Recently I gave a model T driving lesson to a friend. Now mind you I consider my steering system; pitman arm, tie rods, king pins and wheel bearings ... to be as tight and responsive as possible. Well, he got in the drivers seat and after getting it into gear he was absolutely terrified. He said “your car doesn’t steer at all !” He was completely freaked out with the large steering wheel, the feeling of the spring loaded ball joints and the slight flexibility of the steering column. it is a very different touch driving a T. :-)
Mine steers better than my 62 I-H pickup did !!
Not many people nowadays have driven a car without power steering, let alone a T...
Sorry 63 I-H...
Mark : I can understand his surprise if that was his first attempt in a T. As you know, I drive mine alot and usually between 40 and 45 MPH, and initially I was very concerned about ending up in the ditch with the original set-up (16" steering wheel, 4:1 gears and a standard pitman arm) that was for me way too direct. Over time I ended up with a 17" wheel, 5:1 gears and a short pitman arm, and almost 1/4" toe-in as well as lots of camber (7 deg.) to keep things going straight. My car now steer like a dream, and others that have driven it say it's the best steering model T they have ever driven. Not an expensive conversion but certainly worth the effort and peace of mind. I'm always looking for the short pitman arm to help others with their modifications. I still don't know when they were used, but think it was very early in production. With the short arm you have to be aware of a possible over-center situation. Cheers : Bruce
How much to you consider the 7 degrees of camber contributes to the good steering? I think most cars have about half this much even though the Ford instructions say to set it at 5 degrees. Ditto the 1/4 inch tow in.
Sorry Neil I meant "caster". With "go-kart" steering and large skinny wheels and tires anything that helps things to go in a straight line helps in my opinion. I once had the experience of test driving a T that had the front axle installed backwards and instantly discovered the importance of caster. The camber on my car is stock (5 deg.)Sorry again for the confusion. Cheers : Bruce
That’s interesting Bruce. Didn’t know about a shorter arm. I’m used to driving model Ts but a newbie is already unsettled with the three pedals and the column actuated throttle. The movement of the steering wheel was a little startling. I love driving my T and it steers nicely ....and easily. My wife is always amazed by the tight steering radius. Often comments that it’s like parking a Smart car.
Are you sure you both aren't talking caster ?
7 degrees camber is a lot...caster has more of a "centering" effect than camber also. 7 degrees caster, on a straight axle, is totally normal. Caster also doesn't contribute to tire wear. 7 degrees positive camber will eventually wear the outer edges off.
Never mind Bruce ...lol
It's not steering in a T. It's aiming.
We drove our ‘26 coupe a lot in all sorts of conditions. It drove remarkably well, and the column and steering wheel had kind of a rigid, “modern” feel since the wheel was composite and the column was mounted to the dashboard. I’m guessing the experience will be much different with our ‘16 runabout when we get it on the road - small diameter wooden steering wheel and no support past the firewall. I can’t wait!!! :-)
My T steers very well. It's nothing special, just old used parts... except for the bushings.
Don't know what your friend was talking about, everyone notices how powerful the steering in a T is when they drive or ride in one.
Yes, the steering is very positive and strong as long as the car is moving. I was always told to never turn the steering wheel on a parked T due to stress on the system.
Yes Tyler, the steering column on my ‘23 is not supported to the dash so there is always a little flexing ... and there is always a little dead motion which is something that people who have only ever driven a modern car aren’t used to.
In your experience, do you think that 7 degrees of caster is a lot better than say 3.5 degrees? I think I need to experiment with my steering geometry this winter. My car is 1915 and there is no play anywhere in the steering system. It steers OK, but it could be better.
For those newbes that are thinking about installing a shorter pitman arm, please make sure that the steering cannot go over center, which is very dangerous.
I have no steering problems with any of my T's, early or late, but I suspect that is because I rarely go over 30mph. I really believe that is the upper limit of what that steering set up was designed to handle on a regular basis with the possible exception of the later T's with wider tires and 5:1 gears. All my cars are set up to Ford recomended specs and handle well considering their age and available technology. You can take all the play out but you can't change the fact that the system itself has limitations. Same is true for brakes. The brakes and steering are fairly well matched until you start pushing things beyond what they were designed for.
Neil : I like the 7 deg caster although it may be pushing the envelope, it sure helps maintaining a straight line down the road. At best of times the Model T steering is too direct, especially at "highway" speeds (over 40 MPH). If you want to retain the correct steering wheel diameter on your '15 the best you can do is switch to the 5:1 gear set and hope to find a short pitman arm (beware of the over-centre possibility). A steering column brace may be a good option too as it stabilizes everything. Cheers : Bruce
My '27 was terrible. I have driven earlier Ts that steered way better then mine. Over time, I went through the entire steering system piece by piece, and replaced anything that was sloppy - including rebuilding the column, by combining two old bad ones and a few new parts. It is now the nicest steering Model T that I have driven, and it is now actually fun (as opposed to terrifying) to drive.
