LANSING – Ted O’Dell had his first Ford Model T driving lesson in March of 2007, the day he went to Davenport, Iowa to buy a 1923 Model T from a dealer.
The seller, a gentleman in his 70s, took him out into a parking lot. O’Dell promptly drove the car into a fence.
“It seemed like we were going fast,” O’Dell laughed. “We were probably going about 10 mph.”
The antique car dealer had owned Model T’s all his life, and “He said ‘The best advice I can give you is that you and this car have to learn to get along,’” O’Dell said. “And he was right.”
The car will tell you how it wants to be driven, he said, you just have to listen to the motor and the transmission and the exhaust.
He’s had this “favorite toy” in close to 100 car shows all over the state of Michigan. On Saturday the Model T will be part of the R.E. Olds Museum Car Capital Auto and Bike Show in downtown Lansing.
This is the 24th year for the show, which shows four different groups – all makes stock classes, modified classes, Oldsmobile stock classes and motorcycle classes.
The show will feature between 250 and 300 vehicles, around 20 motorcycles and more than 150 awards totaling over $5,000, according to committee chairperson Bill Adcock.
O’Dell, who lives in Lansing and works for the American Heart Association where he runs policy campaigns inside the state legislature, grew up downstate in Monroe County. His father worked for Ford, as did both of his father’s parents and his mother’s father. O’Dell has wanted a Model T since around the age of six. They always looked like fun.
His first car was a 1966 Ford Mustang Sprint 200, which he bought at age 16 and still owns.
His other toys include a 1930 Ford Model A, a 1948 Frazer Manhattan, a 1989 Jeep Comanche pickup truck, a 1958 Ford tractor and a 1923 Pietenpol airplane, which still runs but doesn’t fly. It was the first home built aircraft you could buy and build yourself and it runs on a Model T engine. He stores most of the vehicles in his parents’ pole barn in Oakville,
The Model T was O’Dell’s first full restoration. Along with a friend, who lives in the Upper Peninsula, they restored the car in record-breaking time.
“When I bought the car, I was in a hurry to get it done for the old car festival held every fall at Greenfield Village,” O’Dell said. “We restored it in three months, and I took it down there in September of 2007. Out of more than 500 cars, I came in second place. The reason – when they judged the car, I had the top down. I didn’t know it had to be up for judging, otherwise I would have won first place.”
He purchased this particular car because it was all original when he bought it. It hadn’t been souped up, chopped up or converted to something else.
“My thought was what better way to teach yourself about a Model T than to take it apart, put it back together. So that’s what we did. Took the entire thing apart. Everything but the engine.”
The engine is a 4-cylinder volt system, cast iron. When O’Dell pulled the old motor out and was going to have it rebuilt, the man who was going to rebuild it, called him with two options.
He could rebuild the motor and charge him a lot of money. Or he could sell him a brand new 1923 Ford Model T motor, still in the crate, with a lifetime guarantee.
O’Dell took the one in the crate.
He doesn’t know how many miles are on the car, because there’s no speedometer, no odometer.
“Those are accessories, and Henry Ford didn’t give away anything for free,” O’Dell said. “I had to put the rearview mirror on it and the exterior rearview mirror. I have a little spotlight on the side, and I put that on it as well. When you bought a Model T in 1923, you only bought the basic car.”
There are no windows, so if the car wasn’t stored in the barn, or someplace else, the top and interior would get ratty looking and tattered, he explained. So the tops and interior were frequently replaced because it is considered an open car, versus a Model T with doors and glass windows.
And every Model T came with an oil can, O’Dell says, because you had to oil a number of things on the car every 200 miles. You also had to know where you’d been to measure the distance.
O’Dell paid $7,500 for the car nine years ago and says he’s probably spent another $7,500 restoring it. He gets offers for the car all the time, he said. If he was going to sell it today, he says he’d start at $30,000.
President of the Central Michigan T’s Model T Club, he’s driven the car across the Upper Peninsula, even driving it up to the tip of the Keewanau peninsula. It took awhile, but they made it.
“That car will cruise all day long at about 35 to 37 mph,” he said. “It will go a little faster, but the thing is you don’t want to go faster in a model T because there’s no brakes on the wheels. It has a transmission brake.”
The transmission, he explains, is very similar to an early tractor. The idea was if you were a farmer and bought a Model T you’d know how to drive it right away.
The gas tank, underneath the front seat, holds nine gallons.
“If you drive the car right, you can get maybe 30 miles to the gallon,” O’Dell said. “It’s a very lightweight car, it only weighs 1,200 pounds.”
The Model T is O’Dell’s favorite in his collection “because it’s so rudimentary and it’s the car that put the world on wheels,” he said. “It’s the car that made automobiles within reach of working people.”
“Prior to the invention of the Model T, the vast majority of automobiles were rich boy’s toys. But the Model T, if you had a job, you could buy a car. Our great-grandparents rarely went more than 20 miles from where they were born their entire lifetime. And if you had a Model T, you could drive 100 miles in one day. That’s unheard of. And you didn’t have to stop and feed it oats.”
O’Dell drives the car around the westside neighborhood, where he lives, waving at the children and tooting with his horn that sounds a bit like a duck. He even offers to take the kids on rides, he says. What better way to get them interested in cars?
“For me, the car is more fun to drive than it is to look at,” O’Dell said “I don’t mind putting it in a show to be judged, but, to me, that’s not the fun. The fun is to get in the car on Saturday morning and head out north of Lansing, find a country road somewhere and just drive all day. You just see so much more than you do in an enclosed modern vehicle.”
R.E. Olds Museum Car Capital Auto and Bike Show
9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in downtown Lansing at the Capitol; free. (517) 372-0529.
There will be a raffle of a 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible. Tickets are $20 each or three for $50. All money raised from the event will go to keep the museum operating.
Vintage car rides will be given in a 1908 REO and a 1921 Oldsmobile; $2 per person.