Model T and the growth of the aftermarket100th Anniversary of Ford Racing
People think of Ford as being "out" of racing after 1913. In fact, Ford became the backbone — the grassroots — of American racing during this time.
In 1908, Henry Ford achieved his longtime quest to build a dependable, lightweight, inexpensive car for the masses. The Model T turned Ford Motor Company into an industry giant. Worldwide, more than 15 million were produced between 1908 and 1927.
And while the Model T was putting America and many other parts of the world on wheels, it also was becoming the staple of entry-level auto racing. It was one of the most prolific production-based race cars ever.
The Model T, in its pure production form, left a lot to be desired as a race car. It’s not surprising, then, that the car hadn’t been on the market very long before parts to increase its performance were available.
Unlike today, in the early part of the 20th century there were no non-production race cars that also were affordable for "average" people who wanted to go racing. Real race cars were within the means of only the very wealthy. So vast numbers of Americans got started in racing with a stripped-down Model T, modified to the extent the driver could afford.
Even before World War I, there were overhead-valve and overhead-cam cylinder head conversions available to get more power out of the Model T engine. Eventually there were chassis lowering kits, wheel covers, single-seat racing bodies and a host of other performance items available for the ubiquitous Tin Lizzie.
The most famous and successful racing engine modification for the Model T was the Frontenac cylinder head, made by the Chevrolet brothers. At the time, Gaston, Louis and Art Chevrolet were independent tuners and race car builders in Indianapolis. When equipped with Frontenac heads, the cars were called Fronty Fords, and they ruled the small, bullring dirt tracks around the country during the teens and twenties. On the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway track, however, much more sophisticated cars were the only way to win.
Even so, there were many attempts in the Indy 500 with modified Model T engines, and the best result came in 1923. Lora L. Corum drove a Fronty-Ford-powered Barber-Warnock Special, built by the Chevrolet bothers and sponsored by a local Indianapolis Ford dealer, to fifth place. His finish was the best by a Ford-powered car at the Brickyard until Jim Clark placed second in 1963.
# # #