This 99 year old beauty has truly led a sheltered life, and I am confident the new owner will be pleased with this outstanding restoration of a 1917 Ford Model T Touring car. I purchased it from a party in Connecticut after “Grampa” died and the son bought it from Grampa’s estate and put it up for sale. Grampa did very well as a custodian of this car, as there was virtually zero rust, and nearly all of the common components missing on similar century old vehicles were still present on this one: the original nickel plated hubcaps are intact, and not banged, dinged and scratched owing to these being the widest point of the car.
Additionally, Grampa had begun a restoration that was very well done, to include a new cobra skin era correct top on the original top irons, and a nicely installed new upholstery kit in era correct vinyl. A new radiator was also a welcome surprise when I received the car after only viewing photos of it while in storage. All in all, a very nice car even before I started the restoration process.
The only issue I had with this 99 year old car (manufactured in September, 1916, so not quite 99 years old but close enough) was that all of Henry Ford’s cars came without an electric starter prior to 1919. Accordingly, the tried and true method of hand cranking the car from the front was the only way to start this car, and I did get it started in this fashion a few times and decided that an electric start is essentially mandatory.
I began the process of installing a starter, and the process was much more involved than simply saying ‘add a starter to it.’ Basically, the transmission cover which accepts a starter mount had to be installed, as well as a replacement transmission that already had a starter ring gear mounted on the flywheel. Rather than try and drill out the old flywheel to accept a ring gear, I replaced the entire transmission with what appeared to be a 1925-era Model T transmission with everything I needed already good to go. That, and finding a good condition starter, rebuilding the Bendix, changing out a few of the linkage components to accommodate a later tranny, and a rather involved list of other minor little tasks made this ‘just add a starter’ statement about a three week project. A major headache that I had not planned for was that the replacement transmission’s magneto was exceptionally weak, only producing about 3 volts. I had to rebuild this magneto and recharge all 16 “V” magnets, verify that all 16 coils mounted on the coil ring were solid, and then get the clearances between the spinning magnet clamps and the coil surfaces to within a tolerance of between .025″ and .040″ – a very trying process. But in the end, this magneto now generates all the spark that this old car will ever need.
Since these cars never had starters in the first place, I decided to discreetly mount a starter button that was wired discreetly to a 6 volt solenoid mounted to where the starter button would have been on a 1919 model and later. The starter button is visible in one of the photos, but I will let the ultimate owner find it first before I point it out. It’s there, but not readily visible.
Much more mechanical work was also involved in the nearly frame off restoration of the car (but the body never came off the frame), and it turned out relatively well. I am very pleased at how this project flowed, as it was the first time I have attempted to upgrade a car to accommodate an electric starter. It was a good experience having done this for the first time. The only down side on this particular project was the weather: it has been exceptionally cold for the last month, and there’s just too much salt on the roads for my likes to take this car out and put a few hundred road miles on it to ‘break it in’ (remember having to do that to cars back in the day?). In order to seat the newly installed piston rings and freshly lapped valves, the best I could do was put it through its paces on jackstands, and run the car for a few hours inside my nice, heated garage. I simply could not stand to contemplate getting all of that Chicago salt all over it, as it appears none of the prior stewards of this car did that, and I was not going to be the first.