1914 Ford Model T Depot Hack - Click to see a list of sponsors
US Flag and Constitution
Barefoot Adventures
The Barefoot Canoe Expedition, Idaho to New Orleans 1984
Barefoot Goldwinging – Most All of North America, 1997-2000
Voyages of the Barefoot Windwalker Across the North Atlantic
Getting Out and Getting Under in the Good Ol' US of A

THE MODEL T
A Beginner's Guide by Barefoot

Driving a Model T is easy and it is fun. Simply follow these instructions to gain understanding, confidence, dexterity and a whole lot of enjoyment and plain and simple fun. The "Tin Lizzie" may appear unlovely and ungainly at first, but she is utterly simple, straight-forward and agile in her own way.

The Ford Model T was the world's first mass produced car, the car that put the world on wheels, designed to be operated easily by folks who had previously only driven a mule. Operation of the Model T is easier to master than a manual transmission car of today

ORIENTATION – WHERE & WHAT DOES IT DO?

With the car on level ground and the engine off, climb up behind the wheel. Notice the hand lever on the floor to your left, the two levers on the steering column beneath the steering wheel, and the three pedals on the floor.

Let's start with the hand lever. All the way back it sets the rear wheel parking/emergency brakes and puts the transmission in neutral. Half-way released it maintains neutral, and fully released it engages the planetary transmission in high gear. Feel it a few times, notice that it holds the left pedal in neutral mid-position, then release it, and notice that the left pedal is all the way up.

Next, the lever to the left beneath the steering wheel is the spark adjust advance/retard from before top dead center ignition to after top dead center. To retard the spark it is moved up, to advance the spark it is moved down. The Model T is always started in the retard position, as it was designed to be started by hand cranking. Unless it is retarded the engine can and will KICK BACK and do damage to hands, wrists and arms. NEVER crank it except in the retard position. After the engine is running, the lever can be moved down to advance the ignition until the engine chuckles smoothly, and when rolling to get the best performance.

The lever to the right is the throttle lever, there is no foot pedal like a modern car. Up is idle speed, down is as fast as it will go. Maximum performance in a Model T is like with a mule, with both ears laid back.

Next, the foot pedals on the floorboard -
The left foot pedal changes your forward gear ratios, up is high, down is low. The Model T has just those two forward ratios, high gear and low gear. Midway between high and low is the neutral "out of gear" position of the left pedal.

To engage first gear, let the handbrake lever off and push the pedal all the way down until it becomes HARD. Pull the handbrake up and feel how the lever holds neutral position on the gear pedal.

The center pedal is for reverse gear engagement, but either the hand lever or the left pedal must be in neutral position before engagement, or the engine will stall. All the way down HARD is reverse position.

The right pedal is the brake. It engages a band around a braking drum in the transmission, operating in the engine oil bath. Therefore, to avoid burning off the oil due to friction heat, and wearing out the band quickly, apply the brake in relatively short duration thrusts to allow the oil to wash and continue lubricating and cooling it.

Note: The Ford Model T only applies braking to the rear wheels!!!
Braking by right pedal is via the driveline to the rear wheels only, does not actuate the rear drum brakes, and can cause dangerous skids in slick road conditions, as the differential will allow one wheel to spin forward and the other backward. Therefore, in slick conditions, use the hand lever to apply braking to the rear drum brakes.

Get the feel of the controls, they will become familiar quickly.

ENGINE STARTING

NOTICE!!!     FIRST THINGS FIRST!!!

1. Raise the right side of the engine hood and check that the engine oil level is adequate, within the limits prescribed. This is done by opening the lower petcock at the rear of the engine. If it does not flow, close the lower petcock, open the upper petcock and add oil until oil flows from the upper petcock. Close the upper petcock, lower and latch the hood.

2. Remove the radiator cap and top off the radiator with fresh water and/or antifreeze solution in freezing weather. A 30-40% methanol(wood alcohol)/water solution may be used, but a 50% ethylene glycol/water solution is recommended for all seasons.

Please observe that the hand crank is located in the center of the car below the radiator. To crank the engine, one must stand in the path the car will take if the engine starts while in gear. The car is NOT OUT OF GEAR UNLESS the Emergency brake/neutral lever is all the way back and the rear brakes set. This must be done FIRST, or you will get run over by your own car should the engine start, MOST EMBARASSING!!!

