Farm Fresh - Morley's World #487

By: Dave Morley, Photography by: Dave Morley, Ford

Is it a restoration, or are we papering over history? Join Morley in the shed to find out

Farm Fresh - Morley's World #487
Ford Model T assembly line at the Highland Park Plant, October 1923.

If you’ve been playing along at home, you’ll know that I recently inherited my father-in-law’s 1924 Model T Ford. This came as something of a surprise (to me, anyway) because, while we both had a bit of a thing for anything mechanical, and he certainly knew I was in to cars in a fairly major way, there was no hint that the T would be coming my way when his time came.

But as well as surprised (and, frankly, flattered) by the gesture, I’m also well aware that this old Tin Lizzie will always be Gordon’s car, and fair enough. And equally, I know that I now have a responsibility to preserve the old girl and not muck it up in the process. By which I mean it deserves to be running properly, have the lost bits found and the broken things fixed, but as far as changing the look of it, I just know that can’t be allowed to happen.

I’m sure there will be folks out there who would encourage me to fix the dings and repaint the car, but I really can’t bring myself to do that. Painting it would be papering over a century of history, and I can’t make the case for that. That would also make it something that it never was while Gordon owned it and, again, that’s a no-no. See, this is more than just an old Model T with rat-eaten seats and flaky paint. It’s Gordon’s Model T. And that matters. If ever you needed proof that our cars become something more than just things, I reckon this moth-eaten old Henry is it.

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The Model T in its cobweb glory.

Meantime, my first job on the car is to have the wheels rebuilt so that it can be moved and – hopefully – started and driven. I’ve found a local bloke who remakes the wheels in Aussie hardwood (spotted gum, I believe) so that’s going to happen. Only catch is the car is still on the family farm where Gordy spent his entire life, about 500km from the MBC. So a weekend or two ago, I managed to separate the front wheels from the rest of the car. And it aint as simple as you might think.

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Because of the way the tyres mount to the rims and the way the spokes are joined to the hub, the whole bearing assembly needs to be removed to get the front wheels off. That involves removing the small hub-caps (pretty easy after some penetrating fluid) and then working out which side has the left-hand-threaded castellated nut (the right-hand side is left-hand threaded, as it turns out). But from there, it gets even more interesting because, unlike a modern set-up, the nut only does part of the job of setting the bearing tension. Believe it or not, the outer bearing race is also threaded.

Once you’ve worked that out, the wheel should slip easily off the stub axle and you’re away. And while I figured I’d be dealing with a handful of loose ball bearings when it came apart, to my surprise, these 100-year-old bearings are actually tapered roller bearings just like anything else in my driveway. Apparently Henry switched to Timken tapered bearings around 1919. Bet the Timken rep was pleased with that deal.

I got a bit lucky by pulling the wheels off, too, because the right-hand bearing nut was missing its split-pin. That could have been interesting on the first drive.

What I really need …

… is a Model T workshop manual with instructions especially for dummies like me. One thing that did come with the T was a copy of this book which is more or less a collection of the Model T service bulletins sent out to Ford dealers back in the day. It’s actually quite specific in some areas, but I reckon I’ll still be asking
some fairly dopey questions of the handful of Model T Club members I’ve met so far on my journey with this car. But at least those same blokes are happy to help and seem genuinely pleased that there’s some new blood in the game, not to mention that a previously-undiscovered shed find has surfaced.

Model T wheel.jpg

Much the same idea, but worlds apart.

Anyway, this copy of the book was published in 1966, but all the service bulletins are genuinely from the days when Model Ts were filling Ford showrooms around the world. Apparently, they were a regular newsletter from Ford to its dealers and they cover everything from time-saving servicing tips to info on how to spot a counterfeit con-rod. Even if you’re not in to old Fords, this book is a ripper read.

Anyway, just in case you think that the art of upselling service customers is a relatively new thing (you know, where you drop the car off for an oil change and wind up with new tyres and a reconditioned gearbox) think again.

On page 398 of my book is a section titled The power of suggestion. Fundamentally, it suggests to Ford dealers the concept of the add-on. 

It says: "The service man should not be content with writing up a repair order for only those items which the owner believes need attention, but should suggest that while the car is down for some particular item, that he be given authority to make any necessary repairs to other items which require replacement."

Sound familiar?


Morley’s bargain Benz is his new favourite touring car.

