London—Brighton in a 1919 Model-T
*Henry Ford was, in fact, born on July 30th, 1863, but the police thought that the Brighton Road would be too crowded for model-Ts on that date, so the anniversary run was put forward one month.
It was a grand idea on the part of Ford of Dagenham to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Henry Ford with a run from Battersea Festival Gardens to the Sports Arena, Brighton for model-T Fords. The legendary and unique model-T always attracts attention and as 80 entries were received for this Centennial Run, largely from Ford dealers, in spite of very little prior publicity, the event could hardly fail to be a big success.
The idea, I think, was more to provide a pleasant outing for Ford dealers and employees than to publicise Ford products but from all angles it was a memorable occasion—what a pity that in 2063 few of us will be able to enjoy the next one. If only it could become an annual affair!
I first heard of this gigantic model-T run when I was asked if I would join Mr. R. Blackburn, Manager of the Repair Garage at Dagenham, and Mr. V. Koehret who was with Fords when they were selling model-Ts, in judging the Concours d’Elegance. I inquired how many Ts were going. “Oh, about 80,” said Mr. Jimmy Graham of Dagenham’s Press Department, adding “As a matter of fact, there’s one looking for a driver.” “The driver’s me!” I told him.
Which is why, en route for the V.S.C.C. Oulton Park Meeting, I stopped at Wrexham on the pleasant route from my house at Nantmel to the course, to be introduced by James Ellement, P.R.O. of Kirby’s, the Main Ford Dealers, to this model-T. It turned out to be an American-made green and black 1919 l.h.d. tourer which Kirby’s had taken in part exchange for a modern Ford, allowing an astonishingly generous sum for it. It was now for sale at £375 but they were quite willing for it to swell the entry in the Ford Motor Company’s forthcoming Centennial Run.
Now I had driven a lot of different cars but never a model-T, nor had I had time to mug up the drill before leaving for Wales. So, although the engine had a self starter and Kirby’s car seemed nicely original, neither I nor anyone else was very sure of how to drive it. When I pressed both the larger pedals down (“When in doubt, both feet out”) the car surged forward, instead of stopping. So, rather agitated, I went on my way, consoled only by the sight of a hood as proof against rain, and decent treads on the tyres (but no spare wheel!), which, incidentally, comprised a jolly assortment—a 30 x 3 Pirelli Cord on the o/s front wheel, a 30 x 3 1/2 Dunlop on the n/s front, a 31 x 4 Henley Zig Zag on the o/s rear and a 30 x 3. 1/2 Michelin Cord on the n/s rear wheel!
I dislike the thought of vintage cars being brought to competitions on lorries but now I was rather glad I hadn’t time to drive this model-T from Wrexham to London. Dagenham was quite happy to send a low-loader for it.
I will have another drive when it gets to Lincoln Cars, I thought. Meanwhile, I refreshed my memory of how to tame a T, the only car some persons could control in the days when it was a contemporary model. It’s so simple. The left pedal is pressed down for low gear, allowed to rise to find neutral, brought right up for top gear. The right-hand pedal is the transmission brake. If you want to reverse, you press the middle pedal. The hand-brake lever pulls back to apply the rear wheel brakes and at the same time selects neutral. Simple, foolproof in fact—unless you are a fool used only to sliding cogs, synchromesh or automatic transmissions.
When, on the Friday before the Run, I presented myself at Lincoln Cars, there was Jack Welsh, just back by air from the Alpine Rally in which two Ford Cortina GTs had won Gold Cups—I told you last month what a good car this is!—with his merry men. “Your T’s running fine,” they told me. Have a go!,” leading me to a smart blue traveller’s brougham. It turned out that this one had been brought down from Warrington, not Wrexham, and mine was still in transit. I had a few yards at the wheel of this blue one and left Brentford feeling that I was far from proficient in driving ancient Fords.
On the Sunday it was a question of rising at 4.30 a.m. and driving in the faithful Morris 1100 to Battersea, in the rain that is a feature of English summers. My Ford hadn’t arrived and there was nothing to do but sit and wait, noting meanwhile, such items as the neat enclosed front snubbers on Kemp’s tourer, the “Better Than Ever Deal” advertising slogans on Collins’ truck and the ease with which other entrants’ model-Ts straddled pavements and whirred hither and thither.
I was to start No. 1; if anyone thinks this was journalistic privilege, I can assure them it was merely because Mr. Graham wanted to ensure that I got to Brighton nice and early for judging the Concours! Quarter of an hour after 8 a.m., the official starting time, No. 1 came into sight, boiling, with its starter inoperative. I and my “middle” daughter climbed in, set the windscreen horizontal under the lofty, strap-secured hood so that the road was visible, someone swung the handle, and my first proper model-T driving lesson commenced—in the rain, along the congested road, to keep a rendezvous with the Mayor of Battersea and the B.B.C. Television cameras (I didn’t appear on TV that night—maybe I looked too worried!).
However, a model-T is very easy to master and soon we were bowling along in fine fettle, the clouds of water vapour from the radiator having disappeared, to Clapham Common, down Acre Lane, up Brixton Hill and past Croydon Aerodrome (like Brooklands Track, now defunct), haunts of model-T cars, 7-cwt. vans and tonners in my boyhood.
