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Clayton Paddison is only 26 years old, but for the three years it took him to put together his authentic “old school” Model T hot rod, the Portland, Ore., resident was living in the 1930s. Paddison figures if he had, in fact, lived eight decades ago, and he had designs on putting together a rod in his back yard, he’d have produced something very similar to the modified 1926 Model T roadster that is now his baby.
“There were a lot of these Model T’s and Model A’s in the 1930s — that’s where hot rodding really started,” said Paddison. “There were lot of these ‘gow jobs’, as they called them, and they were the grandaddys of the hot rodding hobby. I always loved that style and I wanted to do a hot rod like that.
“Somebody my age, 22 to 25 years old, what would they have built in 1930, ’31, ’32 with poor hand tools and no money? It turned out to be exactly what I built. I’m using most of the old speed techniques from the 1920s and ’30s that they used on Model T’s: lowering the car, accessories, speed parts … all of the goodies from that period. It’s not stock, by any means.”
Paddison’s time warp odyssey started when he first came across the father/son team of Bill and Chris Becker, who run their own shop in Beaverton, Ore. In addition to doing restoration work for others, Bill also operates a business where customers can come in and work on their own cars — renting space and tools, and getting help from the Beckers and other car owners. After taking one of Bill’s restoration classes, Paddison began spending time at the shop, helping out with various work and contemplating what kind of project he wanted to tackle for himself.
“Chris had invited me to come out and see the place and help out and work on family cars,” Paddison recalled. “One day he said, ‘My dad has a ’26 Model T roadster that is a basket case, but it would be a good car to build a hot rod out of if you are interested.’ So I said ‘OK, I’ll buy it.’ It was a frame and body shell and engine, that was about it. It wasn’t anything much to look at. When I told my dad about it, I remember him looking at me, like, ‘You’re not bringing that home!’ He wasn’t very interested.”
It wasn’t long, however, before Paddison’s retro vision began taking shape. In keeping with the style of the period, he underslung the old Ford and lowered it by more than 9 inches while also stretching the wheelbase by about 4-1/2 inches. The fenders were left off and the stance widened slightly to show off the 1927 Ford wire wheels. “Those 21-inch Ford wire wheels are a dime a dozen, they’re strong, and they look good on the car,” Paddison opined. “This car would have had the wood spoked wheels originally, but that wouldn’t have looked really good on a car like this.”
The roadster’s top had already been amputated by the time Paddison got the car, but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. “Somebody had chopped the windshield posts down 13 inches, so we built the top to match the lowered windshield,” he said. “It’s one of the only T’s I know that has a chopped ragtop.
“The top is all handmade. The top bows are all aluminum. A friend of mine helped me make the top and measure it all out and stitch up all the canvas. It’s a mail slot of a windshield. When you’ve got the top on, there’s not much room to see out, but I’ve seen customs with a lot less. It’s nice in the rain when you have a top on it. I drive it both ways.”
Clearly, what separates Paddison’s ride from most other “old school rods” roaming the streets these days was his meticulous attention to period details and, most importantly, period parts. Very few pieces on the roadster are not period correct, and he went out of his way to round up parts from as many car makers as he could. “It’s got touches and things from so many different car manufactures from that period,” he said. “It’s all stuff that would have been in wrecking yards from cars prior to 1930: Hudson, Willys-Knight, Packard, Nash, Lincoln, Oldsmobile, Stutz, Mercer, Locomobile, Simplex, Cadillac … Rolls-Royce, Buick, Dodge … It really looks like a car that’s been around for a long time and been used for the last 80 years. Some of the knobs inside are mismatched. Some of the gauges don’t even work, to help with the realism.
“And the steering – I changed that around because Model T steering is a little flimsy. The steering steering column is out of a ’21 or ’22 Willys-Knight. It’s all oak and aluminum and bronze. It’s a really beautiful piece of machinery.”
The car still had its original 20-hp, four-cylinder engine and two-speed planetary transmission when Paddison got it, and he was determined to keep the drive train together. No self-respecting 1930s rodder was going to leave things alone under the hood, however, so Paddison bored out the four-cylinders to .30 inches over and added an auxiliary overdrive that actually gives the car six forward speeds and three reverse options. “But it still has its two-speed transmission,” he said. “That’s what makes a T a T.”
Inside the T’s block are aluminum pistons with modern rings. The head is also aluminum. The original cam has been reground for a bit more performance and the flywheel lightened considerably.
All the engine work has made the Ford very drivable, even in everyday traffic, according to Paddison. And that’s exactly what he had in mind all along. “Right now, the car is actually rather quick,” he said. “It’s a frequent driver. She’ll cruise at 60-65 all day long. There is no clutch and you shift the gearbox with the throttle. I drive it as often as I can — in the good weather more than the bad, but I’m not ever afraid to take it out. I don’t care where I drive it or when. If somebody wants to come up and sit in it or honk the horn, go ahead, I’ll open the door for you. That’s my philosophy. I can’t stand when people flip out if you breathe on their car. That’s not what the hobby is about.
“During the summer time, I drive it three or times a week, if not more. If I get any dents in it, it just adds to the patina.”
The Ford still has its electric starter, but Paddison prefers to “strong arm” it with the crank starter that still hangs off the front. “Why not? It’s there, you might as well use it,” he laughs.
The Model T wears a temporary black paint job that somehow seems to fit the car’s personality, even if Paddison didn’t really intend it that way. Black is the trademark ‘T’ color, of course, but Paddison plans to give his rod a cosmetic upgrade, soon, to make it look less like a rat rod.
“The paint on it right now is just some black machinery enamel that we put on it just to have some paint on it, because it was bare metal,” he said. “We never intended it to be a rat rod though. Vintage and rat rods are two different animals …
“It’s gonna get a decent paint job, and I’m going to put a new interior it. It needs to get a leather interior in it. New leather won’t look right, so we had to get some aged leather that a friend of mine had enough left over for me to do the car. The leather actually comes out of a ’34 Rolls-Royce Continental, and those are really rare. It was one of I think 281 ever built. The leather it is an aged burgundy, which is just perfect for the car.”
Paddison insists he didn’t build his old Model T to be a show car, but he’s already having fun with it at old car events. At one recent show, he figures the Ford passed the ultimate test of its old school authenticity.
“I had this old guy come up to me, he must have been in his 90s, and he walked around the car and looked at it for a long time, and said to me, ‘I remember when these things ran all around Portland. It’s nice to see this one is still going.’
“Well, I didn’t have the heart to tell him it wasn’t an authentic car like that … Finally, I decided to tell him that it was a car that I had just built. He thought about it for a second and then he said, ‘Well, you got me fooled.’”
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