Original story 1955 by Wesley S. Griswold Edited to the site (2001) by FRANK NATHANSON.
Don’t be fooled by flashy “bargains,” which often cost too much to restore. Better start with a Model T Ford.
HAVEN’T you ever itched to drive down Main Street in one of those high, wide and handsome cars of 40 years ago? Their paint jobs glisten like patent-leather shoes. Their brass trim glows like gold in the sunshine. Kids run after them in wonder and delight. Older folks stop and stare and exclaim in pleased surprise, “Well, I never thought I’d see on of those again!”
Perhaps you’ve dreamed of an even richer satisfaction: Discovering an aged, decrepit, neglected automobile, and nursing it back to health yourself. If you have this kind of hankering, you can hardly do better than follow in the footsteps of young Herb Singe. He is the perfect laboratory model for demonstrating how to collect, and restore old cars on an income that is not above the average.
Herb, who lives in Hillside, N.J., is a lanky, 25-year-old former aviation machinist’s mate in the Navy (1944-46). Still single, though engaged to be married, he resides with his parents, and sells, and services Addressograph machines for a living. He and his father have been building things together-radios, furniture, model trains, model planes, model cars-ever since he was a small boy. Whenever a birthday or Christmas was approaching, both of them asked for tools. As a result, the Sing cellar is now full of them-circular saw, band saw, six-inch metal lathe, drill press, arbor press, acetylene welding equipment, and electric hand grinders, polishers and drills. Herb didn’t start out with the idea of collecting old cars at all. He had and itch to find almost any kind of distinctive mechanism in rundown condition , and make it look , and run like new. He couldn’t afford much, but he wanted something entirely different. Hot rods, he felt, were becoming too common.
Extra Model T Serves as Guide
One sweltering summer day three years ago, he met, and immediately fell in love with a dejected-looking 1923 Model T Ford coupe. The sign on the dirt-streaked wind- shield read, “For Sale-$65.” The car would run, but he had no idea how to drive a Model T, so he towed it home.
Without knowing it, ha had made the ideal choice for the start of an old-car collection. There were 15,000,000 Model “T”s made, between 1908, when the car made its debut, and 1927, when the Model A was introduced. Therefore, they are quite easy to find , and accordingly, inexpensive. Parts for them are available, which is not true of most other old cars, and in many cases are interchangeable among models over a wide range of years. Model “T”s can be restored without much strain by anybody, even modestly gifted as a machinist. Finally, when the restoration is done, they are attractive, sturdy, untemperamental.
Herb Singe had barely had time to exam- ine his $65 Model T when he discovered another one. this one was on sale for $25. He figured it would come in handy for spare parts, so he hauled it home, too. He first move was to take both cars completely apart, and throw away everything that could not be salvaged. He wound up with the chassis, block, front axle, and rear-end housing of the $65 Ford. He also had its ignition switch, a rare item. Of the $25 Ford, he saved only the engine. It would not run, but it was a valuable guide. He dis- mantled it entirely, and carefully laid out the pieces on the floor of the family garage. In this way he found out not only what parts he needed, but how to put them together when he got them.
Parts Turn up in Odd Places
The hunt for parts would have been a cinch if he had been a member of a fan club, as he is now . It is much easier to locate old cars, and rebuild them if you have fellow collectors to hash your problems over with. At that time, however, he didn’t know such clubs existed. By asking questions of garage mechanics and junkmen, Herb managed to round up a stock of Model T nuts and bolts, at $1 a hundred pounds, and a radiator in nearby Newark. But it took a 50 mile trip to obtain lug nuts for the wheels, and splash aprons (curved pieces that prevent mud from splashing up between running boards and body) seemed to be impossible to find.
Finally he wrote the Ford people for help, and they sent him the names of two parts dealers. One of them was William Scharff.
Scharff Buys Up Junked Parts
Scharff is a gentle, courteous widower of 80, with pale blue eyes and carefully brushed white hair, who lives under the Elevated at 1322 Myrtle Ave., Brooklyn. Since 1903, he has resided and carried on a satisfactory business within a radius of a few hundred feet.
He was a dealer in Model T parts when the Model A was introduced, and contrary to almost everyone’s advice, he remained one while other dealers dumped their stock. On a single day he went out with a truck, and collected eight tons of parts that others were hurrying to get rid of .He soon had the entire stocks of eight dealers, and ever since then has been supplying parts to Model T owner. Now there are more than 1,000 names on his pencil-written account books of people who have brought their parts problems to him from all over. Herb, hunting for splash aprons, found Scharff temporarily out of them, but he came away with four brand-new fenders. He eventually found the splash aprons down at Fort Dix, 50 miles or more from home.
Where Does That Piece Go?
Altogether he spent about $250 on parts, ranging from wires to wheels. One item of $20 was for nickel-plating more than 200 parts, including screws. He tracked down head and tail lights in Newark. He bought five new 30 by 3.5 clincher-type tires from the local Montgomery Ward Store. With tubes, these cost $59. That price couldn’t be matched today, though both Firestone and Goodyear still make them. Firestone, in fact, continues to turn out carefully antiqued copies of large, outmoded tires in eight sizes, ranging from 28 by 3 to 36 by 4.5.
