The Kingston Carburetor in the Model T Ford

A brand new two lever 1909 tourabout is missing the splash aprons for some reason. This car likely was delivered with a Kingston 5 ball carburetor.

A version of Kingston carburetor, made in Kokomo Indiana, was used on every year of Model T Ford. Like the Model T the Kingston carburetor evolved many times over the course of Ford production. Ford always had a secondary supplier for carburetors during every model year, as was customary. Kingston was sometimes the primary brand, other times it was the secondary brand in a given model year. The Kingston brand is the only carburetor manufacturer that was used during every model year of the Model T.

In this article we will examine the Kingston carburetors for the entire life of the Model T. This will provide an easy identification guide for the restorer or prospective purchaser of either a carburetor or a Model T. Having the correct carburetor for your car enhances the car’s interest to serious collectors. This of course makes the car more valuable.

George Kingston about 1940, co- founder of Byrne Kingston & Co.

The Byrne Kingston company was founded by George Kingston and Charles T Byrne in 1903. George Kingston had moved to Kokomo in 1901, working at the Ford and Donnelly foundry which specialized in aluminum castings. Charles T Byrne owned another foundry in Kokomo that specialized in brass castings. Kingston was very interested in early automobiles, and in 1902 he started designing his first carburetor. A year later, he and Byrne partnered in the new company, with Kingston leaving his former employer for good. He would not regret his decision.

The Kingston 5 ball carburetor was used on many makes of automobiles, stationary engines, and even boats. This is a 1909 advertisement from The Motor Boat magazine. It shows a 5 ball Kingston carburetor with pipe thread attachment to the engine intake port.
1909 Kingston 5 ball carburetor for the Model T had a mushroom shaped flame arrestor on the inlet.

Another view of the earliest style Model T Kingston 5 ball carburetor. Notice there is no choke on the carburetor
Top view of the 1909 early style Kingston 5 ball. For cold weather starting a lever can be operated which will depress the float assembly, causing raw gasoline to overflow into the intake port.
Another variation of flame arrestor shown on S/N 220 at the Piquette museum has a screen / tube device instead of the mushroom version shown above.

The earliest Model T’s sold in 1908 as the new 1909 Model T were predominantly equipped with the Kingston 5 ball carburetor with no choke assembly. A second manufacturer, Buffalo, provided a few carburetors but they were very rare.  For cold starting the Kingston carburetors had a “tickler” spring loaded button on the bowl. By opening the hood of the car, then moving a lever for a second or two, the float is depressed and fuel overflows the carburetor bowl, into the intake below the carburetor. This was fine in the days of dirt floor garages but is somewhat of a fire hazard on concrete.

Arrow showing the “tickler” lever on an early Kingston 5 ball carburetor.

The early style Kingston 5 ball carburetor continued to be installed through the beginning of 1910 model year, with a Holley variation becoming the alternate carburetor for most of 1910. By the fall of 1910 Kingston had made engineering changes to incorporate a choke assembly into a new forward angled inlet on the 5 ball carburetor.


The Kingston 5 ball carburetor was a great performing carburetor. It gave reliable starting when cold, especially in the upgraded 1910 – 11 version. The main drawback of these carburetors was complexity and cost to manufacture.

By 1911 Kingston was getting stiff competition from another carburetor manufacture, Holley Brothers. Ford adopted the Holley H1 in mid 1911 as the primary carburetor supplier for the Model T. This was a simpler, and no doubt less expensive carburetor than the newest Kingston offering.


The Kingston 6 ball carburetor was introduced midway in the 1911 model year. A good performing carburetor, it was nonetheless somewhat complicated compared to the competition offered by Holley. The 6 ball carburetor is rarely seen today, and does not appear in the 1911 USA Ford parts catalog. It does appear in the 1911 Canadian parts catalog which suggests that it may have been more prevalent (or only used) on Model T’s sold in Canada or exported from Canada to places like New Zealand or Australia.

The new Kingston Model Y 4 ball carburetor had fewer parts and fewer machining operations needed to make it, which allowed Kingston to sell these to Ford at lower prices and in greater numbers than had previously been possible. Note that the patent plate says “Patent Applied For”. Kingston’s patent applications were not accepted until years later, a tactic used by patent lawyers to keep competition from using your ideas for a longer period of time.

Introduced just in time for the 1913 model year, the Kingston 4 ball was simpler to manufacture and a great performing carburetor. It was the most common carburetor used in 1913 on the Model T Ford.

1913 Kingston Model “Y”  4 ball drawing courtesy of the Henry Ford museum used with permission. These carburetors were used both in RH drive and LH drive applications, both export and domestic USA built cars.

A word is in order regarding the word “ball” found in the description of every Kingston carburetor up to this point.  Carburetors function to meter the mixture of air and fuel entering the engine. The Kingston design uses a typical adjustable needle over an orifice to adjust the flow of fuel delivery. Changing air pressure in the carburetor affects the amount of fuel pulled through this orifice. Fuel level in the carburetor is maintained at a constant height by the cork float, which controls fuel entering into the carburetor. A needle and seat are associated with the float so that fuel is shut off when it reaches a certain level.

