Car of the Month – Tom Helf’s unrestored 1911 Touring

Museums are places where we can go to see objects displayed as they were in years past. Often the museum cannot display the item as it was found, because that would not be very interesting or informative. Many of the things that we see in museums are reconstructed, restored, or even complete reproductions. At the American Museum of Natural History as an example, we see fantastic exhibitions of dinosaurs that once dominated the earth. If we read the fine print on the signs we can see that what is on display is largely if not completely a reproduction, the original parts having vanished over the years, lost forever.

It is quite unusual to find an object that is over 106 years of age that is largely intact, and indeed well preserved, still able to operate as it did when new. Such is the case with the 1911 Model T Ford touring owned by Tom Helf. While the story of how the car was preserved over the years is not known beyond 40 or so years ago, the fact is that it was kept out of the weather for the most part. Let’s examine the car closely and enjoy what has been kept for so long by each of it’s owners in amazing condition. Not in a museum, but in each owner’s careful possession over more than a century, we can learn a lot from this amazing specimen.

The original patent plate is still located in its spot on the front of the seat riser where it was nailed in place some time in early February 1911 at the Ford Highland Park assembly plant.

Above the 1909 – 1911 engine block is easy to identify with its open valve chamber and small cam gear housing, the same casting used since the summer of 1909. This engine is the original one that came in the car when new, the serial number 37433 matching the car’s patent plate and build sheet. Ford was still using the slot head screw cam retainer bolts in 1911 and would continue to do so through 1913 model year.

The Benson Ford archive at the Henry Ford Museum has microfiche images of most Model T build sheets from mid 1909 model year through most of 1911. Fortunately the build sheet for 37433 still exists. The car as it exists today largely matches the build sheet. Above we see the front of the build sheet. Note that the body is listed as a “Metal 1910” next to the word aluminum. The body serial number stamped on the seat frame and under each door is B1910. The build sheets were a form used since 1909 and there were not any aluminum bodies being built by 1911, so the person using this form had to improvise somewhat.

The back side of the build sheet shows the car was originally shipped to Argos Indiana (Chicago branch ordered), only a few miles from where it was discovered.

Lots of original details can be seen here. The windshield to firewall brackets are brass plated steel. The brake lever would have originally been brass plated on this car. Coil box is Jacobson Brandow as listed on the build sheet. This is the same style J-B coil unit that was used in 1910, a very reliable and well built unit.

The car has its original 1911 double twist horn. The horn tube is bent differently than 1909 – 10, with the entry being angled down to nearly match the angle of the floor board. Also notice the E & J carbide generator is correctly located just forward of the Ford script on the running board. This is a detail so often missed on restored cars. The rear door handles are new for 1911, being squared off on the ends.

The door handle and latch (above) are removed so that we can see how the handle differs from the 1909 – 10 version.

The latch is spring loaded so that slamming the door causes it to latch closed.

The handle then must be manually turned another 1/4 turn to engage the safety hook as seen above in the fully locked position.

The Stewart Model 26 speedometer was standard in 1911 for the entire model year. The correct units for 1911 like this one will have a serial number beginning with B. Notice the correct speedometer cable which is a steel inner core wrapped in solid brass. Both the upper and lower nuts on the speedometer cable are round with knurled finish. The mixture knob escutcheon seen here has been changed at some point, it is incorrect for 1911, Ford began using the two screw version in the early part of 1910.

Hard to see in the above photo are the body serial number which begins with B stamped atop the front seat riser. To the left of the body serial number are stamped letters KA. Ford’s main body supplier in 1911 was the O.J. Beaudette Company of Pontiac, Michigan. Ford sometimes called this supplier Pontiac because of where the bodies were built. Beaudette used subcontractors to fill the ever larger orders from Ford. To the left of the body serial number we see the letters KA stamped in the wood. This matches the KA on the build sheet in the space denoting the body maker. We don’t really know what the KA stands for, perhaps one of the many divisions of Kelsey Herbert but we can’t say for sure. In any case the body type is Beaudette, since the body serial number begins with B.

Chalk marks inside the doors match the body serial number. Perhaps so that upholsters could make sure not to mix up doors while they were off for trimming? We don’t know for sure, but this is common on early T’s.

Hard to see in the photo above, the body serial number beginning with B is stamped on the underside of each door. Again this is a detail that we expect to see. When restoring these cars it is important to preserve this detail.

Notice the distance between upholstery tacks securing the front seat upholstery to the body. Another detail that restorers often get wrong, Ford and its suppliers used materials as sparingly as possible in order to maximize profits. Boards under the front seat are irregular widths, made from lumber scraps to save money.

Ford revised the radiator design for 1911. The filler neck is higher than that used in 1910. This car is equipped with E & J model 466 headlamps which is not normal for 1911. Notice the headlamp forks are also the earlier 1909 – 1910 straight style, not offset as would be typical for 1911. The hand crank should be brass plated on cars built in February 1911. The hard rubber crank handle was used for all of 1911 model year.

Close up view of the engraved ID tag on top of each headlamp. These are original E & J lamps, the reproduction tags and lamps look much different.

Above, the front seat cushion still has some of its original covering intact which is fairly amazing.

The seat cushions for 1911 were made from steam bent wood frame, nailed together to form the outer shape. Above is one end of the front seat cushion. Notice how the cushion is cut out to clear the top iron which bolts to the seat base. Spring strips are attached to the wooden frame. The upholstery is tacked to the wood. Again a detail often overlooked in restorations.

Again looking at the underside of the front seat cushion we see how the spring strips are splayed out at the ends towards the rear, not what you would expect to see. But it is how they did it that day on this car.