NEXT, move the spark advance/retard lever all the way up to retard position. Move the throttle lever down approximately of the quadrant.

Observe that the Magneto/OFF/Battery Switch on the coil box or dash panel is in the OFF position. The Model T may be started in either Magneto or Battery position, usually in Battery position unless the battery has lost charge.

Observe the wire ring at the lower left corner of the radiator as you face the car. This is the pull wire of the hand choke. PULL IT OUT.

With the switch OFF, push the crank in and crank the engine over one or two turns, finishing by coming up against compression and just past.

Turn the Magneto/OFF/Battery switch to Battery. The coils will buzz, and sometimes the engine will start without further cranking, especially if warm. If it doesn't, the engine must be cranked through one more cycle of intake/compression. Do this carefully with your right hand, pulling up ONLY by ratcheting the crank as necessary. Do not grip the crank handle but cup it in the palm of the hand with the thumb on the same side of the handle as the fingers. As the cylinder begins to come up on compression, ratchet the crank down to the bottom. Now pull up swiftly, and the engine will start!! If not, repeat the process.

In cold weather the choke may need to be left out until the engine warms. It may be released (or set) from the driver's seat by pushing down the choke/carburetor adjust knob to the right side of the dash panel.

Speed up the engine with the throttle lever, advance the ignition with the advance/retard lever about half-way, then return the engine speed to an idle. It will now chuckle over smoothly at about 400 rpm.

MOVING OUT

Taking what you have learned so far in both hands and both feet, hold the high/low gear pedal half way down in neutral position with your left foot and let the handbrake off, holding the car in position with the right foot on the brake pedal. Increase the engine revs and gently press the gear pedal down, letting off the brake pedal. The car will move forward. Hold the gear pedal down firmly and increase engine revs up to near full speed, this should only take a couple of seconds. Let the gear pedal off to engage top gear, slowing the engine with the throttle lever to get a smooth gear change. (This will take a little practice to perfect, but there is no cause for fear of crashing gears. The transmission bands may be slipped by relaxing foot pedal pressure to control smoothness of engagement.)

BRAKING

Having learned how to get the car in motion, now might be an opportune moment to learn how to stop it! One of the odd things about bowling along in a T is how you have nothing to do with your feet, unlike an ordinary car where you are always on the accelerator pedal. I like to have my right foot beside the brake pedal so it is ready to transfer onto the brake as you would with standard controls. So far the right foot is doing the same as it would in normal driving, it is the left foot which (provided it is not an old dog) must be taught a new trick. In its simplest form this consists of just holding the gear pedal half way down to get neutral as you come to a halt. One of the nice things about driving Fords of this age is that they can start and stop with reasonable speed so as to keep up with modern traffic, extra braking being easily obtainable by pushing the gear pedal further down to engage low gear. It follows that having engaged the gear it has to be disengaged to actually come to a stop. After some practice it becomes second nature to ease the gear pedal down and up again as you roll to a halt.

CLIMBING HILLS

A Model T Ford will climb an 8% (1 in 12) gradient in top gear with full throttle, and will come down it in top gear with no throttle and no brake application. They can safely negotiate 20% or more grades in low range, so hills should hold no fears for Model T Ford owners, but a few words of advice at this point.

Going up is relatively easy, just give the Lizzie full throttle and retard the ignition a little as the speed falls, and she should slog up the hill in fine style provided there is a reasonable amount of fuel in the tank. The T needs about a quarter tank full to climb a 20% grade, as the gravity feed system becomes less effective the steeper the grade. It was common practice, if the grade was too steep and the engine starved for fuel, to back a T over the grade.

As a general rule going down hills should be done at about the same speed as going up. However, the real secret is to successfully use engine compression to slow the car speed on a hill. Move the throttle lever up to minimum or to a setting which will maintain a safe down-grade speed. As there is no return spring on the throttle lever it can be set as slow as necessary, and will hold position. If braking is still necessary, let the pressure off the pedal every so often to prevent burning the linings. Reverse pedal can also be used to brake for added effectiveness if needed. (see "Saving Your Bands" below).

