Ts for Two

Part III: Our engine gets freshened up for the trip

Clayton Paddison - November 08, 2012 10:00 AM


1 This is the foundation for the Model T engine. Notice how the housing extends out past the flywheel, covering the bands for the T’s two-speed transmission and tying the two components together. The hole with all of the little bolt holes around it is for the plate that will comprise the oil pan.


2 The Model T is quite simple by today’s standards. Note the “dippers” on the bottom of each connecting rod. The T does not have a pressurized oiling system. Instead, the bottom of the rod “dips” into the oil in the pan, which feeds the Babbitt bearings and also splashes oil to the camshaft.


3 On the top side, we installed the distributor and set the timing before we installed the high-compression head.


4 Bubba’s Speed Shop supplied one of their distributors for our T. It features a re-curved timing that allows for the T’s low rpm but advances as necessary so there’s no more fiddling with the timing levers on the column.


5 We located this cool vintage Autopulse Model 500 fuel pump to get the fuel to the carbs. It does the job without detracting from the theme of the car.


6 All of the bands, gears and planetary assembly were rebuilt in the transmission to ensure trouble-free driving for the entire trip.


7 With the body off, the chassis is a great engine work stand for the T. We’re keeping the three pedals (all Model T) but keen-eyed readers will notice the newer alternator as we’ll be running a 12-volt system.


8 There will be a Chicago overdrive installed behind the two-speed transmission. This will give us better cruising as well as the ability to shift gears in reverse.


9 With everything buttoned up, it was getting close to firing up the T.


Special Thanks:


Coker Tire

(800) 251-6336


The Antique Auto Ranch

(Mike Robinson and Tom Carnegie)

(509) 535-7789


Max Musgrove

(801) 583 6169


Bubba’s Hot Rod Shop

(888) 809-3835


11 When planning on driving a car, it never hurts to stack the cards in your favor when possible. A new set of Coker Firestone tires and tubes helped ensure that we didn’t have any issues along the road.

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Last month, we completely redesigned the chassis from the ground up.

My next task will be to get the engine installed and ready for the body to be reinstalled.

In the months after delivering the engine components over to Tom Carnegie and Mike Robinson of the Antique Auto Ranch, I spent much time sourcing out everything I would need to complete the engine once the new short block was finished. Everything had to be new this time around: gaskets, seals, the main crankcase/oil pan, transmission bands and linings. I was not going to cut any corners.

I began to place orders for the new stuff and hunting down the hard-to-find parts from friends and local parts dealers. Since I had asked Mike and Tom to install the most aggressive cam possible in my new engine, I had always intended to run something wild in regards to the induction system. My first choice would have been to fit the engine with a set of Winfield SR downdraft carburetors, one of the most popular performance carburetors of the 1920s, but they are a bit hard to find, so I decided to go with something a little easier and more familiar to me.

Originally supplied from the factory on Ford’s little 60hp, 17-stud Flathead V-8 and later popular in the 1940s with the four-cylinder and midget racing crowd, the Stromberg Model 81 was perfect for a more aggressive four-cylinder with a multi-carburetor setup. The 81’s smaller barrel, venturi, power valve and jet size meant they had the perfect fuel volume for a smaller engine. The Stromberg 81 only had a factory run of just four years (1937 to 1940), making them less common than the better-known and loved Stromberg 97, but they are still obtainable. Being a member of the H.A.M.B. (Hokey Ass Message Board) on the website, a truly great haven for traditional hot rods and customs as well as their culture and history, I got in contact with fellow member Max Musgrove of Salt Lake City who is a true carburetor craftsman that specializes in Stromberg Model 48, 81 and 97s. Max was kind enough to build me a pair of Stromberg 81s specifically set up and tuned for my hot new T motor.

With all of the motor goodies gathered, it was time to begin assembly. Ford’s design for the Model T engine was unique, employing a crankcase pan that encompassed both the engine and the two-speed planetary transmission so that they could use the same oiling system. This one-piece engine pan is sort of like a foundation for the engine, so this was the first piece installed in the frame. Next, the planetary transmission and flywheel assembly was bolted to the back of the brand new short block before the entire assembly was lowered into the crankcase pan by hand. With the transmission cover or “hogshead” installed and everything sealed up with silicone gasket sealer, it was time to set the engine so that I could install the distributor assembly.

