Car of the Week: 1923 Ford Model T touring

Model T Ford lovers Bert Reid and his son Joe don’t have anything against project cars and basket cases. They’ve taken apart Tin Lizzies before — every nut and bolt on them.

But when a nice turn-key car comes along, the pair don’t turn up their noses. That was the case about 11 years ago, when the pair found a lovely 1923 Model T touring car. Neither man was really looking for another car at the time, but with both having a big soft spot for the T’s, it’s not surprising that one of them — this time it was Bert —broke down and bought it.

Together, the father-son team owns five Model T’s at the moment. Joe has three, his dad has two. That number is always subject to change if another T crosses their path and looks like it needs a good home.

“We got the first one back in about 1971. It was in a basement in Rockport, Maine,” Joe recalls with a chuckle. “And they had to take the basement wall down to get the car out…. I don’t know why [we wanted that one]. But it was a complete car. The engine was stuck, but we unstuck it with a 2×4.

“That’s kind of where it all started.”

So whose idea was it to get that first one?

“Hah, I don’t know,” Albert admits. “We just saw and said let’s try it.”

The pair always brings cars to the Iola Car Show in central Wisconsin not far from Joe’s home in Almond. Albert comes east from his home in Kalona, Iowa. This year they were showing off Albert’s touring car. “… “We got this one in October 2007. We found it on eBay. This car was on there and it was a ’23 touring car. We had done one originally like this in like `71, `72 … but we never finished it.  This guy’s description kind of matched what we had done, and there waa a gazillion pictures, so it seemed like an opportunity — and it was. It’s turned out to be a very nice car. It was in Salt Lake City, Utah. That’s where we bought it from. Salt lake city Utah is where it was.

There weren’t many differences between Model T’s of the day, other than body styles. There weren’t many options, and the parts were largely interchangeable from year to year. But the Reids’  ’23 touring did have one quirky thing about it.

“It’s a little bit different — it’s a Canadian chassis and American body… It has a Canadian serial number and everything on it says it was made in Canada. The parts on the cars were all the same, but if it was a Canadian body, though, it would actually have four doors. A [U.S.-made] touring car body has three doors (with no driver’s side front door]. That’s basically because the emergency brake rod … it kind of operates the clutch, it sits right there, so it’s in the way of getting in and there’s not much room to slide in. So you use the door on the other side.”

Other than keep the black paint shiny and the dust off it, the Reids say they have done very little to the ’23. They take it to Iola, drive it around a little on weekends to give it some exercise, and just enjoy having a venerable old car around that they can take off in when the spirit moves them.

The All-New (sort of) 1923 T’s

For those without a trained eye, it’s hard to tell one year of Model T Ford from another. The 1923 models were slightly easier than some others to distinguish because the windshields on the popular touring and runabout models were sloped at a slight angle, rather than the perpendicular design of the previous models. The cars also had new folding top designs. “This  is called a one-man top.  I’m not sure about that,” laughs Joe. “This one-man top only takes about three people to put up and take down. They say you can get in it and stand up in the back seat and put the top up, but …. they’re not easy.”

The hood also has a more tapered design early in the 1923 production run. The slope of the hood was increased and was about an inch higher at the firewall and wider than the previous models. The 1923 model year also saw Ford introduce a new coupe body that took the place of the previous “phone booth” cab with suicide doors. The old center-door sedan was also discontinued.

With a whopping 792,651 assemblies, the three-door touring cars with electric start and demountable rims were by far the most popular with buyers and carried a price of $393. Customers could also opt for runabout, a new Fordor sedan introduced in late 1922, and coupe body styles. The TT truck chassis were available with or without bodies. An electric starter and generator were standard on all closed cars.

The T’s all relied on the holdover 176.7-cubic inch four that generated 20 hp. The tried-and-true planetary transmission also remained the same with a 25-disc clutch and torque tube drive. “Just two forward speeds and one reverse,” Albert notes. “They were very simple cars.”

“It has a top speed of 35, 40 mph, but if you looked at the tires and the way the wheels are,  you don’t’ want to catch the edge of a road or anything like that, “ notes Joe. They are a little top heavy, and the steering ratio is very quick. They turn very fast. They were tippy cars, for sure. A good cruising speed is 25 to 30 mph. A Model A is probably a little more usable car. But I live out in the country and it’s 5 miles around the block, all on town roads with very little traffic.

“This basically has no options on it. It’s your basic, standard, run-of-the-mill Model T. They are fun to drive. It’s totally different. It’s got a planetary transmission. Three pedals. It’s kind of like driving a lawn mower. You’ve got the low gear pedal, then you let it go out and the clutch comes back and it’s direct drive. It’s fun.”

Model T ‘caretakers’

Albert and Joe Reid will be pleased if all of their T’s outlive both of them. They figure they are just doing their part to preserve and coddle cars that have done so much American society and are such big parts of today’s old car hobby. The way they both talk about their beloved Tin Lizzies, it’s hard to imagine them owning anything different.

“We’re basically just the keepers of it,” Joe says. “It lives a life of luxury. It lives in an air conditioned and heated garage. We’ll take it out and drive it on nice days, then put it away. This car was a keeper. It was nicely restored and has been a nice car to own.”

The pair have been caught in bad weather more than once with their T’s over the years, but that has never dampened the Reids’ enthusiasm. “When we drive it in the rain, the inside of the windshield is like a waterfall,” jokes Albert.

They don’t have any plans to take their cars out for any winter driving, but you never know.” I have a picture of him in it down in Iowa in the winter,” Joe laughs. “I think it was 12 degrees. He was sitting in the back seat. He looked cold.”

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