The wheel thing

Here’s another thing about Model Ts. The wheels are freakin’ huge. We tend to accept the notion of the spindly, spidery Model T as part of folklore these days. It’s a fact that they were overall a very light car and able to cope with all sorts of non-existent tracks and a chain of potholes called a highway back in the day, but dainty? Maybe not as much as we think.

And just to prove that 1924 spindly might not mean the same as 2023 spindly, I present you an image of a Model T wheel and tyre with a 15-inch alloy with a 196/65 tyre. Check out the difference!

Forget the tyre, the Model T rim on its own is 24 inches across, which probably explains why the Lizzie could bobble its way across a ploughed paddock in a monsoon.

Oh, and to all those owners of donks out there: You’re about a hundred years too late, fellas. (Ask your grandkids about donks if necessary.)

Model T snippet.jpg

We would hope that was a change for the better ...

I’ll just park this here …

The other piece of wisdom the book includes is this little snippet shown above (and to which I add no comment of my own whatsoever).

Hmmm. And remember kids, don’t shoot the messenger.

Road trip! 

Meantime, in between figuring out how to tackle the simplest of jobs on a Model T, I’ve been giving my carport-rescue W124 Mercedes some as-Benz-intended exercise. Basically, this was a round trip to NSW, about 100km west of Wagga and then back down through joints like Jerilderie and Shepparton to the Bendigo Swap Meet, and then on to a mate’s place near Geelong and finally home. All up; about 1500km. So how did she do?

Brilliant is the only word for this car. Apart from the air-con not being functional (yet) and the radio ditto (I Bluetoothed my phone to a small speaker in the console) the old tart absolutely creamed this run. It sat at the posted limit without a hassle, never once got warm (even in 36 degrees waiting in line to get to the swap-meet car park) and even returned something like nine litres per 100km. I know that’s not stellar in these days of hybrids and turbo-diesels, but it’ll do me for a car that is so devastatingly capable between cities.

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Grab some left-over kitchen bits ...

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 ... and make your own cupholders!

But, like a lot of older cars, the W124 has one flaw. No cupholders. Now, I’m a bit old school in that I don’t really feel the need for a cupholder in a sports car. I mean, no cupholders in a Lamborghini Miura? I’m okay with that. But for a car like the Benz which otherwise invites you to sip a flat-white while the miles woosh by? Nup, a cupholder or two would be nice.

So, thanks to a recent project which saw Muggins here building a new kitchen when the bloke I’d hired for the job blew me out, I had a few scraps of timber lying around. You can guess the rest.

By the time I’d finished, I had a shallowish pair of cupholders formed in timber that sat snugly in the rear of the centre console. Shallow they may be, but they’re the exact diameter to take a soft-drink can in a neoprene stubby holder.

Only problem was they looked like a couple of left-over bits of kitchen. Funny that. Anyway, the solution was to drag out a bit of old vinyl that was cluttering up the MBC from when I retrimmed the kick panels on the Charger. Okay, the colour match isn’t perfect, but by the time I’d sliced my finger open and got contact-adhesive everywhere, I wasn’t too bothered with that. Anyway, here’s the end result. The best thing is, with the armrest in its normal position, you can’t even see the cupholders.

And another thing

And here’s something else about W124 Benzes: Despite being ignored by the scaredy-pants peasants out there, people in the know really seem to dig them. And from the moment I coaxed mine back to life, I’ve been fending off some fairly specific offers to take it off my hands. And you know what, for what I have in it, I could have cashed it in and used the money (and a bit more from my slush-fund. Shhh.) to buy a W124 coupe. Well, that was the basic plan, anyway, because if there’s one thing I like more than an ’80s autobahn blaster, it’s the same thing with two less doors.

But then I got to thinking. For a bloke with a shed full of two-doors, it kind of makes sense to have a four-door kicking around, no? And do I really need to
spend more money to get more or less
the same thing?

Which brought me to point number three: Would I be able to find a W124 coupe in the same nick? And now that I’ve driven this one interstate and marvelled at its abilities and condition, I’m kind of thinking that I’d be hard-pressed to stumble on to another car as nice as this one. For sensible money, anyway.

So, for the moment, I reckon the smoke silver four-door will do me very nicely, thank-you very much. Although a 300D with that million-kay diesel engine is an appealing prospect, too. And I think I know a bloke who has one taking up space in his backyard …

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