For nearly as long as the automobile has existed, owners have been tinkering with them to extract more speed, better handling and reliability. Prior to the advent of mass production, automobiles were generally a luxury item and any customizing was done on a bespoke basis. However, once Ford’s ubiquitous Model T hit the scene, suddenly the market was flooded with affordable automobiles that could be tweaked, modified and adapted to just about any imaginable job. As the Model T’s popularity grew, so did the aftermarket that supplied tools and parts to service it. Fords were converted for use as farm implements, work trucks, saw mills, delivery vans and inevitably, racing cars. Pioneering petrol heads found numerous ways to extract more power, better handling and usability from the omnipresent T.
Decades before Colin Chapman “added lightness” to his Austin 7 to make the first Lotus, Model T owners were shedding weight by tossing away heavy factory steel fenders and bodywork and replacing them with lightweight and simplified speedster bodies. As the T evolved, so did the concept of the speedster. Early examples were simply cut down roadsters, while later examples got custom bodies designed to cheat the air and ditch the pounds. Based in Louisville, Kentucky, the Roose Manufacturing Company offered a wide variety of accessories designed to make live with a Model T a bit easier. Their main product offerings were practical items such as insulated hood covers, weather proof coil box covers and convertible tops. However, they did offer a handful of rakish speedster bodies named “Speed King”.
In addition to modified bodies, performance improvements could be made to a T with thanks to a burgeoning speed equipment industry. The leaders in the market were none other than the Chevrolet Brothers (Louis and Arthur) who’s highly advanced Frontenac overhead valve cylinder head had proven itself in the “Fronty-Ford” by finishing in 5th place in the 1923 Indianapolis 500 mile race at an official average of 82.58 MPH; a remarkable achievement in the face of much larger and more powerful competition.
This fascinating little 1918 Ford Model T is a wonderful period piece, wearing a Roose Mfg Co. Speed King body and accessorized with an array of period speed parts. The all-steel body is very rare and quite interesting, with an unusual custom grille shell up front, sweeping back to a close-coupled cockpit and a sharply tapered tail. The body is in solid, sound condition with heavily patinated white paintwork contributing to the fabulous character. The red chassis and black radiator combine for a wonderfully racy look. The cockpit is spartan, with just enough room for a driver and ride-along mechanic.
This T does have some go to match the show, with a Frontenac cylinder head greatly improving breathing, and an add-on water pump fitted to help keep things cool at the higher engine speeds allowed by the overhead valve setup. The engine appears in good order, tidy and clean needing little to bring up to full song. We are quite fond of this unusual and charming Model T speedster. It offers real rarity thanks to its period speed equipment and high quality steel body, and it presents with a certain charming honesty that encourages enthusiastic use, whether around the block or around a vintage race paddock. It is sound and complete, and we could even see it prepared for vintage rallies – so long as the crew doesn’t mind the weather! Whatever the use, this is a fascinating piece of early American motor sports history that is sure to charm its next keeper.
Apr 25, 2018