Test driving a Model T in 2016 requires a lesson

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That one’s a beauty. Gah. Now I want one.


If you enjoyed this video, you will probably appreciate this one. It shows the steps required to start a model T from zero.


The electric starter was introduced to the Model T in 1919. The head of Cadillac, Charles Kettering, pioneered the electric starter after a friend was killed in 1908 while hand cranking a Cadillac.

I started my father’s Model T when I was a teenager, and even drove it around the block a few times. I wonder how many people < 50 can say that anymore.


When hand cranking, make sure the spark is all the way retarded (left lever all the way up). If it is advanced, you are more likely to have the crank kick back. I’m surprised he did not mention this.


Needs more Flubber!


I like that you can get into it to fix it. That’s hard to do now, even for the non-computerized parts. I wonder which are out of patent. If @doctorow or @frauenfelder found a good open sourced, crowdfunded (electric?) kit, I’d want to try anf build one now.

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I had a 4 stroke single cylinder Honda XR650 motorcycle in the 90s that had no electric start. You had to use the compression release lever and kick arm to get halfway through a compression stroke, then commit to a full-body kick that would end in one of three ways.

  1. nothing (most likely)
  2. start
  3. cylinder fires before TDC and the crank spins the wong way,the kicker rebounds and you do a 650cc launch off the bike if you’re foolish enough to have locked your knee.

I can easily imagine being injured by a similar hand crank mechanism.

A buddy of mine inherited his grandfather’s Model T, and lovely as it is, I am not jealous. A Model A I’d love to have. That’s when Ford standardized the control layout that persists in nearly all cars to this day: accelerator pedal on the right, brake pedal in the center, clutch pedal on the left, gearshift by hand, and distributor timing handled more-or-less automatically. Essentially, if you can drive a stick-shift Mustang, you can drive a Model A.

But these two ladies are made of more intrepid stuff than I am. In the snow, no less! My hat’s off to 'em.


I used to know someone who had an old single cylinder 450cc Ducati. Kickstarter only, high comp piston (race tuned), no decompression lever.

It started just fine if you had the technique right (ease it over the compression stroke, then give it a good stomp), but if you did it wrong it would try to literally break your leg.

She had a standing offer going that anyone who could start the bike was allowed to take it for a ride.

Much hilarity ensued.


With a little luck, and if I get the garage done this year, I will likely have a BB-pickup before long. It’s nearly modern!

Those narrow little wheels on the A do a pretty good job in a lot of weather and road conditions. Speed and corners excepted.

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And now I’m jealous! Have fun with it!

That’s the part that stresses me out. I’m a San Diego boy, and I’ve driven in snow a few times, but I’ve never liked it. I went skiing in Big Bear this weekend, and the snow came down fairly hard on Sunday, and even with chains on in our RAV4, it was not a carefree, fun drive home. The thought of doing it in a century-old flivver makes my nads shrivel out of sight.


One of the nice things about antique vehicles is that they provide social licence to go as slow as you need to (within limits; stay off the sportsbike roads, please). There are very few roads that can’t be managed if you go at walking pace.

I once spent a week living in a cave, the approach to which involved 20km of good dirt road followed by 5km of dodgy steep fire trail. I was riding an old BMW R65; not designed as a dirt bike, but handles it well enough so long as you’re sensible. On the way in, the good dirt road was 80km/h, and while parts of the fire trail required some thought, it wasn’t too tricky.

However, it rained for most of the week I was in there, turning both roads into knee-deep mud. What had taken me an hour on the way in required eight hours to get back out again, and included half a dozen walking-pace “crashes” (i.e. I step off the bike as it topples sideways into the mud). I eventually spent much of it walking next to the bike with the throttle wide open and the rear wheel spinning as we slowly inched along.

Just as I made it back to the bitumen, I was passed by a convoy of army Land Rovers heading the other way. They were heading in there specifically because they thought it would be a good opportunity to practice their unbogging techniques…

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I live in New England, have many many storms under my belt, I am comfortable driving in a blizzard and have a 4WD jeep.

And I wouldn’t want to drive to big bear in the snow. Those roads freak me out in July.

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