Restoration of An 1914 Model T Ford
Pictures always make cars look great. When I bought my ‘14, I thought I was buying a ‘15 and by appearance looked quite sound and as I said to my wife, “It’s a bargain”!
Lifting the bonnet to see the 1914 motor with the screw in welsh plugs I noted that all the fittings were okay for 1914/1915 period. The car had obviously been overheating as the rusty water marks were all over the front end.
I knew I would have to investigate the mechanicals.
Looking under the rear seat lid to find a battery, I saw that all the timber was rotted and split. The body was a mess. The paint was peeling in areas, and on investigation found the body full of bog. As time moved on the amount of bog in the panels was astonishing. Decisions had to be made. What to do? I decided to pull the whole car apart and re restore the vehicle which in reality is what is happening in these times as older restorations need a tidy up.
Pulling cars apart is a lot easier than putting them back together. Over a period of 3 weeks the car was broken down to its basic components, and examined for what action had to be taken.
The water jackets in the block were so eroded that although the bearings and pistons etc were in good condition, the block was just about rotted out from the inside. It could be rescued, but I had another ‘14 block kicking around and decided to give that to the engine reconditioner.
The mechanicals in any restoration is the easy part. I took the chassis, springs, front end, dif and anything else that could stand a sand blast and got the “job lot’ cleaned down and primed. Although pricey, the sand blasting cleans everything down and saves a lot of personal man hours. While the engine was being done up, the chassis, front end and diff were painted, reconditioned and assembled. Of course while all this is happening, I was always on the hunt for jewellery, looking on ebay, asking my friends and attending other auctions. It was relatively easy to get all the bits and pieces that I was missing for the project. I ended up buying the side lights, 912 led bulbs for tail light and Rubes horn from led-car-light-manufacturer.com.
I saved a bit of money by buying the lights individually because their value goes up when they are in a set.
As previously said, the mechanicals are pretty straight forward. Most bushes. nuts & bolts, wiring looms, bonnet, wheel bearings, brakes etc are available as reproduction from you local T Parts man. The body was a different story.
I rescued the tub, and rear of the front seat from the original car. No woodwork was retrievable because it had either decayed, or was simply too rough from the original restoration. I started again – it turned out to be easier. There are plans kicking around to basically make the whole car again. All you need is a band saw, a table saw, drop saw, wood glue, cordless drill, patience, and an unbelievable amount of wood (because you destroy 4 bits to get one good bit, or so it seems!) When building the body, the firewall was put in place and then the foundation stringers were laid down and trued up. I have learned that the secret to building a car body is not to glue any thing until you are completely sure it is right, and come to think of it, it was only the doors and around the tack strips that glue was really used as all the posts, cross beams, floor boards etc have to be screwed or bolted so that there is flex in the completed body, otherwise you will hear your work cracking as you drive down the road.
I found that working from the back of the car towards the firewall is the best way to end up with a car that is symetrical. If you know that the body ends up at the firewall, and you know how wide the car is at the back, a string line down either side of the car to the firewall gives you the best chance to make the sides of the car straight. There is nothing worse than looking at a car down the side and seeing it go in and out! I found that no matter how careful you were with cutting wood, you always have to add back little bits of wood here and there. Fortunately, no-one ever sees what is under the tin! The issue of the tack strips was a challenge and I had several attempts at laminating plywood to the compound shape, but in the end took advice from a member of the club who was a builder, who showed me how to do it in solid wood that is glued in steps. It worked a treat despite the lack of authenticity, but once again, who looks under the upholstery?
With the woodwork completed, I began to fabricate the panels that were missing. I had to make both sides and all doors. All these panels had the bead rolled into them. I bought myself some tools to help me. A guillotine to cut straight, a swaging machine, a shrinker/stretcher machine, folder, mig welder and a few other odds and sods. Through trial and error, I was able to skin the car but I must say I needed the help of my wife and friends to turn handles and hold sheets of metal during the project. We used 0.8mm satin finish tin to do the work. When welding pieces together, the mig has a .8 wire that does the job perfectly. The insides of the doors and around the outside of doors was fabricated using the shrinker/stretcher machine which took a fair bit of time to learn and once again, stacks of metal was ruined in the process. The way I look at it though, it was still cheaper than getting someone else to do it and I think I had fun doing it.
As can be seen by the picture at the left, the garage was cramped. I had to devise a lifting arrangement to lift the body off the chassis so that I could prepare it for painting after the metal skinning was complete. It was a lot easier to roll the chassis out of the garage and place the body on a stand that was on casters. This way the body could be rolled all over the place to get the advantage of the sun when preparing the surface for painting. The amount of surface preparation was exhausting and I have to admit is not my strength. I was encouraged by a friend who helped me through this process and I am sure I have developed tennis elbow from continual sanding. For a first timer using a spray gun, the result was reasonable. I must admit I lowered my expectations a long time ago from concours to “Useable”!
Once again, on the basis that a picture can make anything look good, the result of a painted body done in acrylic is pictured here in all its glory. When restoring a car, it was hard to avoid the temptation of placing the lights and other bits and pieces on the car to see how it would look. I remember that we had to do a fair bit of wet and drying on the body to get a good surface – so much for my expertise off the gun. We pinstriped the car using a pinstriping wheel tool that I once bought at a swap. This was an experience! The tool delivers a perfect line, so long as you do your makeready with a guide on the panel and that you keep the tool at least on the horizontal so that the supply of paint keeps up to the flint wheel. Of course when striping the car, the number of times I went off the horizontal starving the flint wheel of paint and ruining the continuity of a stripe line was a huge source of anxiety. I think I still have the shakes from trying to do this part. I taught myself some new swear words! Perserverence paid off and we got there in the end.
The final job was to upholster the car which I did in vinyl because, this being my first upholstery job, I didn’t want to ruin any expensive material! Several metres of wrecked fabric later I was able to come up with a reasonable finish, that only cost me $300 so I was happy. I bought a button making machine on ebay, and any sewing that did need doing (cover strips with cord sewn into it) was done on the trusty Janome, which for some unknown reason doesn’t sew as well as it used to. I can’t understand it! I used the hood from the original car and oneday when I can afford an Industrial sewing machine with a walking foot, I will have a crack at getting a new hood for the car. Another thing that I need to make is a boot for the hood so that when we trailer the car, the hood doesn’t get blown away. The door trims were done in the same material, glued onto 3mm craftwood. I could not believe the amount of thumb tacks that were needed to “decorate” each door trim. Sourcing the thumb tacks was a problem as I found you could only buy them in 20’s. I had to spray them to a blue colour to match the vinyl, and they came up a treat!
My wife and I have been driving to T around for a while now, and I think the car goes great. I reckon I saved a couple of kilos in car body weight by reskinning, because we are now driving around with new timbers and minimal filler. I had a lot of fun doing the car and from start to finish took about 18 months. to complete.
Asked if I would do it again, I have no hesitation, because you can’t make the same mistakes again….surely not.