My 1923 Model T Ford Restoration Project

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Copyright 2007,
Stanly E. Ward - All rights reserved
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The history of my runabout is .. fragmented, to say the least.  I purchased it from Ray Gaertner, a long time T and early Chevy collector & restorer, then of Augusta, MO.  He actually assembled the car from odd parts.  The chassis had been converted to a farm wagon, and '27 Chevy wire wheels were welded to the Model T hubs when the wooden spokes rotted out.  When Ray got the chassis, it had been rescued from a ditch at the back of a farm.

The engine, radiator, and hood were found at a farm auction, still in use, where they were mounted on a cut off T frame and used to power a sawmill.  Fenders, running boards, etc. were picked up at swap meets, and Ray built the box bed and seat over the gas tank.  He drove the car in parades & such for fun, decorated with lots of 'Okie' accessories (note the suitcase on the running board!)  It looked like the Beverly Hillbillies' truck, (which was actually a cut-down 1921 Oldsmobile touring car found pretty much as you saw it on the show!)

I have since acquired a complete runabout body, windshield, proper wooden wheels, better fenders, and another complete engine.  That one was pulled from a scrap dealer that cleared out an old machine shop.  The block and head were both cracked (probably frozen), but it had a Sure-Mike racing crankshaft in it.  Yes, people used to race Ts quite a bit, and the Sure-Mike was made in '28 and '29 as a hot-rod accessory.  It's claim to fame?  Counterweights!  A stock T crankshaft is unbalanced, giving it a peculiar shaky sound at low idle that is easily distinguished from any other vehicle.

I also found a good block, which now has two cylinder sleeves, all cylinders bored .030 over, two valve seats, and new Babbitt bearings to go around that crank.  With the milled head and aluminum pistons (original cast iron ones weren't available at .030 oversize) this baby ought to scream - who knows, I might make 50mph!

The car (then an express wagon) was purchased from Ray in April, 1980,  and was driven quite a few miles around the neighborhood (sans license, title, registration, insurance, etc.)  The first work began in mid-1982, when I pulled the rear end out for rebuild.  The contents?  Mud.  Hardly any grease, but lots of mud.

Shortly thereafter, I moved, and it was easier to finish disassembling the car than it was to get it back in one piece.  It was to remain in pieces for the next 25 years.  I moved that car, in pieces, eight times.  Some minor work  was done (wooden wheels were acquired and restored, and I found a runabout body) but basically it remained a pile of rusty parts.

Spurred by the upcoming celebrations of the 100th Anniversary of the first Model T only 50 miles from my home, and with a brand new 3 1/2 bay garage to break in, I started in earnest July 14th, 2007.

Summer, 1981

July, 2007

Metal Prep

Sealing with KBS RustSeal

Front Axle

Rear Axle (2nd rebuild!)


Chassis complete, October 2007

Dropping engine back in

When complete, the car should be a reasonably correct late '23 (sometimes called a 'High hood' '23) two-seat Runabout, with optional electric starter and demountable 'clincher' rims.

The reason for the 2nd rebuild of the rear axle?  I drug it around for 20 years after the first rebuild, and while in storage the last year, somehow water got in to the diff housing.  Fortunately, the damage was minor.   I cleaned it out, polished up a few parts, re-greased and reassembled it.

The plan from here out is to drop in the original sawmill engine, with the short block untouched.  It was running well enough when pulled.  Besides, it's loose enough that I can still crank it by hand.:-)  All the external parts will be rebuilt (carburetor, starter, generator, coils, etc.) and new gaskets installed all the way around. With the addition of a simple temporary wooden seat over the gas tank (design copied from photographs of chassis being driven around the Ford plant), I'll have a 'running chassis' of the sort that was sold to custom truck body builders.

Phase 2? Learn body work.  Here's what I have to start with.  Fortunately, much of the wood has been replaced already.

Eventually, I'll complete the rebuild of the 2nd engine, and swap them around.  But first, I'm eager to get something that will move under it's own power again.  I'm tired of carrying it!

10/19/07:  She ain't so loose no more.  Time has not been good to that engine, and it's now frozen up.  I had kept a layer of oil on the cylinder and valve surfaces, but apparently not enough.  No obvious sign of rust, but the crankcase needs to be opened up after all.  I suppose that was predictable, but I had hopes...

11/10/07:  I pulled the engine out of it's crankcase, and it's a good thing.  A mouse had crawled through the starter hole and built a nest in the empty oil pan out of building insulation - and then died.  No sign of water or rust, but two of the four pistons are stuck.  Valves were free and should be okay with a grind.  I can't remove the transmission because the crank won't turn to get at the bolts - since it's the number 3 and 4 pistons that are stuck, the rods are on opposite sites of the crank.  Applied WD-40 and firm taps with a hammer and block of wood, but the pistons still won't move.

12/29/07:  Now that the WD-40 has had plenty of time to work, a hammer and brass rod against the underside of the stuck pistons was sufficient to free them.  There is some minor surface rust in patches on both cylinders, but new rings and cylinder honing should suffice.  The crankshaft and camshaft rotate smoothly, and all rod and camshaft bearings look okay at a glance.  All that remains is to remove the transmission from the crank and pull the crankshaft.  Then, grind valves, hone cylinders, and get the whole pile of parts cleaned for reassembly..

