How to Drive A Model T Ford Part 2

When we left off last time the car was running. To review the previous installment click here:

How To Drive A Model T Ford Part 1

When the Model T was being sold and driven as a new car most Americans lived outside of cities on farms. There would seldom be any other car on the road. Meeting another car would be at a minimum an occasion to wave and honk. Perhaps you might even stop to exchange pleasantries, and to view the other driver’s machine.

Today most of us are faced with the challenge of operating our Model T on the same road as other modern cars with their not – so – attentive drivers. You and your Model T need to be on your game to stay safe out there.

Above and below we see the optional accessory STOP lamp offered by Ford for the 1926 – 27 Model T. A stop lamp switch activated by the movement of the brake pedal was part of the kit. Earlier Model T’s were not equipped with a stop lamp. We consider a stop lamp a minimum requirement to operate any Model T on today’s roads with today’s drivers. You don’t want to be rear – ended by an SUV do you?

Above we see the stop lamp switch reproduction offered by Lang’s and many other Model T part sellers. There are several other ways to add a stop lamp switch to your Model T. Look at your options and get it done before you try to drive in traffic.

During the 1920’s many companies offered aftermarket stop lamps. Above we see a very common one. There are thousands of these out in the world, maybe there is one with your name on it. Other stop lamp options include converting the stock tail lamp, or buying a trailer lamp from the local auto part store.

Getting started with your driving skills – a few tips for the first time Model T driver.

For your first drive in a Model T you need a large space with no other drivers or cars. It needs to be day time, preferably in dry conditions. Plan to spend a few hours practicing before you attempt to drive in traffic. Model T’s drive differently than any other kind of car. You need to develop reflexive responses. This only can be accomplished through repetitive action. Your brain needs a new set of skills, this won’t happen quickly.  If you live on a deserted country road with little or no traffic that is ideal. Most of us live in busy cities. For people like us the best place to learn about driving a Model T is in a large empty parking lot. Perhaps there is a closed shopping center near you, or a church that has no activities on certain days of the week. Have an experienced T driver take you and the car to the safe area. You don’t want to practice on real streets with real drivers until you have at least an hour of driving “off the grid”.

We will assume that you are starting off with the car idling, and the parking brake set.  Place your right foot on the brake pedal and depress it. Squeeze the brake lever release and move the brake lever forward a few inches so it is positioned as seen above. That way the transmission can be used in Low and Reverse, and the car can be driven. You want to practice for a few minutes like this.

Above we see the spark lever pulled down 1/2 way which is a good position for most driving up to about 25 MPH. The throttle is pulled down a few notches so that the engine is at a medium idle speed. This is how the levers should look when you start from a dead stop on level ground. To start moving the brake pedal is released by the right foot at the same time as the clutch pedal (all the way on the left) is gradually but firmly depressed with the left foot.

You do not need to increase the engine speed to start moving. As a first time driver, you should practice starting from a dead stop and then becoming used to stopping the car from low speeds using the brake pedal. Keep the parking brake lever centered for now. Practice driving in reverse. Model T’s are notoriously unstable with regard to steering in reverse. Don’t go too fast or far in reverse, it can be an easy way to overturn the car if you were to suddenly turn while backing up. The steering tends to self center while driving forward in a Model T. When backing up the steering tends to flip right or left. Keep a firm grasp on the wheel.

A word about brakes

Model T Fords do not have the best brakes. In fact, they are quite substandard compared to any modern vehicle. The nice 1916 touring above has been retrofitted with rear wheel hydraulic disc brakes. This is one of many modern upgrade brake systems that can be purchased from the T Part dealers.

For the purposes of this article we will assume that you do not have any upgrades and the car is just the way Ford built it. The brake pedal should be used sparingly because there is only one small brake band clamping on the brake drum inside the transmission. The brake was not meant to be used as a way to slow down from high speeds. Panic stops should be avoided if at all possible. Don’t drive too close to other drivers. When approaching a stop sign, let off the throttle long before you need to stop. Allow the engine to slow the car in high gear.

After driving for perhaps 20 minutes in low and reverse only, you are probably ready to try high gear. Start off in low, and move the parking brake lever all the way forward (see above) as you start off from a dead stop. With your foot firmly on the low pedal increase throttle until the engine speed is nearly maximum. Now it is time to shift into high gear. When shifting from low to high you should ease upwards on the low pedal while simultaneously reducing the throttle to near idle speed. When your foot is completely off the low pedal you can then rapidly move the throttle down to continue accelerating in high gear.

Out in the real world you have to worry not just about other drivers. There are also hills. A few things to think about before going up steep hills are your gasoline supply and your oil system.

The fuel system in a Model T relies on gravity to supply fuel pressure. The illustration above shows a nearly empty tank on level ground. If the car is going up even a slight incline the carburetor is then above the fuel supply. The engine starves for fuel and dies. You won’t like that, so we recommend that before embarking on any trips that involve inclines that you fill the fuel tank to avoid problems.

The oil system on your Model T has similar issues when going up a hill. The oil system depends on oil flowing through the oil tube from the flywheel area to the front of the engine. From the front of the engine oil is slung around by the timing gears, then it overflows into the various “dips” in the engine pan where it is slung around by the connecting rods. All this slinging and splashing deposits oil on the cylinder walls and the camshaft and the upper rod bearings. On long uphill climbs there is less oil moving forward. You might think about adding one of the “outside oil line” kits that are offered by the T Part sellers to help improve the oiling on hills.

Going up a hill is best done with as much momentum as possible. Your Model T has only 20 horsepower. Often it will be necessary to use low gear when going up a really steep hill. When downshifting to low on a steep hill you need to go as far as you can in high gear, but not so far that the engine is laboring or “lugging”. This is another skill that becomes second nature only through practice. Be aware of drivers behind you as you are going up a steep hill. It may be that, if the hill becomes too steep, you may have to pull over to the side, stomp the brake pedal hard, and set the parking brake to let other traffic go by before turning around and descending. These sort of situations are dangerous for the inexperienced T driver. We recommend riding as a passenger and watching an experienced T driver climb a steep hill prior to actually doing it yourself.

Descending hills is often easier than going up so long as you understand a few things about Model T driving. A cardinal rule is to descend hills in the same gear that was used going up that same hill. This might mean using low gear all the way down a hill. You will want to keep the engine from over speeding, and you don’t want to use the brake pedal very much if it can be avoided. You can also retard the spark for improved engine braking.

On hot days your Model T might get warm going up a long hill. This is a good reason to carry an extra gallon of coolant when going on tour. A little cooler with iced beverages for the passengers can be a good thing too! Above we see the author stopped on a hot day in south central Texas during a tour. Taking a break is good for the car, the driver and the passengers. While you cool down, take a look and make sure everything is still where it should be. Look for low tires or loose parts. These cars are now mostly over 100 years old. They need some attention from time to time in order that you and your passengers have a safe, enjoyable experience on your drive.

Discuss this article