Every car lover has probably heard the old Henry Ford quote about being able to have a new Ford in any color you want, as long as it’s black.
Gary Paulsen heard a variation on that line from his father, Bill Paulsen, many years ago as a youngster growing up in New Jersey.
“It started when I was about 14. I wanted to get an antique car,” Gary Paulsen recalls. “My dad said, `If you want a car, get a job.’ ” So he did and he saved up enough money to go car shopping with his dad.
They looked at all kinds of old cars, until Bill Paulsen came up with his best advice.
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“He said, `You can have any one you want, as long as it’s a Model T. You can fix a Model T.’ ”
Turns out old dad was right, and young Gary was soon up to his elbows in restoring his first Model T Ford. The project taught him a lot and he restored many cars in the years that followed, concentrating on the early years of American auto manufacturing.
In 1980, he began restoration on a 1910 Model T touring car.
“I found it in New Jersey before I moved out here. I bought it from the second owner. I have a picture of the first owner standing by it in the snow when he bought it. I have the build sheet on it. It was $850 and that was a lot of money in 1910. It was not a poor man’s car,” Paulsen says.
But the passage of 70 years had taken a toll on the old machine.
“It was in poor condition. I took it all apart and cleaned everything and painted it and did the upholstery in it. “I’ve overhauled the engine a couple of times,” he noted.
And when he painted the car, he didn’t paint it black. Why not?
“Because before 1914, all Model T’s were colored. They came in red, green and gray,” Paulsen said. The bodies were made of wood by, ironically, the Pontiac Body Company — not the automotive firm of a similar name. Sheets of poplar were steamed and bent to shape before they were painted. The colored cars then got three coats of varnish.
Paulsen explained that with the advent of the moving assembly line that model year, which turned out thousands of cars, there wasn’t time to wait for the colored paints to dry, so Henry Ford ordered the switch to fast-drying black paint. Originally, because there were no high-temperature paints at the time, engines were left unpainted, as raw castings.
Paulsen’s touring car is a medium green color, with hand-applied gold pinstriped accents; the fenders are stamped steel, painted gloss black.
The car is powered by the venerable 20-horsepower flathead 4-cylinder engine, mated to the traditional 2-speed planetary transmission that still strikes fear into some enthusiasts’ hearts. The left pedal shifts the transmission from low to high range, the center pedal engages reverse and the right pedal activates a transmission brake.
“Many a car has gone through a barn or into a tree … you just have to know which pedal to push,” chuckled Paulsen.
His car is also equipped with a later model Ruckstell 2-speed rear end, in effect giving the car four forward speeds and making it safer at highway speeds. The car cruises at about 40 mph, he said.
And cruise, this Model T does. Paulsen and his 9-year-old granddaughter Abby returned from a 450 mile cruise in Oklahoma last month with no problems encountered. He estimates that he logs about a thousand miles a year on the car on vintage car tours. His touring car always is ready to go and usually fires right up on the first pull of the crank.
“Model T’s are dependable cars,” he said. He’s proved that time and time again, following his father’s advice. Even 107 years later, a Model T really can teach you a lot about automobiles.
Mike Berry: firstname.lastname@example.org