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1920 Ford Model T Roadster

By Jeremy Wilson

Success with any craft requires skill and tenacity--and tenacity, as a rule, requires maturity. That’s why young men seldom begin, and rarely complete car restorations. They may have the skills, but usually lack the patience and focus needed for a 500 to 2000 hour project.

A surprising counterexample occurred in the early ‘50s when middle schooler Dave McCready restored his 1920 Model T Roadster.

“The Model T is where I really got my hands wet restoring a car for myself, and it was a complete dismantle,” said Dave. “The mentor helping me was a fellow named Clyde Evans. I liked him and he seemed to like me. We managed to find a new engine block in Woodland, Washington and he showed me how to fit the crankshaft to it. You use hand scrapers and bluing to scrape the bearings until you get 90% contact with the crank, using the crank as the guide. That’s how you do it.”

That was just the skills aspect; the required tenacity would put Dave to the test.

“I think I was on that project for three weeks, every night after school, and he wouldn’t let me stop until I got 90% contact on those bearing surfaces. I thought it was awful damn tedious, and I sat there and blued and scraped until he would accept it. Finally he did and we put the crank shaft in the engine.. The engine has run well for more than 50 years since I completed the rebuild.”

Ford’s Model T didn’t have model numbers. This one is simply named a 1920 Model T Roadster. Model Ts have a 100 inch wheel base and a 20 horsepower engine with a two-speed planetary transmission. Today, Dave has added a period accessory called a Ruckstell two-speed axle resulting in four (progressive) forward speeds.

“It’s one of the better examples there is,” said Dave. “It has side curtains, they’re hanging up. I’ve done a full restoration on this car and it’s correct. The trunk that you see is called the Turtle Back.

“What’s amazing is the simplicity of Henry Ford’s design, construction, and his mass production. If you look closely, you can see--or at least feel--a rib on the body line that is actually a platform. If you had a touring body, you’d find that the rear door jamb would fit there. If you bought this as a pickup, the pickup box would match up at the same point. And the angle you see on the spare tire allows for the sloped back of the touring body.”

Fords did not install water pumps until later, in the Model A, but many people added them onto their Model Ts.

“For this car, I’ve never seen the need for it so I haven’t added one,” said Dave. “Two of the Model T’s in my father’s collection had water pumps and three didn’t. We had more overheating problems with the ones that had water pumps than the ones that didn’t. This car doesn’t overheat and it never boils, even in hot weather. I drove it out to Forest Grove on a 96-degree day and when I came back I wondered if I would have trouble after all these years. I watched the little bubble on the Motometer and it got into the high range, but that’s not boiling yet. I would guess it was probably at 200 degrees.”

(See the History and Production Notes panel on this page for more on the Motometer.)

Cadillac offered electric starters in 1911 (for the 1912 model year) but Ford didn’t until nearly eight years later.

“1919 is the first year that Ford offered the electric starter option,” said Dave. “This is a 1920 and it is equipped with one. I’m sure most everybody did that as soon as they were offered. This car also has a generator. Now, if it was pure stock, that is, it would have come with electric two beam lights, it would not have also had the oil lights. I added the oil brackets and lights to this car because I liked their looks. Electric cars also used an electric tail light, rather than an oil light.”

The Model T ignition system is simple, and in a sense, failsafe.

“It has four coils and uses a low tension ignition system,” explained Dave. “The timer, as its known, is on the front of the crank shaft and it runs individual wires that turn the individual coils on. Each plug has its own coil, so the car has four complete ignition systems. Simplicity, yes. Dependability, really.”

And if you are talented you can play tunes with the Model T horn!

“The magneto is just a series of magnets that are bolted on to the flywheel and spin against an electric refractor. The clearance is only about ten-thousandths of an inch. The magnets go past it and it creates about 20 volts, so the faster you run it, the brighter the headlights would shine (if the car did not have the starter package). If you got an electric system with a battery, it wasn’t that way. However, the horn was still run by the magneto. The horn is nothing more than a vibrator so you can play it with the throttle. You had the option of running the ignition with either the battery or magneto. They run better on the higher voltage AC power.”

When Dave finished restoring the Model T, it was 1953 and most people weren’t really using them for transportation anymore.

“I distinctly remember finishing it up--it was running, and I’d painted it, so it was done. In my Junior year, before I was 16, I drove the car in the Forest Grove Barber Shop Festival parade. I dressed up in period clothes and drove the car. It was the first time I used it in a parade. I was so proud! After that I got my driver’s license and started using it more. I have worn the new tires about half out now.”

