Frontenac OHV under the hood: 1920 Ford model T speedster

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When you hear about the old days, you always get stories of how tough things were.  Like having to walk to school five miles daily in the snow uphill both ways tough.  If you liked to go fast, you did have a beef.  Sports cars weren’t a thing on this side of the pond until after the war.  Sure, there were cars like the Mercer Raceabout and the Stutz Bearcat in the teens and twenties, but they were expensive and seldom seen.  To have a fast car on a budget, you had to cobble it together yourself.  That is what the original builder of this 1920 Ford Model T speedster did.  With minimal protection for the passenger and driver and the benefits of removing everything that was not necessary, this pioneer also forked out the money for one of the earliest speed parts available: a Frontenac cylinder head.

Most pioneering American sports car builders chose a Model T Ford as a starting point for several reasons.  First off, there was no shortage of these cars and their parts at that time.  Second, that popularity spawned an automotive aftermarket centered on the Model T that offered anything you wanted to personalize or improve your Ford.  That aftermarket soon included speed parts.  A Model T’s top speed was in the neighborhood of 42 miles per hour.  For most places that was enough, as the roads of the time were largely unpaved.  You also have to consider the braking and handling limitations of the Model T.  If you had a place to go faster with room to stop and you were courageous enough to try, then making a Model T speedster surely seemed like a good idea.

The car you see here is a good representation of a higher-end Model T speedster.  In the ad, we are told that it is from “back in the day.”  However, we are not given any history of the car.  However, the list of vintage parts on this car is impressive.  The original Model T engine is topped with a Frontenac overhead valve conversion.  Model T engines had the valves in the block with a “flathead” type cylinder head with no moving parts.  These low-compression engines were perfect for their time, as they didn’t need high-octane gasoline and were not required to spin at high RPMs.  Flatheads of all types were usually low-revving powerplants with plenty of torque at the low end of their range.  A Frontenac conversion would allow the engine to breathe better and spin at higher RPMs, thus making more power possible.  Whoever rebuilt this engine 500 miles ago also added oversized aluminum pistons, a balanced SCAT crank that has been balanced, a modified camshaft, and new pushrods and valves.  While a Frontenac conversion would be good for 40 horsepower and an original Model T engine put out 22 horsepower, the modifications made probably bumped that higher number up and added some reliability in the process.

The parts list for this build beyond the engine also includes a 12-volt electrical system with all new wiring and a new battery, a rebuilt high-speed rear end with new rear axles, bearings, and seals, new front wheel bearings and steering components, and the transmission has been rebuilt and Kevlar bands have been installed.  Also included in the sale are a rebuilt starter, turn signals, an add-on braking system, and the original wooden wheels.

Add all of these parts together and you get one of the fastest Model Ts likely ever built.  The parts list is evidence that whoever was responsible for writing the checks for this car knew what they were doing and wasn’t going to let money stand in the way of speed.  While the speed and handling of this car don’t hold a candle to that of the average economy car today, for 1920, this would have been quite the rocket ship.  It would be fun to own and drive a car like this to see what performance was like back in the year that Warren G. Harding was elected President.  We have certainly come a long way.

If you like your sports cars primitive, homemade, and with limited braking ability, then this 1920 Ford Model T speedster for sale on Facebook Marketplace in Spokane, Washington may be the perfect way to get the wind in your hair.  This Frontenac-enhanced Model T can be yours for $16,500.  Thanks to Vintage Hoody for this eclectic Ford find!

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