FORD MODEL T RACERS AT GOODWOOD MOTOR CIRCUIT REVIVAL
GOODWOOD, 15-17 September, 2000 --There cannot be any doubt about it now: the immortal Ford Model T is now officially recognised as Car of the Century. In December 1999, the Model T received the award from Car of the Century International following a worldwide, internet-based poll.
Initially placed in the top five of 100 vehicles nominated by automotive journalists from 32 countries, the Model T has been voted into the number one spot by enthusiasts and car lovers from around the globe. Launched in 1909, the Model T was produced for 18 years and it really did put the world on automotive wheels.
It was also the Model T that put thousands of young Americans into motor racing, mainly on half-mile ovals all over the States. Ford has located two Model T Racers modified for racing, and they can be seen on display at the Ford exhibition stand at the 2000 Goodwood Circuit Revival.
The outstanding Model T tuning experts in the 1920s were the Chevrolet brothers: having sold their name and original company to General Motors in 1917 they were struggling financially with their Frontenac Motor Corp at Indianapolis. They had made some successful Frontenac racing cars and, in 1922 they intended to launch a new road car.
To finance their operations they offered competition equipment for Model Ts, notably the famous Frontenac cylinder head conversions: although the Frontenac road car project never got out of the workshop, the Model T parts business was a sensational success and they sold over 10,000 Model T high performance cylinder heads. At the height of their success, 60 cylinder head kits a day were leaving their works. Soon the Frontenac-Ford was shortened to Fronty-Ford, a name that became the byword in US auto racing for any stripped down Model T racer. These cars remained successful racers right through into the early 1940s.
Arthur Chevrolet published precise details of how to build a Fronty-Ford race car. Chassis were shortened and strengthened, wheeltrack and suspension were offset to give the best cornering in the lefthand bends of the oval tracks found all over the USA, some banked, some level, some dirt and some made of boards or other surfaces. A few brave racers ran without bodywork despite Arthur's disapproval of this "very dangerous" practice. Many bodies were used, the ultimate being a Morton & Brett single-seater which cost $150.
A complete Fronty-Ford racer could be acquired in the mid-1920s for $2,700. Whereas a normal Model T engine would operate at 1,800-2,000rpm, tuning parts enabled higher revs, about 3,800rpm in the early days, later perhaps 5,000rpm. Geared down to a maximum speed of 70mph, the ideal for short ovals, the Fronty-Fords were almost unbeatable even in the face of much more expensive opposition. When straight line speed was needed, they could be geared up to achieve 100mph or more.
Of the two Model T racers displayed at Goodwood, one is based on a 1918 Model T roadster that was first converted to racing specification in 1921. It was built around a Frontenac OHV 8-valve head conversion and through its racing life it received the full Fronty-Ford treatment.
Owner Neil Tuckett knows little more than that about its early history for no records of this somewhat wild 'backyard' racing were kept by anybody then. Neil, an agricultural engineer by trade, bought it from an elderly, retired racer in Missouri two years ago. It had been owned by him since 1952 and he raced it regularly until as late as 1987.
Neil is still looking for the pre-1952 history of his car, and hoping some enthusiast at Goodwood may be able to help him out. He has become somewhat carried away in his enthusiasm for Model Ts since he first became involved 15 years ago, rebuilding his great uncle's Model T engine: these days, he collects, restores and sells Model Ts, currently sending out about 50 cars a year.
Neil's dirt-track racer has got the right bits on it, including the desirable, slim Frontenac radiator, the geared-down transmission with twin-speed Ruxtell final drive, Dayton race wheels and a fully modified dirt-track chassis. The dual braking system on these cars, note, is on the back wheels only, by transmission clamp and rear wheel brakes.
The second Model T racer shown belongs to Peter Stevens, the famous car designer and course tutor at the Royal College of Art's Vehicle Design Course. His car dates from 1915 but it was not converted for dirt-track racing until the late 1930s. The work was carried out by a well-known expert in the USA, Joe Gemsa. It has the geared-down twin-speed rear axle, a full-race engine conversion and the appropriate chassis tweaks known to the racing community in those days.
Despite the lack of an enclosed body (there's nothing more than a bonnet, two bucket seats and a rear-mounted fuel tank), it was apparently raced successfully by one Ben Serar.
Peter has owned this remarkable piece of motor racing history for three years. Its appeal to him lies in a love of the earthy simplicity of that era of US motor racing. He uses it for driving around his local roads, going shopping and for trips to the beach. Peter aims to take part in demonstration races with other historic dirt track cars given that short oval events are growing in popularity in the UK A good Ford Model T racer is currently worth £10,000-£20,000.