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Published: Friday, 7/18/2008

Tin Lizzie fans gear up for big birthday; Ford Model T hits century mark

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

It was simple, cheap, and even got decent gas mileage.

And next week, it's having a big birthday bash 180 miles away.

The Ford Model T, the once-ubiquitous automobile that brought motoring to the masses in the early decades of the 20th century, will mark its 100th birthday in Richmond, Ind., with a weeklong "T Party" that starts Monday.

Among thousands of guests expected to gather to celebrate the Tin Lizzie will be scores of local enthusiasts like Walt and Polly Worthington, of Bryan, Ohio.

"This 100th anniversary thing just kind of struck me. It looked like a fun week," said Mr. Worthington, who will haul a 1926 Coupe to the T Party. "I've got four of them, but that's the one I'm taking."

Henry Ford admires the 1896 Quadracycle, at right, and his company s 10 millionth vehicle, a Model T, in this company photo.
Henry Ford admires the 1896 Quadracycle, at right, and his company s 10 millionth vehicle, a Model T, in this company photo.
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At 80 years old, Mr. Worthington was born 13 months after Model T production ceased in 1927 after a 19-year run in which more than 15 million were produced.

Infinitely adaptable, tink-erers transformed Model Ts into everything from tractors to snowmobiles. Its simple 20-horsepower engine allows some versions to get up to 20 miles per gallon.

Model Ts came in a variety of configurations, from coupes and roadsters to pickups and buses, and a variety of colors - almost all of them black.

"It's a disease," said Jack Putnam while trying to explain Model T owners' enthusiasm for their beloved vehicles.

Mr. Putnam of Bluffton is an officer of the Model T Ford Club of Northwest Ohio, one of several Tin Lizzie clubs in the area. He'll be taking his 1927 pickup truck - one of eight Model Ts he owns - to Richmond.

"People collect them because of the simplicity, and because you can get parts," Mr. Putnam said. "There's nothing on them that you don't have to have to make them run. You have an ignition and a carburetion system, and that's it."

The Model T's genius was its simple design, which is exactly what Henry Ford intended when he sought to bring autos to the masses. The vehicles have a pedal for acceleration, another for reverse, and no brakes except one in the transmission. Though speedometers were optional, the Tin Lizzie could average about 30 to 35 miles an hour on the open road, Mr. Putnam said.

"People are always asking me if they can be 'souped up.' I always tell them the same thing: Going from zero to 60 is no problem, but going from 60 to zero is a whole different story," because Model Ts had no brakes, he added.

The vehicles, which sold in their day for as little as $260 and as much as $950, were very affordable, although the first Model T dealer to sell cars on a deferred payment plan was in Toledo, according to the Ohio Historical Society.

Toledo has another quirky tie to the Model T.

When the vehicle ceased production in 1927, a Toledo man reportedly bought six of the vehicles, and "wore out" the last one in 1967, according to Popular Mechanics.

While Ford is the primary sponsor of the T Party, it is being hosted by the Model T Ford Club of America, which is headquartered in Richmond. Marisa Bradley, a spokesman for Ford, said party planners expect to draw between 20,000 and 25,000 people to Richmond, and that Model Ts from around the nation, and reportedly one from Australia, will be there.

"The whole town has turned almost upside down to support this event. It's turning out to be a great venue," Ms. Bradley said.

Ford will set up a museum at the site with a few iconic Model Ts from its collection, including a pristine model that was one of the first to come off the company assembly line. It also will bring its first Model T school bus and historical images from the Ford family, Ms. Bradley said. She estimated that of the 15 million vehicles made, nearly 300,000 remain and 10,000 are on the road in one form or another.

One of those, a 1923 Tourer owned by Mike and Betty Wilson of Curtice, will travel to Richmond. Mrs. Wilson said that although they've owned the car only a year, she and her husband have come to love it.

"It's a lot of fun. People come up and talk to you, and they drive by and wave and honk," Mrs. Wilson said. "You meet a lot of people. Plus, it gets 20 miles per gallon, so that's another reason to drive it."

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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