Rear 3/4 view shows where the carbide gas hose goes through the splash apron just behind the carbide generator.

There is much variation from car to car for this hole location, apparently it was punched somehow on the line with each car being a little different from the next depending on the employee who did it. Sometimes the hole is in the middle of the apron some 4 – 6 inches higher than what you see here.

The E & J carbide generator was very well designed. The running board mount has thumb nuts that can be loosened, allowing the entire generator to be easily removed for cleaning.

Looking at the hole in the splash apron it clearly was not a drilled hole. The hole was punched on the final assembly station using a sharp implement and a hammer.


Rear seat upholstery has survived even more than the front, with only a few areas showing evidence of repairs over the past hundred plus years.

There are some Model T authorities who have written ( and copied each other in article after article) saying that the door opening below the rear seat is a feature of non – Beaudette bodies. We need to point out this glaring misinformation. The door on the front of the rear compartment is actually common to all body makers from 1909 through the end of 1911 model year.

The under side of the rear seat cushion shows the same construction as the front. The frame of the cushion is made from steam bent hardwood nailed together. The wooden frame is notched to clear the top irons where they bolt to the seat base. Spring strips are nailed in place in a splayed pattern. Upholstery is nailed to the wooden frame. This style of cushion was used by Ford through the end of 1912 model year.

Above, the owner has made a handy removable tray for the tools to reside in. This makes the space much more usable below. I like it!

The compartment floor below the rear seat is laid in place which is how these cars were built when new.

The board shows the effects of time and usage.

Below the rear compartment we see the new for 1911 body to frame brackets. These replaced the so called “butterfly brackets” used in 1909 – 1910 which provided a mounting method for both the body and the rear fenders. The new 1911 rear fenders are now supported at the top by a simple fender iron bolted to the seat frame, extending out through a hole in the side of the body.

This car was built just prior to introduction of the new 1911 front axle and spindles, so it is still equipped with the “one piece” spindle used since 1909 which incorporated the steering arm and spindle in one steel forging. The Stewart speedometer drive components and mounting parts would have originally been brass plated, including the cast iron #22 wheel gear.  The speedometer drive is a rare pot metal 1:1 ratio unit that was only used for a short period of time towards the end of 1910 model year and apparently through the time this car was manufactured.

Speedometer cable support straps were not used by Ford but they are a good idea. Without them the cable rubs on the suspension, eventually causing damage to the cable housing.

Originally this car would have had profuse pin striping on the body, fenders, and suspension. In this photo we can see the proper mounting and routing of the headlamp gas line which is made from sections of brass tubing silver soldered together. The radiator does not have a gas crossover line, that feature began in 1913 model year.

Notice the drag link has adjusters on both ends.

The car has been at the Henry Ford Museum several times for the annual show.

The top is an accurate replica of the original in every detail.

Most of the original leather straps were present on the car. They have been saved and are interesting in detail compared to modern reproductions. The craftsmanship lavished on the originals is quite intricate.

Arrows point at the new “wings added to the rear fenders to help keep mud and rocks from being slung at the passengers by the rear wheels. This fender design was used for 1911 and 1912 model years only.

Underside of the rear fender shows the new for 1911 fender iron that replaces the “butterfly irons” used in 1909 – 1910.

The rear axle is the “six rivet” style used since the beginning of 1910 calendar year.

The rear springs are 8 leaf with all but the second leaf from the bottom, third leaf from the top and the main leaf gracefully tapered on the ends. Backing plates are smooth on the lower side. Brake rods have forged ends. Spring clamps are mounted to a rolled end of the third leaf from the top.

Spring shackle oilers are twist type Winkley brand made of solid brass.

The brake rod supports are the two piece style used from 1910 – 1912 model years. Notice the brake rod is bent to give good clearance above the rear radius rods, an improvement added in 1909.

The transmission cover for 1911 at the beginning of the model year was the same one used for late 1910. Beginning about the time this car was built, Ford made the transmission cover wider to match the increased width of the new engine pan. The engine pan for February 1911 still had no access door for adjusting the main or rod bearings. That improvement was months ahead in the future.

Many details are found on our feature car’s engine that bear discussion. The spring loaded fan belt adjustment continued as in mid 1909 until now. Spark and throttle rods are brass plated over their entire length. Ford script appears on the lower engine block. There is no “Made in USA, that feature was still years away.

The engine casting date appears above the water inlet, as it had since about June 1909. In this case the date is 12 2 11 which we know is December 2 1910. Engine blocks and many other items were still being made by subcontractors then delivered to Ford so there would be a fair amount of lag from the casting date until assembly of the engine. That would change when Highland Park began to get up to speed a few months in the future. Notice the original tall head bolts securing the water inlet to the block.

Ford used two brands of spark plugs in 1911 model year. The primary supplier was Champion, the straight sided Champion X plugs are used on this particular car. The secondary supplier in 1911 was the Mosler Spark Plug company. The Mosler plug for 1911 Fords is marked “Mosler Spit Fire”.

When this car was built in February 1911 Ford was still using the so called “dog leg” intake manifold that had been used on every Model T since the beginning. The carburetor is a Kingston 5 ball with intake pipe angled to the front. The heat stove connects to the exhaust manifold at the #1 cylinder. The oil cap shown is from a later Model T, the original ones used in February 1911 were a simple brass tube with breather screen crimped into the top as had been used since June 1909.

Many thanks to Tom for his stewardship of this wonderful car and all the fine photos. We are going to do a feature article on the tool kit from this car in the near future.

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