Model T Speedster Era History

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Model T Ford Forum: Forum 2016: Model T Speedster Era History
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Harold Schwendeman - Sumner,WA on Thursday, October 20, 2016 - 03:09 pm:

Not sure if much research has ever been done on this, or, if such Model T era history has been researched, if much has ever been written about it. Here's what I mean:

Whether you have any interest in T speedsters or not, I'm sure that most will agree that one nice thing about them is that there is a lot of freedom allowed in the building of a Model T Speedster.

What I am curious about however, is when the building of T speedsters actually "peaked". In other words, during WHAT YEAR during the actual original speedster era do you suppose the most T speedsters were built?

The reason I'm curious about this is because I am sure that such knowledge would have a direct bearing on just what junkyard parts would be considered acceptable on an ORIGINAL SPEEDSTER ERA MODEL T FORD SPEEDSTER,...???

Here's what I mean, and what prompted my curiosity in this regard:

I have often considered that my one and only real concern with a Model T speedster is that fact that "back in the day" so to speak, Model T speedsters, like all T's back then, ONLY had two wheel brakes, and, frankly, I'm sure most will agree that those were the wrong two wheels! Especially at the higher speeds that speedsters could attain. The more urgently you need to stop at high speed, the harder you apply the brakes, and the more weight is pitched forward, and the less effective the two rear wheel brakes become, right?

For this reason, it always seems to me that a speedster built during the depression years of the '30's would have the availability of junkyard parts that would by then, include at least a few wrecked Model A Fords. And Model A's had front wheel brakes. Therefore, a Model A front axle could conceivably be obtained from a junkyard and be installed on a Model T speedster, thereby affording four-wheel brakes on a Model T speedster, right?

So, the Model A front axle with mechanical brakes is just an example, but again, I have to wonder,..... during the peak year(s) or so of ORIGINAL Model T speedster building, what were some of the common junkyard parts that were used on speedsters?

Not sure how much sense this post makes, but it just seems like even tho" there is sort of an "anything goes" advantage to building a Model T speedster, there has to be a "line drawn" SOMEWHERE, right? I mean,.... what junkyard parts would begin to turn a speedster into a hot rod, right? I mean,....maybe Stromberg 94's or Stromberg 97 carburetors are probably okay on a T speedster, but a Carter AFB 4-barrel carburetor? No,.... I don't think so,..... anyway,.... just some more of my sort of "thinking-out-loud" on a rainy day,...... harold


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Harold Schwendeman - Sumner,WA on Thursday, October 20, 2016 - 03:10 pm:

George-Cherry Hill - Yeah, I did it again! Too many words, right?


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Derek Kiefer - Mantorville, MN on Thursday, October 20, 2016 - 03:21 pm:

While I agree it was possible, typically more effort was made to increase their speed rather than stop.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Walt Berdan, Bellevue, WA on Thursday, October 20, 2016 - 03:53 pm:

The relatively early photos that I've seen didn't typically have front brakes. The point was fun and faster not WHOA!!


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Harold Schwendeman - Sumner,WA on Thursday, October 20, 2016 - 05:00 pm:

Yeah guys, but that's not what I was asking. To put it another way, I think to build a speedster and put a lot of emphasis on going faster, but no emphasis on getting stopped was a mistake back in the day, and an even bigger mistake nowadays. And I know we now have disc brakes and all, but that's for another thread! But the following is what I'm asking:

WHEN WERE MOST SPEEDSTERS BUILT?

During the brass era of the Model T?

During the black era of the Model T?

During the depression in the '30's but before WW2?

That's what I'm curious about,....and not how many have been built in recent times,....but when were most of them built out of junkyard parts "back in the day"? Knowing that would be a good guide in regard to what junkyard parts would be acceptable TODAY if one were to try to build a "TYPICAL" Model T speedster like back in the ol' days!

My opinion, which isn't worth much, is that one heck of a lot of 'em were built during the depression during the '30's when nobody had much if any money to spend of cars of any kind!