My 26 is in the garage right now for a front end rebuild. Everything is loose. I suspect the only thing that has kept me out of the ditch so far is the period steering stabilizer so it's time to take up that slack.
I took my little pickup out for a 2 mile cruise and my dad was picking up the trash along the roadside in front of our house as I went by him in the T at normal speed ,for me anyway.He told me, "I wanted to go for a ride in that thing but flimsy as it is and as fast as you went by me,HE)) no!" I told him it was only about 40 mph and he said I was full of boloney.
The only steering I've found scary in a Model T going forward was when it was loose. With slop removed I think it's fine, even 4:1. But if you're backing up you'd better go slow.
The three T's that I drive all steer nicely. I have two '13s, and one late '25 with 5-1 gears, and a 17" wheel. I assembled all of it from parts. It is a great steering, great driving car.
The '13s all steer nicely too. There is no problem with any Model T steering the way it left the factory. Closer attention needs to be made to the parts that make up the system, and to make sure all parts are functioning properly.
There are a few Brass-Era cars with lighter steering than a Model T Ford, but these generally have an under-seat one or two-cylinder engine, bicycle wheels and maybe a tiller instead of a steering wheel. -They can't really be described as "cars," but fall into the horseless-carriage category which could be pulled along by a big sled-dog.
Having said that...
The Ford Model T has the lightest steering of all the brass cars with liquid-cooled, four-cycle engines of at least four cylinders and a chassis big enough to accommodate a touring car body. -In other words, we're talking about the kind of vehicle that transitions between the pure horseless-carriage and what we call a car.
Within the constraints of that configuration, the Flivver's steering is the lightest of all because of the small amount of weight over the front axle—which is placed as far forward on the frame as possible, with the engine aft of that position, which in turn causes the rear wheels to support at least a small portion of the engine's weight. -For the majority of Tin Lizzies, even the front tires themselves were a little smaller and lighter than the rear wheels. -Then, of course, Henry was obsessed with weight control and the whole car was no heavier than absolutely necessary.
With its 1:1 steering, no motor vehicle steers as quickly as a motorcycle, yet a fully decked-out Harley, which is thought of as solid and stable at serious highway speeds, weighs only two-hundred (or so) pounds more than a basic Model T roadster. -That makes me wonder why the Flivver's 4:1 steering ratio could be a problem. -Now, I've driven a number of Tin Lizzies and when adjusted correctly, they're a pleasure to drive, regardless of whether they're set up with the early 4:1 or later 5:1 steering ratio. -Matter of fact, because I believed exaggerated horror stories of how difficult it is to control these cars at speeds around 35-40 mph, when I bought my '15 Touring, I immediately had the steering ratio switched over to the supposedly easier-to-handle 5:1. -Don't do that. -The difference in road feel is barely perceptible.
Of course, a Model T is never going to drive like a Crown Victoria and anyone who approaches a Brass-Era design with the expectation that it'll handle anything like a modern car is going to be a little taken aback, but with just a little practice, the steering part of the Tin Lizzie learning curve is a sweet piece of cake.
On the other hand—and I think the following is most likely to be where lies your problem—of the several Flivvers I've had the privilege of driving, a couple were in serious need of front-end repairs, and were barely controllable (oh, and by the way, the aftermarket "steering-stabilizer" available in the parts catalogs only puts a band-aid on such problems. -If the front-end needs fixing, see that it gets fixed the right way). -The simplest way of diagnosing your problem is to ask an experienced Model T owner drive your car and give you his impression. -Then—if he'll let you—drive his. -The problem will reveal itself.
I approached the Model T hobby with the impression that these cars could operate on the highway. -Oh, boy; was I ever wrong! -(happens a lot—just ask my wife) -Even if our powerplants were capable of such performance, our tires, which have the same footprint as a shot-glass, absolutely are not. -The car is acceptably controllable up to about 35 mph, but not so above 40, which is in the neighborhood of its designed-in top speed—and no ordinary passenger car was ever designed to be acceptably controllable at or near its top speed. -In a Model T, your speedometer isn't there to tell you how fast you're going, but how slow.
It helps to have a straight frame and snug parts in the front axle and tie rods and drag link. snug spring shackles also help. Also the gears and bushing in the column should be in good condition. With all these in good condition, the car should run straight and turn smoothly.
Too much play and a mis-alignment cause the car to pull to one side and you will always be tugging the wheel to keep the car going straight, then if the road leans a bit the other direction you will need to pull the wheel the other way to keep it straight. So constantly moving the steering wheel from side to side and the car tending to wander along the road.
Rebuild and align things and the car will run just as if it has power steering.
Another thing which might be difficult to adjust to is going from front wheel drive to rear wheel drive. There is definately a different feeling.