A Top Ten of Tin Lizzies
October 1 marked the 100th anniversary of the first Model T to roll off the Ford assembly line, and there's not much left to be said about the car that created the world as we know it. Between 1908 and 1927, Ford made over 15,000,000 T's, a sales record that would stand for over 50 years (eventually eclipsed by the VW Beetle), and at one time accounted for nearly half of all cars sold in the world. The sheer volume of Ts mean that they'll never be collectible in the sense of a Bugatti 1-of-4 muscle car. But nothing stokes the automotive brain center like seeing one of these splendid sturdy old contraptions putter to life -- like this pair I spotted in an Iowa parking lot last summer (a '25 Touring and a '15 Depot Hack)
The Model T became an icon almost as soon a it rolled off the assembly line, giving the language terms like "jalopy" and "flivver" and "Tin Lizzy." Buyers quickly discovered that contrary to Henry Ford's fanatical any-color-as-long-as-it's-black standardization, they could easily be customized. Among the first to do so were high school and college kids, who festooned them for campus antics -- a rage exemplified by Archie's sputtering red cartoon Touring, and the Flying Flubber Flivver that Fred MacMurray piloted above Medfield College in 1961's "The Absent Minded Professor." During the Dustbowl days of the Great Depression, migrating Okies kitted them out as pack mules for the long trek to California.
T's also proved a rich vein of iron for hot rodders, one of which used to belong to me -- the "Gusano Roto," a cutdownsteel '23 T Touring built by Orange County hot rod whiz Rudy Rodriguez. With a healthy 300 hp 350 SBC to push around 1500 pounds, it left its share of rubber vapor trails. I sure miss this little screamer, now somewhere in Canada.
With the advent of the T Centennial, I put a little thought into coming up with my list of the greatest Model Ts of all time. It was a little difficult to winnow down 15,000,000 to 10, but here goes.
Iowahawk's Top 10 Ts:
10. The Black Widow. This highly channeled flathead-powered '27 T roadster still looks incredible, 54 years after it rolled out of the Fresno garage of bulder Walter Olson.
9. The Ray Anderegg "Goldenrod." Anderegg built this roadster by whacking the top off a '26 Phonebooth coupe in 1955 and squirting it with Pagan Gold paint. The original is long gone, but our friend Von Franco built a perfect clone -- all the way down to the insanely rare 1956 Disneyland Hot Rod Parade dash plaque -- a few years back. It now belongs to another pal, Continental Club owner Steve Wertheimer.
8. The Munster Koach. Built by Barris Kustoms for the TV series, spliced together from 3 separate Ts, with a motor topped with 10(!) chromed Strombergs. Sublimely ridiculous, the ne plus ultra of wild 60's TV cars.
7. Roy Aldrich Roadster. From the sublimely ridiculous to the just plain sublime: Roy "Multi" Aldrich began building this T in the early '30s, long before the term "hot rod" existed. Every modification -- lowered axles, removed fenders, Buffalo wires, Riley multi-lift head, laid back windshield -- was done with one thing in mind: speed. It was already an old-timer when this photo was taken at Bonneville in 1952.
6. Steve Scott's "Uncertain T". This Nailhead-powered slanted phonebooth coupe caused a sensation when it debuted at the Oakland Roadster Show, and became a popular plastic model kit. Unseen for over 30 years, rumor has it that the car is still in pristine condition hiding in a California garage.
5. Blackie Gejeian's "Shisk-Kebab." Blackie's little '26 RPU tied with the Anderegg Goldenrod for America's Most Beautiful Roadster in 1955, and he was so proud of the detailed chrome undercarriage that he would drain the fluids, pull off the right side hubcaps, and push it upright on its side so admirers could have a close look.
4. Ed Iskenderian's '26. Legendary cam grinder Isky started built his turtledeck roadster in 1939 -- making his own one-off overhead exhaust valve conversion heads -- and it remains almost unchanged today. It's on display at the NHRA museum in Pomona.
3. Tommy Ivo's T. Teen TV star Tommy Ivo stuffed his T RPU with a injected Buick Nailhead and topped it with a jaunty cloth top featuring an outhouse-inspired half moon cutout. But it wasn't just a street cruiser; Ivo ran it hard on the dragstrip, hitting the 11's at 120 mph in street trim. It was Ivo's entree in a drag racing career as a Top Fuel champion.
2. Duffy Livingstone's Eliminator. Car buffs know the Ford GT40 as "the Ferrari Killer," but the original Ford to hold that title was this humble little roadster. Livingstone -- best known as the inventor of the Go Kart -- stuck an early T bucket on Essex rails and stuffed in a 283 SBC punched out to 302". At the L.A. Examiner's 1959 Grand Prix in Pomona this garage built cheapie stomped a field of high tech, high dollar Ferraris and Maseratis and became a legend. It now belongs to legendary automotive writer Brock Yates who wrote a very good book about it.
1. The Lightning Bug / Kookie T. SoCal teen Norm Grabowski began building his T roadster in 1955 and in its original incarnation (The Lightning Bug) it caught the eye of TV producers. He added a four deuce to the Cadillac motor and a wild flame job, and it was cast as the car of beatnik-lingo valet Edd "Kookie" Byrnes on the TV series 77 Sunset Strip. This is the car that launched the T-bucket craze, as well as Grabowski's long career as a character actor (usually playing good natured oafs named "Moose" or "Bronko"). In 1959 it appeared on the cover of Life magazine, under the lights at Bob's Big Boy in Toluca Lake, with Norm wolfing down dinner. A classic image of Americana.
Unfortunately the original car has gone through several owners and has been repainted and hacked and "updated" beyond recognition. But once again Von Franco came to the rescue, building two perfect clones of both Grabowski versions of the car. In fact there is great new documentary by our friend Evel at Mad Fabricators that tells the story. Highly recommended for that hot rod freak on your gift list!