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Wayne Sheldon, Grass Valley, CA on Thursday, October 20, 2016 - 05:21 pm:

I may have to comment in bits and pieces.
I have commented in the past that model T speedsters are one of the longest running automotive sub-hobbies, and have been built in every calendar year from 1908 to the present. The first ones were built by Ford and the model T design team to drive and test the experimental chassis being developed by Ford in preparation for production. In 1909, two special cars were produced by the Ford factory for the famous New York to Seattle race. By 1910, regional Ford dealers were modifying model Ts for their own local demonstrations. Photos of these cars are rare (and often of poor quality), but can be found. By 1911, individuals were getting into the act. Some of the most beautiful model T speedsters ever built were the early efforts. They appear quite expensive, and well finished. (I would have to see if I can find it, but there is a photo on the inside front cover of the 'Antique Automobile' magazine about 25 years ago showing one of the best I have seen. It is a clear black and white original era photo. One of the details that makes the photo so great is the expressions on faces of people standing there just looking at the car!)
I suspect that many of these early efforts were by people that had the money, but wanted the reliable simplicity of the now popular Ford in something with a little more "zing". But, by this time, everybody wanted to try their hand at building their own. On the rough roads of those days, cars were often beaten up quickly, and used cars were becoming available cheap. Even high school kids could often get something and begin building their vision of a great road racer. Many of the cars were crude, and most were never finished.
It can only be speculated when the peak years for speedster building were. Clearly, by the time Ford dropped the brass radiator, there were hundreds of speedsters on the road (maybe even thousands?). Several companies were now building bodies, parts and kits for the growing market by 1915 (Ames and Paco come to mind). Dozens of companies followed in the next few years (racing over-head valves were being offered for Ford engines by 1917).
The peak years for model T era speedster building were likely during the early half of the 1920s. Dozens of companies built really nice bodies or full kits to build some really fine sports cars from Ford and other car chassis. From 1920 through '26, probably thousands of speedsters were being built each year. However, that seemed to decline before the roar of the '20s ended. The number of companies providing bodies and kits declined from dozens down to barely a handful. OHV heads were then being used on more TT trucks than speedsters.
The great crash of '29 pretty much killed the popularity of speedster building. Ford's new model A was barely two years old, not old enough to provide a base for most speedster builders that mostly began with a used chassis. The model T chassis had quickly become almost archaic. With a world-wide economic collapse, most people struggled just to survive (not much extra money to buy materials to build a car). But, many still sought entertainment. Racing was such an entertainment. Die-hards continued to put a lot of effort into building racing cars, and with the easy availability of speed components, the model T was still a solid contender. It was, in many ways, a new era, designs were more radical. New technology (down-draft carburetors) and newer size tires and wheels were common along with radical chassis modifications. There is usually little doubt if a speedster is pre or post crash. But they were still speedsters, and they were still model T based. And, they are still a real piece of the model T history and heritage.
By the end of the depression, and through the world war, model Ts were being resurrected, often in speedster form, as transportation. Good cars were not readily available to people coming of age. A model T may have been a relic by then, but a speedster still had some zing! (One of the things I miss about the earlier days in this hobby, is talking with the people that grew up with our antique cars. I personally talked with at least a dozen people that built a model T speedster during WWII.)
After WWII, the fun came back. And the model was there, and has been there ever since.
The model T is more than an icon of history. It is an icon of our existence.
Drive carefully, and enjoy! W2


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Roger Karlsson, southern Sweden on Thursday, October 20, 2016 - 06:00 pm:

I think speedster building was more of a small town and country hobby, not so much in big cities. And out on the country roads instant stopping wasn't so crucial most of the time.
Back in the early /mid 20's there were some accessory front wheel brake producers, but many folks were still unsure about the necessity of front wheel braking and considered it more important to make their speedsters fast and good looking..
Later on in the 30's kids cut down old T's they found in scrap heaps and got transportation almost for free - since they couldn't afford any more. Maybe they knew it would be better with front brakes, but first they needed tires and gas..

I'm driving (too) fast in rural modern traffic with only two wheel brakes and think they're fairly adequate, better than their reputation - as long as it doesn't rain - then the rear wheels locks up for any hard press on the brake pedal and the car slides... So I try to slow down in rain.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Rich Bingham on Thursday, October 20, 2016 - 10:37 pm:

We take a lot for granted regarding auto design and engineering.

The smooth, regular and reliable application of braking effort was a real engineering challenge during the first quarter-century of automotive development, and in that era, the huge consideration was how unsafe unequal brake application would be on the wheels you steer with ! Four-wheel brakes didn't appear on the marques at the forefront of automotive engineering until the mid-1920s.

Henry Ford looked askance at putting four-wheel brakes on the Model A, a feature he opposed.

