Human nature and human ingenuity didn’t take long to turn the Model T ford’s basic transportation into something a lot more exciting, though. So if you were around in 1920 and you wanted to make the Tin Lizzie hotter and wilder, just what could you do?
“Dyke’s Automobile and Gasoline Engine Encyclopedia” tells you exactly how to build a Model T speedster.
The best thing to do to the body was to just replace it with a raceabout type. You could build your own or you could buy “a complete outfit of radiator, hood, floorboards, rear gasoline tank, and body” for around $100.
The new body wasn’t just for looks; it made the Model T go faster by making it lighter, cutting down the frontal area, and streamlining it. Bodies could be just a cover over the engine with bucket seats out in the open and the fuel tank and spare tires behind like the Mercer and Stutz, or they could be streamlined from front to back, with a nicely tapered tail.
Just changing the body could add 10 to 15 miles an hour to the top speed.
Sometimes it was necessary to remove a leaf from each spring because of the lighter body, and you had to lower the steering column because the new sporty body sat lower.
If the hot-rodded Ford Model T speedster was to be used for race-track work only, the suspension could be lowered, and there were several ways of doing that. The best way was to have a new front axle made which effectively raised the axle spindles and lowered the front end. A cheaper method was riveting pieces of channel iron on the front of the frame, letting them stick out in front about 5 inches.
The back could be lowered by cutting off the side members in front of the rear axle and installing modified steel forgings.
Hotting up the engine was just as important as changing the body, and there was a lot you could do Ford’s early four-banger.
Heavy cast-iron pistons didn’t like to rev too high, so aluminum ones could be used. If you were financially challenged and brave as well, you could lighten the cast iron pistons by drilling holes in them! You could do the same to the con-rod, drilling holes in it and carefully dressing it with a file. (Don’t try this on your car!)
Raising the compression wasn’t hard. You could use an earlier cylinder head with shallower combustion chambers, or you could plane 1/8 inch of the existing cylinder head. You could even buy an after-market sixteen-valve high-compression head for the Ford Model T.
The breathing could be improved by using larger valves, and there were several types of high-speed cams available. For racing, stronger valve springs were recommended but they were noisier and likely to break valves, though you could buy tungsten steel valves as well.
A larger carburetor “say of the 1 ¼ inch size” and a larger intake manifold were both par for the course to get more power.
For a free flow exhaust the muffler could be removed for racing, and for road use you could remove the baffles or drill extra holes in them. To get that racing car rumble from the four-cylinder Model T engine, you could run the exhaust pipe into a larger cylindrical amplifying chamber, with a metal cap in the end with several holes drilled in it.
It was good practice to add an auxiliary oiling system and better cooling because of the extra power and higher revs. Better brakes were a must as well. The rear brakes of the Model T weren’t that good, so you were looking at around $16 a set for the best aftermarket brakes.
For a moderate price your Ford Model T Speedster could most likely hit 70 mile per hour, and if you wanted to spend more money, you could pick up a few more mph.
So it seems our grandfathers and great-grandfathers weren’t all that different to us when they were young. Nowadays young guys hot up engines, upgrade the running gear and change the bodies. Almost years ago, when my granddad had returned from the war to end all wars, young guys were hotting up engines, upgrading running gear, and changing bodies. The Ford Model T and the new after-market industry gave them the chance.