I discovered that you pull down two levers under the small wood-rimmed steering wheel to advance the spark and open the throttle of the Holley carburetter, and that the 2.9-litre engine responds nicely. I found that it soon came off high speed on a hill and that I had to push hard on the I.h. pedal to keep low speed engaged, Mercifully, neutral was easy to get, the foot brake effective. As we passed under them, trees were reflected in the now-horizontal screen, just below which was the brief bonnet and brass filler cap. Upwards, the substantial hood sticks tapered neatly. The bench front seat was hard and uncompromising.
The steering was horrid, although I never quite discovered whether all model-Ts have reverse camber of the king-pins or whether the axle-stays of this particular example were wrongly assembled. Anyway, we proceeded safely and loftily at some 30 m.p.h. (40 downhill), Mowed by Hubbard’s yellow tourer, No. 2.
When I had asked John Bolster whether he was coming to my Brooklands’ Re-Union he said no, he was collecting “his” model-T for the Run from Gloucestershire that day. “I’ll race you to Brighton,” he added. So I was expecting a flying Bolster to come up on us at any moment (he was No. 21). In fact, he had run a bearing on the way up from Lydney and was running-in its replacement, and by the coffee stop at the very modern Gatwick Manor only the Ts of Whitehead and Taverner had passed us. It was still raining intermittently. The wet morning meant that traffic on A23 was very slight, however.
After the coffee stop we restarted after a very short push and, reminding ourselves it wasn’t a race, rolled happily into Brighton at 11.15 a.m., haying taken Pyecombe Hill in top gear, after Tinning’s nice saloon from Carlisle and a number of other Fords had gone by. We even overtook a modern Ford van just before Hickstead.
By the time we had ground our way in low gear into the Sports Arena I was captivated by the crude but sure progress of the model-T. At times there was a rattle like loose bearings but I put it down to chattering transmission bands. Much grease exuded from the axle onto the n/s rear brake drum and wheel, but the foot pedal, wearing a proprietary extension called a Real-Pad, was adequate, so that I didn’t brake on the lever. There were occasional mis-fires, but whether the combination of flywheel magneto and trembler coils or the old Champion X plugs were to blame, I don’t know. One black headlamp shed its retaining nut, otherwise all was well.
The back axle tramp was startling until I remembered to shut the throttle while changing up; the Steering, due to a combination of reverse camber, high gearing, a small wheel and lurching suspension, was distinctly odd. But there were no instruments to scan, apart from an ammeter that registered no charge.
The Ford Centennial Run must be voted a great occasion. Ford hospitality was generous in the extreme. Not only did they lay on free petrol (for the out and return journey) and lunch and tea, but to encourage entries there was a draw for a free Cortina! There were money prizes down to 5th place in each of the three classes, the winners receiving £30 each, and every arrival at Brighton received an engraved silver tankard.
Many of the model-Ts that took part were owned by keen and knowledgeable members of the Model-T Register. But many more had been put on the road by Ford dealers after long periods in retirement. That the majority were so nicely turned out and all got to Brighton is the finest tribute Henry Ford could have. There must have been every type of body present—lorry, van, coupé, taxi, tourer, brake, pick-up, fire engine, ‘bus, saloon, 2-seater, on model-Ts ranging from 1910 to 1927.
The entry was divided into brass radiator, black and nickel radiator and commercial model-Ts and after careful inspection the winners of the five prizes in each class were declared as under, the Mayor of Brighton, who arrived in a Daimler, presenting them. Three of the Ts were purposely left out of the Concours, the one I had arrived in, and two belonging to Ford themselves.
Of nearly 80 cars, only half-a-dozen were really scruffy, and some were very beautifully turned out indeed. The most sporting was N.V. M. Finch’s, because he found it as a chassis and had only time to put a sketchy body on it.—W.B.
Results: Concours d’Elegance
Brass Radiator Class:
1st: P. C. Tolley (1914 Tourer) Hurstpierpoint; 2nd: J. Brill (1915 Landaulette) Sutton; 3rd G. F. Simpsom (1910 Two-Seater) Longniddry, Scotland; 4th: P. E. Outridge (1911 d/h coupé) Leicester; 5th: E. V. M. Whiteway (1912 Tourer) Exeter.
Black/Nickel Radiator Class:
1st: H. A. Ammand (1926 Tourer) West Linton, Peebles; 2nd: C. J. Norgrove (1920 Tourer) Romsley, Shropshire; 3rd: P. G. Hubbard (1916 Tourer) Hendon; 4th: J. Bolster (1923 Saloon) Lydney, Glos.; 5th: S. Harris: (1921 Tourer) Allesley, Coventry.
Commercial Vehicle Class:
1st: J. Marsh (1921 7 cwt. van) Blackpool; 2nd: G. W. F. Webb, (1923 1 ton truck) Shepreth, Cambridgeshire; 3rd: V. E. Brewster (1922 7 cwt. van) Tunbridge Wells; 4th: A. Norman (1922 7 cwt. van) Beaconsfield; 5th: W. Brice (1922 ‘bus) Lydney, Glos.
The Run was organised jointly by the Ford Sports Motor Club, with the co-operation of Ford Dealers and the Model-T Register.
Seventy-six model-Ts started; all of them got to Brighton.
Eight had motored from Scotland, one from as far north as Inverness.
Cheswick & Wright Ltd. of Blackpool still use their 1921 7 cwt. van daily; in fact, on the Friday before the Run it delivered a consignment of silencers to Dagenham. Yet it still took First Prize in its class in the Concours d’Elegance.
The winner of the Ford Cortina was 31-year-old Sales Manager, D. Knight, of Enfield.