Ford Model T Speedsters
There was never an official Ford Speedster, based on the ubiquitous Model T, but various forms of ‘Speedsters’ were produced by ‘hot rodders’ in the post-Word War I period, as alternatives to the much more expensive Stutz and Mercer performance two-seaters.
1907 Ford Model K Runabout
Before the introduction of the car for everyman – the Model T – Henry Ford had dabbled briefly in the performance car market, introducing the Model K6-40 Gentleman’s Roadster in 1907. This six-cylinder sports car had 40bhp and was good for 70mph, but cost a heady US$2800.
1908 Ford Model N Runabout
A more modest sports model was the 1908 Ford four-cylinder 15-18bhp Runabout – the Model N.
However, all that frivolity ended in 1909, when Ford introduced the Model T. Priced from US$450, it suited the working man’s budget and quickly sold in thousands. That availability and low price encouraged enthusiasts to convert the Model T’s basic transportation into something a lot more exciting, so by 1913 a large ‘aftermarket’ had developed, offering a wide range of ‘speed parts’ and custom accessories for the basic-black Model T.
Roof 16-valve OHV head
The heart of any Speedster was a hotted-up version of the basic 20bhp side-valve motor and the target output was at least 40bhp. The basic hot-up was a shaved head, to increase compression ratio, in conjunction with lightweight aluminium pistons. Other steps were beefier, counterbalanced crankshafts, larger valves and performance camshafts.
A US collection of hotted-up Model T engines – Rob Patterson
For those with a larger budget there were Rajo, Frontenac and Roof overhead-valve and overhead-inlet plus side-exhaust valve conversions. For full-on racing, including at Indianapolis, there were Roof overhead-camshaft and twin-overhead-camshaft heads.
Five-bearing bottom end – Rob Patterson
Keeping all that high-output metal from disintegration were a variety of stronger, crankshafts, culminating in five-bearing, fully-pressurised cranks that came with bolt-in bearing carriers for the crankcase that fitted between cylinders 1-2 and 3-4.
The stock Model T body was replaced by Speedster bodywork that came complete with a ‘monocle’ windshield. Some cars retained standard Ford mudguards and some did away with them altogether. The heavy wooden wheels were replaced by strong and lightweight wire wheels.
A complete kit, consisting of radiator, bonnet, floorboards, rear gasoline tank and vestigial bodywork could be purchased for around US$100.
The Speedster body wasn’t just for looks: it made the Model T go faster because it was lighter and had reduced frontal area. Just making these changes could add 10 to 15mph to the top speed.
It was usually necessary to remove a leaf from each spring, because of the lighter body and the steering column had to be lowered, because the sporty driving position was closer to the ground.
Racing Speedster – Rob Patterson
Most Speedster bodies were little more than a cover over the engine with bucket seats out in the open and the fuel tank and spare tires behind, like the Mercer and Stutz. However, some were streamlined from front to back, with nicely tapered tails.
Standard height and lowered chassis Model Ts – Rob Patterson
Many Speedsters were built on standard-height chassis, but the suspension could be lowered and there were several ways of doing that. One way was with a new front axle that effectively raised the axle spindles and lowered the front end, but another way was to lower the spring-end brackets, using Laurel components. The back could be lowered by cutting off the chassis rails in front of the rear axle and installing Laurel rear spring hangers.
Because the early Speedsters were ‘hot rods’, not original factory-built sports cars, there’s far less restriction on the origin of the bits that are needed to make up a modern reconstruction of one. One of the finest Speedster executions we’ve seen is Rob and Sandy Patterson’s ‘Evangeline’ that is the subject of a restoration story on this website. It uses a variety of inputs from different Model T years and 1928 Model A wire wheels.