do you think this type of car could manage that weekdays?

  5. Informative, interesting and even entertaining. Looks like it would be even more fun than driving the latest supercar. Terrific video.

  6. Nice presentation video.

    My friend grew up in the era along with the Model T. One thing he mentioned was the end of brass was due to the need to divert all brass to the war effort, for bullet casings.

  7. Model Ts make great hot rods! Swap parts, put modern parts on… make it yours. All these cars are unique. Put them in a line and no 2 will be the same

  8. I enjoyed this video so much, I just went out and bought a1913 touring car in Brewster. Thanks for a well prepared presentation. By the way, I’m from New York and I think you talk funny. Just joking mate. Thanks again.

  9. We had a '15 Touring when I was a kid. I loved that car. My job was to keep the brass shiny, (a never-ending task). Went through many cans of Brasso! My Dad was a car salesman and was always looking for old cars to restore and show. One day a man showed up with a trailer to buy the T. I was devastated and went into the house while they loaded it up. I couldn't watch it go!

  10. As I understand it, you can build a brand new Model T from after-market parts because every part is available. I would like to see a video of someone doing just that. I've never heard of it being done yet.

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