Henry Ford's car, which was first assembled almost 100 years ago, takes a mechanic at the switch.
By MARTY CLEAR
Published March 12, 2004
There's some choreography involved when Tony Caminiti cranks up his favorite car.
His left hand moves the throttle up and down. His right goes from the ignition switch to the choke to the spark advance and back again, while his feet work the three odd-looking pedals on the floor.
When his car finally starts, the 20-horsepower engine is so loud that conversation is difficult. When he takes it out on the road, he'll cruise along at about 30 mph, maybe get up to 40 or 45 in a pinch.
Caminiti wouldn't have it any other way. He fell in love with the Model T Ford 60 years ago, when he was a student at Hillsborough High School.
"I bought my first Model T when I was 16," he said. "I paid $25 for it. After painting it red and black for Hillsborough High School, I sold it for $50. I doubled my money.
"I have close to $10,000 in the one I own now."
Henry Ford's company built about 15-million Model Ts from 1908 to 1927, when they were replaced by the Model A. The T was quintessentially simple and consumer-friendly. There weren't a lot of service stations or mechanics back then, so owners had to be able to work on their cars themselves, with just some basic tools.
Unlike the cars of today, the Model T stayed basically the same year after year. Even when improvements came along, they were designed so Model T owners could fit them onto their older cars.
"There weren't starters on Model Ts until 1919," said Jack Barnes, who has owned several Model Ts over the years. "But when (Henry Ford) did make them, he made them in such a way that you could put them onto older models. You could take a 1909 Model T and upgrade it so it was almost the same as a 1927."
"They're about as complicated as your lawn mower," said Charley Greacen, another local T owner.
There are maybe 30 or 40 Model Ts in the Tampa area, Caminiti figures. And as a die-hard Model T man - he's owned a couple of dozen over the years, and he's a past president of the Model T Ford Club International - his estimate is probably as good as anyone else's.
"Model T owners are a dying breed," Caminiti said, "because the Model T don't keep up with busy traffic."
For the modern motorist, driving the Model T takes some getting used to.
Those three pedals aren't the clutch, brake and accelerator. The left one is the gear shift - low, neutral and high - the middle one puts the car into reverse, and the right one is the brake.
Drivers couldn't always count on the brake to actually stop the car. It worked on the gears, not on the wheels. If the regular brakes didn't work, a hand-operated emergency brake to the driver's left would work the brakes on the rear wheels. There were other backups too.
"You could actually use reverse as a brake," Caminiti said. "And if all else failed, you'd step on all three pedals at once."
As Model Ts go, Caminiti's 1926 two-door sedan is fairly new, as is Greacen's 1925 model. Barnes has an older car, a 1914 Depot Hatch, designed to pick up passengers from train stations.
That wasn't the normal function of the Model T in the early years, Barnes said. They were usually built for, and purchased by, farmers.
"The people in the cities didn't have any use for them because they didn't have the roads," Barnes said. "There were better roads in the farming areas, because they had cart tracks."
Even at 30 mph, the Model T could save the farmer hours on his trips to and from town. For city folk, who didn't ordinarily travel long distances, a horse and buggy would serve just as well.
Model T owners cite all sorts of reasons for driving such old cars. For Barnes, working on his Model T is simply a hobby. For Caminiti, it's mostly a matter of nostalgia.
Greacen just thinks it's kind of a hoot.
"In my bachelor days, I had a Model A," he said, "and I wanted to get something that was a little more impractical."
Actually, Greacen admits there are more utilitarian aspects to his Model T. He has the name of his business written on the side of his car, so the more people stare as he drives around town, the better.
The stares are something Model T owners become accustomed to, and even relish.
"People are agog," he said. "They cheer, they clap, they holler. They'll come up to you and say, "My granddaddy had one of those.' They tell you all these stories. And I always listen, because I have the same stories."