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BlackTop Nationals: 1911 Model T took decades to restore from bucket of parts

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, August 27, 2011, at 3:32 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, August 21, 2013, at 6:29 p.m.

— The 1911 Ford Model T with the shiny brass trimmings glistened near the end of a line of hot rods and muscle cars from decades earlier.

But the meticulous restoration by Morris Dillow, on display this weekend at the BlackTop Nationals in downtown Wichita, belies the car's beginnings as a pile of bolts.

"I brought it home in buckets from a barn in Rockford, Ill.," said Dillow, 59.

Dillow now lives in Holiday Island, Ark., on the banks of Table Rock Lake. But in 1985 he worked as an electrician in Elgin, Ill, near Chicago, when he found the buckets of parts.

Car enthusiasts call it the brass era, from 1909 to 1913, when Henry Ford used the metal on the cars. The 1911 model also marked the first year Ford went from wood to steel bodies, Dillow said.

Dillow grew up around a legacy of automobiles in his home town, site of the Elgin National Road Race about the time his 1911 Model T would have been rolling off the assembly line.

But as a teenager, the old autos were the only cars Dillow said he could afford.

"My first car in high school was a 1930 Model A two-door I bought in 1966 for $150," Dillow said.

For some, 1966 is antique enough.

The BlackTop draws crowds by the thousands to see a wide variety of cars, Model Ts to Mustangs to souped-up hotrods looking like they belong in a 1980s ZZ Top video.

Ron Harden of Wichita said he likes the cars from the '60s, when he grew up. He's owned three Chevrolets from that decade, two Impalas and a Chevelle. This afternoon, Harden was there as a volunteer, and to look at other cars.

"I've owned plenty, but I've seen even more that I want," Harden said. Then he laugh. "I may not have much, but I have good taste."

The 1911 Model T is one of three cars Dillow owns, including a 1922 Model T and a 1926 Ford pickup.

Two years ago, Dillow got into his '26 car and drove with 50 other Model T enthusiasts from New York to Seattle, following the path of a 1909 race.

Dillow finished the '11 car in 2007. He figures he put in five years of work time, or 9,800 hours. Everything on the car is authentic to the era, down the skinny tires, where the tread spells out "non-skid" in white rubber.

Most of the parts were in the buckets he dragged home 20 years ago. Those missing he picked up at swap meets and antique car parts sales from Pennsylvania to Oklahoma. Dillow bought the car for his stepfather, who died before it was finished.

"I couldn't even touch it for a long time," he said of his stepfather's death.

Now Dillow drives it. He's put 6,000 miles on the car since he finished in and has won top honors at car shows across the country.

Dillow then pointed to one addition that makes his Model T stand out a bit.

The steering column is signed by Henry Ford III.

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