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Old-time ‘T’ just Nick’s Cuppa

29.6.06. We love the latest Volkswagen ads on TV.  They show a couple walking into their local dealership, where a coy sales rep builds up the suspense before revealing the price of a new car.  The couple look astonished, presumably because they can’t believe the cost of the latest model rather than how inexpensive it is.  That’s a lot of money for a run-around.  Consider an alternative run-around – the Model T of Nick Williams, which he purchased for less than the VW, but which will still be worth at least the same amount (if not more) five years from now.  This compares with the relative pittance a dealer is likely to offer when it comes time to trade in a piece of modern, second-hand blandness.

Nick’s been into rodding for as long as he can remember.  He bought and read the mags, and he’s got the T-shirt.  In fact, he purchased his first hot rod fodder – a Ford Popular – long before he could drive.  As often happens, though, next came marriage and children, but in Nick’s case, they were joined by an additional family member – a  ‘27 Model T.  The ‘T’ was followed by a lovely black Model B, which Nick sold recently to finance his latest ride.

"I have always liked fenderless roadsters and have a great fondness for Model Ts,” he explains.  “My previous two rods were fibreglass-bodied, but I’d always had a hankering for a steel car, even though they’re getting harder to find.  To cut a long story short, I saw this steel-bodied ‘T’ on e-bay some months ago in the US, but was not in a position to buy it.  It also appeared in a feature in Rod and Custom magazine.  A little later, when I was in a position to buy, I saw it re-advertised on e-bay.”

Nick’s dream had always been to buy a car from the US, bring it to the UK and freshen it up to his personal taste.  By the time the on-line auction had closed, it was no longer a dream.  The car was his – in fact, he was the only bidder.  “The money was right, the car looked good, I liked the colour, it sat right, and it was another open, fenderless rod,” recalls Nick.  All he needed now was a shipping company to help him realise his dream and transport it from Lafayette, Georgia, to his home town of Stevenage, Herts.  This is where Kingstown Shipping of Hull came into the equation.  “I had never used a shipping company before,” says Nick, “so it was new to me, but I have to say that Kingstown took all of the hassle out of importation and gave me great service.  They were also the cheapest.”  

Nick purchased the Model T “blind”, relying on the resolution of his computer screen to view the car rather than flying out to see it in person.  This meant Nick could never be quite sure what would be “in the box” on its arrival in the UK.  In truth, he was left feeling a little downhearted after the container had been opened to reveal its contents.  

“All my cars have been clean and well detailed, and were a joy to look at, but this one wasn’t,” he says.  “It was obvious the ‘T’ had been driven quite a lot, as the steering and other joints were worn, the wishbones were shot, the interior was a mess – and it wouldn’t start.  It was also devoid of essential items to make it roadworthy in the UK.  In short, it fell way short of expectations.”

vivid colour combination works a treat and those chrome wheel trims look so good 

Fortunately, Nick had a clear vision of how he wanted the ‘T’ to look, and could see right through the tat.  But what exactly had he purchased?  The rod can be best described as a highly modified, 1923 Model T done “old style”.  At some stage in its life, the body had been cut and the centre section of a Phantom ‘T’ grafted in to create that distinctive, if compact body shape.   According to Nick, the car was originally built by a 60-year-old rodder in 2002.  The front end consists of a dropped SuperBell I-beam axle, ’33 Ford steering box, early Ford wishbones and ’39 Ford drum brakes, plus rare Delco Lovejoy shock absorbers from a ’33 Chevy truck.  The motor is a rebuilt Mercury flathead mated to a three-speed manual transmission from a ’46 Ford truck.  At the rear, the ’35 Ford rear axle and ’38 Ford drums are suspended from a Model A leaf spring.

flathead was rebuilt before car arrived in the UK and has nostalgic heads and induction system

choice amount of chrome enhances the overall effect

rare and unusual lever-arm Delco shocks are used up front

an early Ford steering box is utilised

One of the first jobs once the ‘T’ was in the UK was to get it back into shape mechanically, and here fellow hot rodder and car builder, Adrian Smith (07768 058060), was entrusted with the task.  “Adrian went right through the car,” explains Nick.  “He got the motor running, had the intake manifold blasted to freshen it up, rewired everything, sorted out the speedometer, oil temperature gauge, handbrake, horn, engine fan and indicators, plus checked over the braking system.  When I got it back, it was a totally different car.  It drove, it steered, it stopped – in fact, the brakes are fantastic considering they’re drums all round.”  Nick then set about freshening up the chassis and brakes, which were repainted in Harley Davidson orange, and fitted various chrome dress-up items. As for the bright Lemon coloured paintwork adorning the radically reworked body, this was still in great condition and required nothing more than a polish.  Some lovely pinstripe detailing had been applied to the body and dashboard in the US and it was all intact.

Nick's brother Kev did a great job on the interior

Nick then turned his attention to the lacklustre interior.  Having a brother who is an interior trimmer by trade (Kev Smith, who owns a beautiful, fenderless ’32 Ford) has its advantages, and naturally enough, he was called in to sort out the retrim.  White was Nick’s colour of choice for the upholstery, with marine vinyl being stitched in a classic tuck-and-roll style.  A white-rimmed Moon steering wheel continues the theme, while contrasting black Wilton carpet adds a touch of practicality.

Model A rear spring keeps Nick off the deck

Nick purchased the car with a clear title and a VIN document, which stated it was a 1923 Model T, but registering the car in the UK proved to be something of a nightmare.  “The vehicle inspectorate sent someone along to see the car,” says Nick.  “When I opened up the garage, her jaw almost dropped on the floor.  I don’t think it’s quite what she thought it was going to be.  I had to have the car inspected, and then provide authenticating letters from various Ford owners’ clubs.  Three of these were required, which seemed to take forever, followed by a further letter confirming the make and age of the steering box – it was that technical.  Finally, they issued me with a new VIN, and that was it.  The car didn’t need to be SVA tested, which was a great result.

 “The first time I sat in the ‘T’, I felt really exposed and I did think to myself, ‘Am I going to drive this car and enjoy it?’.  On the drive up to Billing for the ‘Fun Run’, though, it felt just right, and I was oblivious to everything else.  It drives great and has just enough pull from the Flathead Mercury motor.  It also sounds great, and has a tendency to bang and pop on the overrun through the baffles in the headers.” 

simple execution and attention to detail  really make this 'T' stand out

And what about the ever-present concern of driving a fenderless car in the UK?  “I haven’t had any problems and I’ve been driving fenderless cars for five years,” replies Nick.  “I’ve never been stopped, but it does worry me.  I know of one rodder who was stopped by the police, told to put his car on a trailer and take it home – he got a fine, too.  It seems to depend on how sympathetic the police want to be and which county you are in.

“That aside, I’ve really enjoyed putting this car together.  I like something different, and the ‘T’ is certainly that – plus it’s all steel.  I’ve been involved with hot rods for a number of years now, and the more people you know, the easier it gets, plus it doesn’t have to be that expensive, if you know what you are doing.  I’m really looking forward to taking the car to the Hot Rod Supernationals next month, where the ‘godfather’ of Model Ts, Norm Grabowski, will be a special guest.  I can’t wait to show him the car.”  

Story & Photos: Andy Kirk

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