During the original build, I had converted the original “buzz coil” six-volt system to a more modern distributor and a 12-volt electrical system. I received an e-mail from another fellow H.A.M.B. member via one of the Jalopy Journal’s subsidiary websites, This e-mail was from Jim Linder at Bubba’s Hot Rod Ignition in Speedway, Indiana, offering to donate one of his specially built Mallory auto-advancing distributors to the project. Jim has several Model Ts and has designed these distributor units specifically to deliver the best dwell and curve for the Model T’s 200 rpm to 2,500 rpm scale. I was very thankful to him for the offer and two weeks later his care package arrived with a custom-built distributor just for my roadster.

With the new ignition system installed, it was time to also fit the high compression aluminum head to check for clearance before installing it permanently. To do so, we placed a decent sized ball of Play-doh® on top of each piston before installing the head with no head gasket and only two cylinder head bolts. After running the engine over two or three times with the hand crank, we found that the head-to-piston clearance was ample, allowing me to push forward with installing head and wire loom for the spark plug wires. Leaks had been an issue on the original motor, so I really wanted to ensure that the new motor would not have the same problem. Every gasket surface was checked and sealed with “The Right Stuff” for a solid, oil tight connection. I also made sure to spray down the new head gasket with “Copper Coat” for a good seal there as well. After the head was installed and torqued to 50 lbs-ft, it was time to move on to installing the newly rebuilt Chicago gearbox and bolting the engine down permanently.

In the five years since the original build, both the Chicago and the engine’s rear most bearing had suffered a bit of damage. The rear bearing, or “Fourth Main” as it is referred to, is mounted into an aluminum ball cap that mounts to the tail end of the Model T engine and supports the output shaft of the Model T’s planetary transmission and flywheel assembly. This ball cap/bearing was originally the mounting location of the drive shaft U-joint/ball joint on a stock Model T and originally employed a Babbitt-lined bearing cap. I opted to replace mine with a modern roller bearing and a custom housing. The abuse and lack of support to the back of the Chicago gearbox destroyed the original rear main bearing sleeve. A new one needed to be made. A good friend, Troy Hess, was called in to help with this problem. Hess, a 13-year U.S. Air Force veteran machinist gladly took on the challenge and produced a perfect replacement which we had case-hardened where the original was not.

In the Chicago, the input shaft and output shaft bearings and bearing races both have retainers that thread in the transmission case and are locked down with set screws. These retainers adjust the main cluster’s fore and aft positioning in the case, proper gear alignment and bearing tightness. At some point, the input shaft bearing retainer came loose, causing irreparable damage to the retainer. This required a completely new retainer to be built as a replacement. Troy graciously stepped up to help with this project as well, producing a perfect front bearing retainer with some slight improvements to make it far more “fool proof”. Upon reassembly however, the Chicago had a few more surprises. The rear outer race retainer had always been a pain to install and remove, but this time it became jammed half-way and we were forced to cut it out and ask for Troy’s help once more to make a new one, which he did in just a few days’ time. Troy’s help was tremendously valuable and appreciated.

With the Chicago assembled and installed, I bolted the motor down and finalized the chassis in preparation of installing the body. Now we were on Easy Street as everything I had planned out and built beforehand simply fell into place. Once the body was installed, I switched gears to wiring and electrical. A week later, I successfully tested the electrical system for the first time with correct operation to all lights and the ignition system. By July 22, the T was almost complete and ready to fire. All of our friends and family gathered that Sunday afternoon for a “starting party” and with gas in the tank and full battery, I hit the starter for the first time and the new mill roared to life without a fight, just like the original engine had five years earlier. With a few quick adjustments, I also made my first triumphant laps around the shop that night, nine months and 10 days after I drove her into the shop to begin the teardown.

Now all that was left were finishing touches such as floorboards, seats and I needed to mount up the brand-new Coker Firestone 440/450-21 tires and tubes so that we would have good rubber to run on for the entire trip. I prefer to mount my tires (at least on the T anyway) by hand, so I spent that following Saturday afternoon doing just that. I had requested that Coker send tubes with the metal valve stems as opposed to the rubber stem tubes. If pressure in the tube is too low, the tubes have the tendency to oscillate around inside the tire and shift the tube’s location. This can bind up the valve stem and sever it, causing a blow-out. This had happened to me more than once and I did not want it happening at any point during the trip. The metal stems are far stronger and are held in place by a support bridge on the inside of the rim and two lock nuts that lock it down to the rim itself and prevent it from shifting in the case of decreased air pressure.

Chris and I plugged away hard and completed all of these finishing touches right up through the night before we were scheduled to leave so there would be no road testing afforded to us. Needless to say this epic and very personal journey would be one heck of a shakedown run. Follow along next month as we set out on our grand adventure with the white surface of the salt flats in our crosshairs.