2/12/08:  OK, not much has happened lately, but it's COLD out there.  I have located a machine shop that can clean and degrease the entire engine with a non-caustic cleaner (acid baths destroy Babbitt bearings).  An order goes out tonight for a set of rings, valve springs, and all engine gaskets.  Still under consideration - to paint or not to paint?  Most model T engines were not painted at the factory (except for the crankcase), so the bare iron quickly rusted.  A few are believed to have been painted black or dark green.  I'm leaning toward painting the block, head, pan and transmission cover black, so that all my work stays pretty.

April & May 2008:   Finished disassembly, took the whole pile to Dayton Crankshaft who has a cleaning booth both big enough and non-caustic to Babbitt.  Most of it looks pretty good.  Honed the cylinders, no rust damage left.  Valve seats needed to be cut down due to pitting.  Stems rusty, switched to new stainless steel valves and lapped them in.  Tried one of those fancy valve measuring tools that measures piston height; it seemed to work well, which is good, because I stuck with the original manual lifters.

Engine assembly

Added transmission

Short block complete

Rod and main bearing Babbitt all looks good, between .002 and .003" according to the Plastigage (that's neat stuff, BTW).  However, I kept stripping out rod cap bolts  Finally went down to 25 ft/lbs and the rest were okay.  Included oil dippers on each rod.  The front main got a neoprene seal that is hidden behind half a standard felt seal.

Spent a bunch of time puzzling the direction of the wrist pin bolt on the rod - toward or away from the camshaft?  Went toward, later, the consensus on the forum agreed, but it's not clear to me what difference it makes.

The transmission was a bit trickier.  Disassembly wasn't too bad after the acquisition of a new gear puller.  The wear on the main drive gear caused a burr that had to be filed down in order to separate the reverse and low speed drum.  Then the stack went down to Automotive Machine Shop & Parts on Dayton-Xenia road to pop and press all the bushings (except the drive plate; it was good, fortunately, because Mac's and Lang's were both backordered on replacements for it).

Transmission at start

Repairing clutch lugs

Grinding clutch disks for more and even clearance

Had to file some more on the drive gear to avoid tearing up the new bushings on reassembly.  Then had to punch all the rivets on the reverse and low speed drum because they were loose.  Noticed that the Ford Service Manual said to replace the drums in that case, but it was easy enough to hit each one with a punch a time or two.

Now the hard part.  The clutch ears inside the brake drum were badly chewed.  The wider 26 & 27 brake drum had replaceable lugs.  At the recommendation of Frank Goepferich, I tediously ground the old ones down so that the 26/27 inserts would fit over them, and set them with Threadlocker Red (High Temperature), which is supposed to be good for 450 degrees.  The problem (besides about 12 hours of tedious filing & fitting) is in keeping the lugs square and spaced wide enough that the clutch discs would still fit.  After many failed fitting attempts, the clutch disks got ground down when I figured out that they were all different sizes.  Now they all fit and move well, with enough play that there should be room for some heat expansion. 

The flywheel was not disassembled, but ran through the cleaning booth, magnets and all, and right back in to the engine as is.  I forgot about the wear on the starter ring gear; fortunately, it doesn't look badly worn.

Re-installing engine

Installing bands - note new band retaining tool now available from Ty-Rap

Head on, manifolds in

Reassembly was completed with lots of Permatex #2 and without major incident.

June 2008:  Now it's time for all the dressing - carb, starter, generator, coils, wiring, etc.

Rebuilt NH carb

Coil box (sort of a rush job)

Wiring harness mostly complete

June 22, 2008:  It's ALIVE!  Okay, lots of other little things happened, but the current situation is that I started my 23 T engine last night for the first time in 27 years. It was amazing how easy it started with the crank (starter doesn't work yet). After slow cranking to test the coils and carb, three pulls is all it took. And I could tell it was running, because it was leaking gas, oil, water and exhaust :-)

I haven't given up on bringing it to the Centennial Celebration as a running chassis.  It's already registered.  All I need is a driveshaft.

7/18/08:  Model T's don't leak, they mark their territory...

The oil leaks when running are substantial.  I tried John Regan's Shop Vac trick with great success.  By sticking the hose in the oil filler hole while blowing, soapy water would reveal all the leak points.  Switching from blow to suck, a spray can of brake cleaner was used to clean up oil at the leak, and Permatex RTV Black applied.  The vacuum pulled the RTV in under the gasket.  I fixed three leaks this way, but still ended up pulling the hogshead back off because it leaked so bad.  Now it's really tight, and the only leak is a minor one around the pedal shafts.

7/19/08:  It moves!

I drove the chassis around the block just before dark this evening for the first time, and made a second trip with my wife on board (who pointed out that there was nothing to hang on to except the steering wheel, and she wasn't driving).

I started July 14th of last year, and my goal was to get it running for the Centennial. And in normal fashion, I succeeded at the last possible moment. Still running a little rough, but it can make it onto the trailer at least. Next stop, Richmond!

The once and future Ford:

Start - 1981

Current - July 26, 2008

The goal


Check out my new Model T Oddities page, something to do when it's too cold to work.  I've started collecting unusual things that people did with the T, from snowmobiles to farm tractors to WWI tanks to sawmills.  If you've encountered a picture of a Model T that's been 'reconfigured' in an interesting way, please drop me a note.