 The brass balls found in a Kingston carburetor sit above passageways within the carburetor that allow additional airflow into the engine. As the engine speed increases the pressure inside the carburetor becomes low enough that the balls are lifted off their seats, automatically compensating for changes in demand. Thus the Kingston carburetor has more precise response at any speeds compared to less complex carburetor designs. This makes for smoother acceleration and easier starting. It also in theory makes the Kingston carburetor use less fuel, as airflow and fuel consumption are directly related.

The Kingston Model “L” was introduced for the 1915 model year. The new design eliminated the use of costly brass balls. The design was much simpler, requiring fewer machine operations and a simpler casting.


New for 1915, the Kingston L carburetor used a float and needle / seat arrangement similar to the 4 ball Kingston carburetors used in 1913 – 14. Above the cork float everything about the new design was simpler and different.  A simple hinged air valve replaced the ball arrangement used previously. The effect was identical. The new air valve opened in response to increased airflow through the carburetor. The Kingston L was a very popular carburetor and was used in 1915 – 16 Ford production. 

George Kingston by 1915 had become wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. The house in this photo was the grandest and most expensive dwelling in Kokomo, Indiana when Kingston bought it. It is known as the “Sieberling Mansion” named after its previous owner, Monroe Sieberling, who commissioned it to be built. Sieberling was an entrepreneur who built a quite successful factory in Kokomo making cardboard boxes from straw. Construction of the house was begun in 1889 and completed in 1891 at a then whopping cost of $50,000.


By this time Kingston carburetors were being used in everything that had an engine, from motorcycles to motorboats, tractors, stationary engines, and of course the Model T Ford. The Kingston Model L provided the basic design used in Kingston carburetors from 1915 until 1927.

With the top cap removed you can see the air valve inside the new 1915 Kingston L carburetor. The air valve is closed in this view. You can see a shiny spot on top of the valve where the weight contained in the cap assembly rubs.
In this photo we can see the air valve in its fully open position. When assembled the weight will not actually allow it to open this far, it actually opens only about 3/8″ off its seat.
The L carburetor shares a feature with all previous Kingston Model T carburetors. My finger is on the “tickler” button which can be depressed for enrichment when the engine is cold.
When you depress the tickler button it causes this plunger to push down on the carburetor float. The float is connected to the fuel inlet valve. Fuel overflows the float bowl into the air chamber, causing a richer mixture for cold starting in winter time. You don’t want to hold this button for more than a second or there will be fuel on the floor under your car!
The 1916 version of the Kinston L carburetor was simplified by deleting the “tickler” button. This carburetor was polished up during restoration, which makes it look better than it ever did in 1916.  
The Kingston Model L2 was introduced in 1917 as a further simplification of the basic designs first used on the L.
Cut away drawing of a Kingston L2 shows the major components. Unlike the “ball” style of carburetor, all air in the L series carburetors must come through the air valve. The weight (letter W above) presses down on the air valve, creating more resistance to movement of the valve than the weight of the valve alone could provide.  

By 1917 Ford was making nearly three quarters of a million cars every year. Kinston and Holley each shared half the production, meaning that Kinston sold Ford over 300,000 carburetors that year. The first Kingston L2 carburetors were entirely made of brass, including the float bowl. By 1918 the float bowls became a pressed steel part.

The Kingston L2 was further modified in 1919 with a choke that could be operated inside the car or from the driver’s seat, which became necessary when Ford began to equip its cars with electric starters for the first time.
A Kingston L2 cutaway from 1919 – 21 showing the airflow pattern through the carburetor.
By 1923 the L4 carburetor body was being cast from iron to save money. The float became a soldered brass assembly which was much more reliable than the older cork floats.

By 1922 Ford was building about 1.3 million cars and trucks per year. Kingston again was sharing carburetor supply with Holley. Each company sold Ford well over half a million carburetors that year. To capitalize on the increased production Kingston again completely redesigned their carburetor. The new Model T carburetor was known as the Kingston L4.

Initially the L4 was made with a bronze body and steel float bowl. The float in 1922 was still made from cork. The L4 was somewhat smaller than the L2, which saved material cost during manufacture. The L4 had an additional passageway not found in the earlier carburetors that provides additional fuel at idle and off – idle throttle settings.

1926 L4 carburetor with a zinc float bowl. The float bowl drain was eliminated as a further cost saving measure. Notice the mixture control is made to accept a U-joint typical of all Model T carburetors from 1925 – 26.

 In 1926 Ford built nearly 1.7 million Model T cars and Model TT trucks. The petroleum industry was not able to meet demand for high quality gasoline. As a result, gasoline quality suffered as demand grew. Ford adopted vaporizer type intake / exhaust manifold combinations that preheated the fuel air mixture in an attempt to improve engine operation. The great majority of Model T’s were equipped with the Holley Vaporizer setup. Kingston supplied a smaller percentage of carburetor / manifold assemblies  in that final year of production.

kingston b1 gasifier regenerator
The final and most complicated of all Kingston carburetor designs was the B1 gasifier regenerator. These are great performing setups if properly rebuilt. Most Model T owners have never seen one in person.