As with any project like this there are some fundamental choices that have to be made at various points of the process of fixing up an old car. These include: How much new versus just refurbishing the old? How deep to disassemble? Polish up the fittings? versus Have them plated. What color shall the car be? Painted wheel spokes or natural wood? Pinstripes or not? The choices and decisions are many. Some may also be dictated by budget and other considerations, like potential resale. How we come to these choices may spring from our upbringing and sense of historical accuracy or connections to family. Or both. Or none of these. And I think this is why we see a wide range of restoration types. Some current thinking favors “Leaving survivors alone”. Many particularly zealous restorations are so expensive and thorough that the finished cars are better detailed and more mechanically perfect than the car was new off the showroom floor. Ours will be somewhere in between “leaving it alone and ultimate perfection.”
When Janet & I became aware of this car and saw it for the first time, we were struck by two things. 1) It was very complete and appeared to be solid; and 2) Its state was such that it didn’t run and could not be driven without extensive work.
My background with antique autos and restoration projects started fairly young. My Dad and I had visited and greatly enjoyed various auto collections and museums from when I was about 7 or 8 years old. In Santa Monica, we visited Phil Hill’s collection of race cars in the early 1960s. Later we visited the Briggs Cunningham museum in the late 1960’s as well as the famous Harrah’s car collection and restoration facilities outside of Reno, Nevada during its heyday. This was all years before the Peterson Museum. My Dad had been a member of the Horseless Carriage Club (without owning a car) from before I was born. He finally purchased a brass era 1914 Ford Model T, touring in 1969.
That car was my true introduction to auto restoration. Our T was mostly all there, but was crumbling apart. The engine that was in the car was from 1919. The original block was in the back seat. Every time the car went over a bump or into a driveway, the frame flexed and a little pile of dry-rot sawdust would sprinkle on the ground. We drove the car a very little bit and then my Dad, my Grandfather, Vincent Correll, Sr., and I proceeded to take the car completely apart with the intent to re-wood, repaint, reupholster and rejuvenate the machine. During such times, my Grandad would tell me stories about how he and my Grandma, Ruth Davis Correll, took several trips from Nebraska to California and Washington State in their Model T touring. And how he had to do road-side repairs. The most memorable story was about seven flat tires in one day — all within sight of Mount Shasta. He laughed about it, but I’m sure that he was not too pleased at the time. Inflating a tire to 55 to 60 P.S.I. with a hand pump is guaranteed to make you sweat.
Over the years, I’ve done extensive restoration work on our T. Some with my Dad. Much of the mechanical stuff was with my son, Eric, or just me. Our goal was to keep it original. Keep it stock. The aesthetic changes are natural wood wheels, a radiator flag mount, accessory “Rocky Mountain” type brakes, an electric tail light. Mechanical “upgrades” include double suspension wish bone, aluminum pistons, adjustable valve lifters, 12 volt battery & accessory plug, a cup holder in the back seat, an exhaust cut-out, magneto post oil tube, hogs head oil screen, Kevlar® transmission bands,and a period correct Klaxon horn.
The sum of all this is that there isn’t much on our T that a person in 1914 would recognize as some modern knick-knack or inappropriate. Okay – Okay. Maybe the cup holder.
What Aesthetic Choices for the MICHIGAN?
Our promise to family members, Steve Dickey and other Fleck descendants, was that we would restore the car to working condition and try to put it back to as near to original as we could. We aren’t taking out the engine and replacing it with a small block Chevy V-8. We aren’t going to put in a tubular steel frame or stick wire wheels on it. The intent is to keep it correct. This car has almost everything on it as it is supposed to be. Why would we mess with that. Well, we’ve already crossed that line. It wasn’t “pristine” when we first saw it. Much of the car had been gone through in the 1960’s or 70’s. That was done by Steve and Phillip Dickey. There is evidence on the water & oil pumps and numerous engine parts of silicone sealant. That means, it didn’t just get parked in 1925. There is further evidence that the wood in the body has been worked on and was painted. Whether this means the body was off the frame, has yet to be determined. The left front fender has new steel spliced in where it attached to the frame and undoubtedly had rusted out. The upholstery has been pretty much destroyed by vermin, water, mold or a combination of all of them. The folding top and strapping has shredded with age. Nearly every bit of the nickel plated trim has either been polished off or was so tarnished that gently polishing it was essentially removing it. Many sections of the car’s black paint are remarkably good. But the doors have major chips and rust underneath. The dashboard / firewall was delaminating and falling to pieces. Parts of the running gear and frame have rust (other areas are beautiful.)
So…. just about every bit of nickel trim needs re-plating — can you hear the cash register?
Play it again. You obviously didn’t appreciate what was just said. Minimum price to plate ANYTHING of ANY SIZE with nickel is $70. Yeah…… like little bitty knobs. I keep telling myself that it’s O.K. — We won’t have to do this again for about 200 years. (Play the recording again.)
So to sum up our approach to aesthetic decisions regarding the car — and paraphrasing the late great Yogi Berra, “When we come to that fork in the road, we’ll take it.”