If you need to stop on a steep grade, use low gear as you brake, but be careful to not over speed the engine in low gear. Be aware that there is no engine braking, if the left foot pedal is held in neutral between high and low gear positions. Jamming all three pedals down will stall the engine and skid the rear tires, not an acceptable solution to emergency braking, except on dry pavement, and even then not recommended. NEGOTIATE HILLS AT SAFE SPEEDS, do not allow the car to "Roll Out."

STEERING

The steering on the Ford Model T is very direct and lively by today's standards. It is a direct ratio of the sun/planet gears in the steering column below the steering wheel. Direct steering is common with most cars of this age. The Ford, with a transverse front spring, is subject to "twitching" over lumps and bumps in the road. As the front wheel hits an obstruction it causes the front axle to move sideways on its shackles, "twitching" the steering. You can fight the steering every time it jumps, holding the wheel with a vice like grip in which case you will have arm ache after a twenty minute drive, or you can relax your grip and let the steering wheel twitch rather than the road wheels.

It goes without saying that there should be no slack or play in the steering linkage. The camber, caster and toe-in of the front axle should be checked carefully for correct steering geometry.

DEFICIENCIES OF THE TWO GEAR SYSTEM

In normal driving the two speed pedal operated gear change works very well. It gives a very simple easy gear change enabling you to nip up and down the gears with a minimum of effort. However it does have its drawbacks. The obvious one is the large gap between the gears, there are some circumstances when bottom gear is too low and top is too high. A Ruckstell two speed rear axle alleviates this to some extent.

Places where you may find difficulty are:
1. Changing up a gear on hills.
2. Going into junctions or roundabouts (traffic circles) where top gear is too fast.
Or
3. Going over rough ground or grass.

All that can be done is to grind along in low gear until top gear can be used again. The only other answer is to install an auxiliary gear such as the Ruckstell two speed rear axle. In practice a bit of coasting around obstructions and then with a quick burst of low gear before going back into high again will negotiate most of these situations with ease.

MANEUVERING

Maneuvering the Model T can really separate the men from the boys. It is suggested that the novice driver avoid tight situations until some practice has been obtained.

To reverse hold the left gear pedal half way down in neutral with the left foot, gently press the reverse pedal to go backwards with the right foot. Relax the pressure on the reverse pedal and press the brake with the right foot when you want to stop. Alternatively, apply pressure to the left pedal to brake bringing the car to a stop. This can also be accomplished by use of the hand lever to place the left pedal in neutral, so that when the reverse pedal is released, the brake pedal can be applied. We only have two feet to operate 3 pedals.

The reason why instant action may be needed is this, it takes some time for a driver used to ordinary controls to come to terms with pressing pedals to go rather than stop. In a second you can find that the car is going too fast and the harder you press the pedal the faster it goes. If you keep the right foot ready on the right brake pedal, disaster can be averted. This is the only pedal that will hold the car stationary.

THE THREE POINT TURN-AROUND

Once the finer points of maneuvering have been mastered, the Model T three point turn-around much loved by the likes of Laurel and Hardy can be tried. This consists of getting an instant reverse by pressing the reverse pedal when going forward and then doing the same thing with the low gear pedal when going back to give a second instant change of direction. This should be done with some care so as not to strain the transmission. Other drivers are mystified as to how this is done without any grappling of gear levers.

SAVING YOUR BANDS

The Ford Model T planetary transmission has three bands, one for low gear, one for reverse and one for the brake. These bands need to be changed from time to time, but if you can wear them all out together you will get the longest time between band changes. The brake band has the hardest life while the reverse band gets relatively little use. The wear can be equalized by using reverse pedal for some of the braking. Use reverse first to slow the car, then slide the foot across onto the brake pedal to come to a halt.

These bands and gearing run in the engine crankcase oil. If they are allowed to slip too much the oil is burned off and the lining of the band will be worn very quickly. To avoid this always hold the low gear pedal down firmly and do your braking in relatively short bursts releasing the pressure to allow the oil back round the lining.

The Ford Model T will be a willing and faithful friend, when the above is mastered, always ready to go for a run, and above all great fun to drive.

Enjoy your Sweet T without any lemon!!

Model T Specifications

Early Ford History Links

Click for my wish for you this day
Click for a Message From Barefoot
Barefoot's World
Email Barefoot
On the Web April 2007 in the Spirit of Adventure

Three mighty important things, Pardn'r, LOVE And PEACE and ADVENTURE in LIFE