Whenever a part had been painted, Herb stripped it bare, and repainted it. He even took the leaves of his springs apart, doused them with paint remover, and scrubbed them with a wire brush. The only major hitch in restoring the Model T came the day Herb was happily preparing to start his newly assembled engine for the first time. He discovered a length of copper tubing lying on his workbench, and a hasty check against the disassembled engine of the $25 Ford, still laid out nearby, showed it to be the crankcase oil tube. There was nothing to do, but partly take down the new engine, install the tube, and put it all back together again-a five hour job.
When Herb had the engine mounted on the chassis, he taught himself to drive the car by practicing in the family driveway. All this while, he had been worrying about the body. How was he ever going to make that sad hulk look spruce again? Then occurred on of those extraordinary pieces of luck that occasionally mark the course of all collecting. A buddy of Herb’s mentioned that he had heard of a man by the name of Morris Chamberlain, up in Chester, NJ, who had a brand-new Model T body in his barn. Herb grabbed up his girl and dashed to Chester that same evening.
Herb Has to Talk Fast
Chamberlain turned out to be a former Ford parts dealer who had hoarded bits, and pieces of outmoded machinery, and equipment and was reluctant to part with any of them. It took all of Herb’s abundant charm to get Chamberlain to admit that he even owned a Model T body. It was for a 1923 coupe. Part of the original crating was still on it. The paint was cracked and faded in places where the suns of 27 years had managed to reach it, but the upholstery, floor mat, back-window curtain, and the windows themselves were in perfect condition. Up to this point, Chamberlain had repeatedly said that the car body was not for sale. But Herb, standing within reach of what at the moment seemed to him the most desire- able object in the world, argued appealingly enough to get it, for the original list price-$100. Herb soon found that the white-metal rollers in the window-casing mechanisms were cracked, but he machined new ones out of steel no his lathe.
Red Wheels Aren’t Authentic
Repainting the body, which was first stripped to its bare meal, was a major undertaking. Herb spent $100 for pain, paint remover, Glass Wax, and other liquids to bring it to a glow. With a paint sprayer, he applied 10 coats of primer, sanding three times before he started putting on 20 coats of black lacquer. The sanding was continued, and the final coat was hand-rubbed until it glistened. Herb’s final touch was to paint the rims and spokes of the wheels red to give the black body a pepping up. After he had become a member of the Antique Automobile Club of America _ He is now director of it’s New Jersey division _ He drove one day to a meet in his shining model T. Other members laughed at his wheels. “They should be either black or natural,” they said, “if you want this car to be really authentic.” Embarrassed at his mistake, He did them over, and now they are the color of fine honey. When the Model T was finished, it had cost Herb $675, including the price of the two beat-up cars he started with. I asked him how much time he and his father had spent on it.
“Good Jobs Take Time”
“Oh, about a thousand hours,” said Herb airily. “But look at all the fun we had!” Since it was finished, the car has won prizes eight times in meets. Completing the Model T merely got Herb launched as a collector. First thing he knew He was hot after a 1904 curved-dash Olds- mobile, a basket of scrap metal and four wheels. It took many visits and much of Herb’s special pleading to convince the owner to part with it, but he finally did for $390. When Herb drew the money out of his savings to pay for the car, his mother wept. She thought he was crazy. But as the car slowly regained its original charm she began to take a loving interest in it her- self, and no one is prouder than she is today to watch it put-put off to a meet, its black-and-scarlet body glistening, and its brass lamps gleaming.
The Singes put in 3,000 hours of work in the course of 16 months on the Olds, and Herb spent $1,500 altogether. He started the reconstruction job by taking the whole chassis apart and having it sand-blasted by a tombstone engraver. There were no bushings in the steering and brake mechanisms, with the exception of the kingpin bushings. Herb and his father filled all the holes with bronze welding, then filed down the surfaces and drilled new holes, reaming them for proper fit. This, and cutting threads on the counterbalance bolts for the flywheel-12 threads to the inch, 1/2 inch in diameter-were the trickiest machining jobs they had to do. One big was removing the 16 copper tubes from the radiator, along with its 928 copper fins, cleaning them all, and putting them back again. The Singes made their own upholstery, and top, doing all the stitching with a tailor’s secondhand electric sewing machine, which they bought for $10, and rebuilt.
“Eight Prizes in Eight Meets”
Herb has won seven first prizes, and one second prize with his Olds in eight meets. There is no question but that it has a lot more eye appeal than the 1923 Model T Ford. But it is going to get lots of compe- tition from the Model T that has just joined the Singe collection. Herb’s father is the proud owner of the newcomer, a 1910 runabout that was given the dashing name Torpedo. It’s as cute as a bug, even if it is tattered.
For 25 years it had been standing in a garage less than a mile away from the Singes’ house. They didn’t know of its existence until a year ago. At that time the owner had an idea, common among people who have early Fords, that the Ford Co. would come along someday and offer him a new car in exchange for it. This is something the ford Co. has never done, but the delusion dies hard.
Father Gets the Torpedo
Finally, a few weeks ago, Herb and his father dropped by one Saturday morning, and persuaded the owner to part with his Torpedo for $140, a fair price, considering that the car has to be largely rebuilt. The Singes are thoroughly enjoying themselves at that task right now. And mom, who cried when Herb drew out his savings to buy a 47-year -old Olds- mobile-well, it’s a fair bet that one of these days she’ll bring home a basketful of antique Ford or Olds or Buick herself.
My estimation, this story first appeared in the mid 1955.
It also appeared in the “Staten Island Auto Echoes” in August 1982.
And now in February 2016 it appears here. The End