It's still something to consider when "improving" a Model T.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Ed Archer Hayward, CA. on Monday, October 24, 2016 - 08:17 pm:

Thanks Wayne you pretty much nailed it. I know that I take things way to seriously so I probably shouldn't even comment here. I'll try to keep it short. The Model T era ended in 1927 with the last Model T off the assembly line, so if you're building a speedster or race car based on a Model T chassis (or if you were around building one during the era, our era, the era of this club), you would be building it from parts that were available at that time. To use later model components, then your car represents another era, the era of the later model parts your using. just a touch of history here. Even as early as 1927 the speedster craze as we know it had died off and hot rods were beginning to be built using "chopped up" stock bodies, Model T based chassis, modified with down draft carburation, 4 wheel brakes, smaller wider tires etc.etc. any or all of those, plus. Different ball game. By the late twenties, the 2 passenger Stutz Bearcat or later Paco/Mercury style bodies were considered pass'e, not cool, out of style.

Ed aka #4


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Jim Eviston on Monday, October 24, 2016 - 08:48 pm:

If mentioned above, I missed it. Model T Ford in Speed and Sport and The Fast Ford Handbook give a good rundown of this era. My Dykes Automobile Encyclopedias also have sections on speedsters and racing.
Ford dealers were among the early speed people. My partner in a F-L-M store had a great uncle that was also a Ford Dealer.Murray Fahnestock featured their car in an article that is in one of the first two books mentioned above. Augsperger Ford of Woodburn, Indiana.Maybe somebody could post that article. Quite interesting.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Wayne Sheldon, Grass Valley, CA on Tuesday, October 25, 2016 - 03:12 am:

Thank you Ed, I know you take some of these details seriously, as do I. And I always enjoy reading your comments and opinions. Of course, I would even prefer to be following you and any of your cars down the road on a tour, or otherwise. Among my fondest memories are you and #4 passing me on the Endurance Run, a few times. The sound of it, running off into the distance is incredible!
I often use the term "era correct". And truly, the "model T era" ended when the last of the model Ts left the factories in 1927. Coincidentally, several common changes came around very soon after. Smaller diameter wheels, wider tires, downdraft carburetors, and the modern air-stream design tails came about quickly in the very late '20s. Those tail styles were different in aerodynamics and design than the earlier bullet or boat tail designs were. That was essentially a new era of model T racing cars. Model T Ford based racing cars were built actively for racing (both amateur and semi-professional) up until WWII, and even some later. These cars are also a real part of model T history, yet are from a different era. In the 1950s, antique automobile hobbyists began resurrecting and recreating model T speedsters and racing cars. Some of these seriously tried to follow the original era designs and styles. Some incorporated newer influences. These then became another, even newer model T era, which in a real sense, continues to this day.
When a person decides to buy, or build, a model T speedster, he should first decide which of those eras he wants to have or work with. He should try to be true to whichever era he wants. For me? I prefer to keep as closely as I reasonably can to the original era. Beyond keeping it "pre '27", for me, that also means that my 1919 boat-tail has few things that appear to be much later than about '23. It means my "mostly '13 speedster" is mostly 1913 (at least in appearance if not totally in fact).
I could argue against it, but will instead defend the right for anyone to choose whichever era they want. If they want a '30s style race car? They should go for it. They are a part of history, and any car properly restored or recreated in that style could be an excellent car to own, drive, and show. If one wants to paint flames on the car, place "Moon-Equipt" decals on the sides, and paint it some metallic shade? That should be their right also. However, everyone needs to understand, that not all styles are acceptable in all shows, tours, or clubs. That is a reality of life. The Porsche club is not likely to want your Ford F100 parked in their special area. Some lines must be drawn, even if drawing them is very difficult, or not always popular.
Any way it is looked at, model T speedster history is long and full of details and stories worthy of being told. They were ahead of their time in 1908, and still one of the most fun cars to "do your own thing" with more than a hundred years later.
Whatever era you chose to champion? From the early brass, to the modern fads. Model T Fords are one of the most fun cars ever built!
Do drive carefully, and enjoy, W2


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Don Azevedo on Tuesday, October 25, 2016 - 10:07 am:

