Fit to a (Model) T

Spokane Welcomes 2021 Model T Ford Club of America National Tour

As kids, Mike Stormo and his friends would pretend to drive the derelict 1915 Model T abandoned in the weeds behind the barn on his family’s Davenport farm. At the time, it was just fun and games, but later in life, Stormo rescued the relic and resurrected it from the ground up.

“I found out that my grandpa bought it for $5 from a local machinery dealer,” Stormo said. “It was a well-used car, but they drove it until the rear-end went out, then they made a hay trailer out of the frame, hooked the engine to a buzzsaw.”

Stormo and wife Jacki were among the Model T enthusiasts who showed off their vintage autos at the 2021 Model T Ford Club of America national tour, July 9-14. Hosted by the Inland Empire Model T Club, the event brought 140 Model Ts to Spokane’s Riverfront Park. When the group wasn’t sharing stories and answering questions from curious onlookers, they cranked up their engines and putted along the backroads throughout the region, taking in the sights from Green Bluff to Coeur d’Alene and out among the golden fields of the Palouse.

“People have been lining up on the streets, taking pictures, honking, and giving us the thumbs up,” said tour chairman Matt Hansen. “Everyone loves to see the cars.”

Fifteen million Model Ts were made between 1908 and 1927. When Henry Ford introduced the Model T, it cost around $600 — equivalent to about $17,719.30 today — and were a luxury to anyone but the upper class. With the advent of assembly line production, the price dropped to where the average person could own a car.

“Henry Ford put America off of horses and into cars,” noted Hansen, standing proudly next to his blue 1926 roadster.

Yes, contrary to popular belief, the Model T came in other colors besides black. According to Hansen, the very first was red. It wasn’t until mass production forced Ford to limit custom colors to keep up with demand, that black, which was found to dry the quickest, became the only option.

The Model T was offered in several body styles, including a five-seat touring car, a two-seat runabout, and a seven-seat town car. A four-cylinder flathead engine generated 20 horsepower and propelled the car to top speeds of 40–45 miles per hour (a guess, because they had no speedometer). Wooden spoked wheels were common, and wire later became a popular upgrade.

As well-built as the cars were — and as meticulously as their new owners maintain them, breakdowns still happen. Flat tires and overheated radiators are common, and during the tour, one car lost a wheel that went rolling out through a field — luckily the group found it and got it and its driver back on the road.

“They’re tough old cars,” Hansen said. “Luckily, they kept them simple, and parts are interchangeable.”

Simple to fix is one thing. Simple to drive is something else. With exception to the steering wheel, nearly everything we know about driving a modern automobile can be thrown out the window in a Model T. On the floor are pedals for the clutch (high and low gears), brake, and reverse. One lever on the steering column is the throttle, and another, spark advance, used to manually adjust the ignition timing as the engine speed increases.

Stopping is different as well. While the Model T has a pair of drum brakes on the rear axle, the brake pedal doesn’t interact with these at all. Instead, it actuates a band which squeezes down on the rotating parts within the transmission to slow the car down.

“It’s fun to drive once you know how to do it, but in the very beginning, it’s, ‘Get out of my way!’” says Jacki Stormo, enticed into the hobby by her husband Mike. If you’re even in Davenport, be sure to wave to Jacki if you see her running errands in her red and black 1916 T convertible. Oftentimes, she’ll drive to her granddaughter’s softball games and serve hotdogs to the players straight from the engine cooker — a watertight pan that fits over the red-hot manifold and cooks food on the go.

“It warms the cockles of my heart to have all these cars,” remarked Tom Carnegie, owner of Antique Auto Ranch, a vintage car wrecking yard in Spokane Valley. He owns several Ts, including an olive drab 1917 model, restored to how it might have looked had it served in WWI.

“I consider the Model T to be sort of like a time machine,” Carnegie said. “With the car being open to the air, you can smell the cut hay and you feel the topography because when you come to a hill the car lets you know. You’re somehow transported to a different era.”

 

 

 

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