Dave’s Model T is about as fortunate as a car can be. After providing transportation for many years, it was relegated to a saw mill project of Charlie Williams and his brother. Outfitted with a log bunk, and awaiting deployment as a log hauler, a fatal accident of Charlie’s Brother, led to the closing of the mill after the first day of operation.

“This car and others were discovered years later having been stored in a shed,” said Dave. “Six dollars was the price of purchase (a different time of value) and that came with a rats nest in the radiator and muffler. The Turtle Back was missing because they had installed a log bunk on it.”

Thanks to a 12-year-old’s interest, the Model T has spent the last 60 years as a collector car. At 90, it has outlived the average car by a factor of seven with no end in sight!

Click on any item below for more details at Amazon.com

Bruce W. McCalley
Model T Ford: The Car That Changed the World
Krause Publications, Hardcover, 1994-04
This well-reviewed book may be the most complete book on the Model T. McCalley was the editor of The Vintage Ford magazine from 1966 to 1996. One drawback: It is out of print and can be fairly expensive.

Lindsay Brooke
Ford Model T: The Car That Put the World on Wheels
Motorbooks, Hardcover, 2008-04-15
This illustrated book follows the Model T from design considerations to its lasting legacy, and along the way describes the mechanical, manufacturing, and marketing innovations that the car’s production entailed.

Michael O’Hearn
Henry Ford and the Model T
Capstone Press, Paperback, 2007-01-01
An excellent book for children.

Ford Motor Company
Model T Service Bulletins
Lincoln Publishing Co., Hardcover, 1927-05
This text contains some excellent mechanical information. It contains service bulletins sent to service garages from 1919-1927. It is a must have for any Model T Ford owner.

Paul G. McLaughlin
Illustrated Ford Model T & Model a Buyer’s Guide
Motorbooks International, Paperback, 1994-10
This book covers all of the model Ts and Model As, from the early touring Cars, Runabouts and Coupes to the later Phaetons, Tudor and Fordor Sedans and Roadsters. Model histories, specifications, options and exterior color lists, plus 200 photos make this book a must for the Model T or Model A enthusiast. It is somewhat dated but still relevant.

Tom Collins
The Legendary Model-T Ford: The Ultimate History of America's First Great Automobile
Krause Publications, Hardcover, 2007-12-19
This book includes 300 superb color photos and historic black-and-white images, production data and technical specifications, and collector pricing. The classic design, and rich photography of this reference offers you a unique and useful commemorative of the 100-year anniversary of the car that changed the world.

Murray Fahnestock
Model T Ford Owner
Lincoln Publishing Co., Hardcover, 1968-01
Covers all parts of chassis and motor. Covers everything from band changes to valve timing. A great reference book for the Model T Ford Owner. Over 800 illustrations
History and Production Notes

By 1920, Ford had produced over four million Model T’s. Their business was so prosperous they stopped advertising in 1917 and did not resume until 1923. Electric starters became an option in 1919 so the Model T was a relatively comfortable, family-friendly car. A local dealership advertisement promoted it as such:


The Ford Sedan is the favorite family car, seats five comfortably. While an enclosed car with permanent top, it has large windows and may in a minute be changed to a most delightful open car with always a top protecting against the sun. In inclement weather it is a closed car, dust-proof, water-proof, cold-proof. Finely upholstered. Equipped with electric starting and lighting system and demountable rims with 3 1/2-inch tires front and rear. A real family car. Won’t you come in and look at it? The delights of the electric car with the economy of the Ford.

With millions of Fords on the road, the automobile parts business was booming. Advertisements for car accessories appeared in newspapers, magazines and catalogs, and included horns, clocks, steering wheel locks, shock absorbers, mufflers, custom radiators, fuel-saving carburetors. Here are a couple of examples:

The Motometer was a temperature gauge mounted on the radiator cap. The advertisement claims it, “tells when you are obtaining your best gasoline efficiency; when your cylinders or bearings are overheating; when water in radiator is getting too hot, or freezing. It tells you exactly, at all times, ‘what is going on under the hood.’”

Another accessory we now take for granted was the speedometer. The 1920 Ford instrument panel consisted of only an ammeter, choke knob, and the ignition/light switch. The Standard Speedometer price by current standards was certainly appealing--Seven dollars and twenty-five cents. But it would be all but useless today. The upper limit is 50 mile per hour!

PRODUCTIONNOTES Production Notes...

Ford produced a total of 463,451 Model T’s during the 1920 calendar year. Of these, 5,795 were runabouts (roadsters) without a starter, and 47,891 were runabouts with a starter.

According to the Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942, the runabout shipping weight was 1390 pounds and the price beginning March 3, 1920 was $550 ($650 with starter and demountable wheels).

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