The original post asked when the building of T speedsters actually "peaked" and most of us are not old enough to really know. I offer to have us look at the the VW bug. After the bug was discontinued, we still played with that car. People have an affliction with that pancake 4 engine. Personally, I wasn't infected, but had close friend that were. I have movies of dirt-track races after the war with V-8s and Chevys and a Model T all racing together, the T hugging the corners and the faster cars drifting. The war, economy, availability, scrap drives all contributed to the popularity or concentration of the Model T speedster, but understand since 1908, the speedster arrived and will never disappear. Just my $.02 worth.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Bill on Friday, December 16, 2016 - 11:42 pm:

Ames Book

Demand for the Ames accessory bodies was highest starting in the early 1920s till 1925. These bodies could be purchased from an Ames dealer mounted on a new chassis. With most of these the owners wanted the convenience of repairs and parts of a Model T but didn't want to be seen in a Model T.
One could also mail order a body to mount on a secondhand chassis. The majority of the Ames speedster (Model 814) and roadster (Model 826) bodies were purchased this way.
Amesbuilt was the biggest company that made aftermarket Model T bodies.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Burger in Spokane on Saturday, December 17, 2016 - 12:05 am:

My old man was a hotrod builder in the 40's. He went away to have
some fun in Korea and never got back into cars. His occasional
comments on the subject might be relevant to this post.

He seemed to hold a strong differentiation between the old and very
unacceptable "speedster" way of building hotrods and the newer "cool"
way to do it. And this line seemed to be drawn on a formal, "proper"
bodied car (old and unacceptable) vs. a junkyard built and patched
together mess that some kids built themselves (good). And this line
was once specifically spelled out to me when he said Model T's were
no good for building, because the frames were too light and flexible
and would not hold up to bigger engines and driveline systems they
were dragging out of junkyards.

I liked the older looking (black era) T's and pressed him on this. All
his cars were Model A's and later Fords. Cheap, plentiful, but stout
enough to set a big engine in and not break it. He disliked the speedster
look/concept so much that at one point he came to own a 1931 Auburn
speedster ... and TRADED IT away for a Model A coupe !!!

His good sense and taste in cars never improved. At one point he traded
Mom's 66 Mustang for a 71 Pinto wagon ! (insert puking icon here)


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Dave Barker - Dayton, OH on Saturday, December 17, 2016 - 03:38 am:

Sometimes I wish I had words to respond. Not tonight. Too many beers.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By David Sullivan on Saturday, December 17, 2016 - 03:50 pm:

The Northwest Vintage Speedster club seems to consider 1934 a special date. I have one project, hopefully era correct, later, about70% and one earlier, about 10%. Dave in Bellingham,A


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By George John Drobnock on Saturday, December 17, 2016 - 07:48 pm:

In 1917 there was the Fischer Model A speedster. Also constructed was the Touring model with one-man top. Or a Stutz HCS 108 inch wheel base four-cylinder speedster. Or earlier the 1911 American which included the speedster. Maybe an answer can be found in the Ford Owner for 1915 with a discussion of a Ford Speedster. Or maybe 1913, Auto Parts Company, Chicago was working to meet the demands of Ford Owners to produce speedsters by supplying speedster bodies.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By David Dewey, N. California on Sunday, December 18, 2016 - 01:56 am:

From a "hunch" perspective:
Many early cars were not much more than speedsters. The typical car body was an open body until the late teens. By the mid-twenties, closed cars with creature comforts were becoming the norm. By 1930 the Automobile had come of age, and since then the changes have been in technological sophistication and styling. Yes, WWII put a bit of an interruption, as did the great depression slow down developments.
Thinking about this then, speedsters were well-accepted from the 1900s to around 1918 or so, and were often even factory models. From that point until the late 1920s the speedster was both a creation of experimenters and racing enthusiasts as the speedster morphed into a streamlined semi-enclosed body with one or two seats only. By the late 20s and into the 30s speedsters were mostly racing and college kid toys.During the depression some came back as almost basic transportation--but by that time there were enough old wrecked closed car bodies that impoverished folks could salvage them for basic transportation that would have room for the family.
Granted, all of the above is just from the seat of my pants and proves nothing, but makes for good questions!


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By George John Drobnock on Sunday, December 18, 2016 - 08:44 am:

The Stutz HCS (baby) speedster, not a Bearcat, introduced in 1914 at 108 inches. It bears a close resemblance to a Model T Speedster. Sort of which came first question. Priced at $1475. Two Fords?


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