Kevyn Brown's 'Black Beauty' T speedster
We've been captivated by Kevyn's stunning 1915 Model T speedster since we first laid eyes on it at Lake Goldsmith earlier this year, so when the chance came to devote some more attention to this stunning vehicle as part of 'T-time', we jumped at the chance! So who would have created, or brought, a vehicle like this originally? If a Stutz Bearcat or Mercer Raceabout was out of financial reach (as it was for most wannabe racers and sportscar enthusiasts of the period) a stripped down 'speedster' Model T like this was the next best thing, offering comparable (sometimes better) performance than a Stutz for about 1/4 of the cost. Even in speedster configuration, a model T was much more economical on fuel, too! The sheer numbers of Model Ts on the road in the early 1920s made an aftermarket performance parts industry viable, and Kevyn's example is typical of many such racers that would have been in circulation on dirt and board tracks in the 1920s.
From a standard 1915 Model T, Kevyn has made the following additions and modifications:
- rechargable battery (instead of original dry cell type)
- turn indicators with audible warning for driver
- safety glass "windscreen"
- lowered steering column and steering box ratio - 5:1 (in lieu of 4:1)
- steering damper
- four spring suspension (see below)
- electric starter motor
- anti-rattlers on drag link ends
- fully balanced engine & transmission (note: crankshaft isn't counterbalanced)
- Rajo 4v overhead valve conversion head (inlet valve only type, with standard exhaust)
- higher compression ratio ceramic-coated aluminium pistons (approx 6:1)
- oil dippers to big ends
- drilled connecting rods for more oil to get into big ends
- oil screen strainer
- valve seat inserts and steel alloy valves (note: from 1915 to 1930 there was no lead additive in petrol)
- high-tension distributor ignition (modern repro of original Bosch unit, but still with manual advance/retard control. Original T's had 4 tremble coils & low voltage switch timer on front of camshaft)
- turbo 400 clutch plates (standard T's used plain steel discs)
- BGT lining on brake band
- Scandinavian lining on low & reverse bands
- water pump
- speedster radiator
- steel disc wheels on demountable rims (for easier wheel changes)
- 11" brakes with cast iron drums (on rear wheels only. Original 8" steel drums with cast iron shoes for emergency braking & parking only)
- Rear brakes connected to brake pedal (standard T's connect to band in transmission)
- oil seals on rear axles & crankshaft
- 12 tooth pinion in final drive
(11 tooth standard, 10 tooth for mountainous terrain, 12 & 13 tooth for flat ground)
Kevyn regularly runs the speedster in Hill Climb competition and selected circuit events. He also told us that he plans to replace the "modern" Rajo OHV head with a standard sidevalve head that's more authentic & accurate to its vintage. With a side-valve engine, Kevyn estimates the speedster could run the 1/4 mile in 21 seconds and reach a top speed of 59 mph (just under 100 kph). As this issue went to press, Kevyn was looking for a speedometer and tachometer to suit the speedster, and had also started to rebuild a Model T-based racer that's lower, lighter - and faster! - than the speedster
Our sincere thanks to Kevyn Brown for information used in these pages.
Wikner Ford Special - a T with pedigree
Kevyn Brown's speedster wasn't the only 'racy' T at the 32nd Historic Winton. Doug Partington is the proud owner of this 1922 T-based special that he believes is Australia's oldest racing car. The 'Wikner' name comes from the car's original creators, Geoff and Roy Wikner, two NSW-based brothers who wanted to get into the aviation business in the early 1920s. With no financial backing and no proof of their abilities to impress potential backers, the pair decided to create a race car instead, one that they could apply aeronautical principles to in order to showcase their talents - without spending a fortune. Like Brown's speedster, the Wikner Ford uses a Rajo OHV head, but a more race-tuned 8 valve version.
Completed in 1922, the Wikner Special is made up from a mix of 1918 & 19 Model T parts, including two separate chassis which have been shortened then welded together. Doug bought the car in 1958, with a view to making his own racecar out of it. It remained unused for many decades, before being treated to a sympathetic resto in the late 1990s. While he has no plans to sell it, Partington estimates the Wikner Special Model T is worth over $1 million.
Rajo, Frontenac & more - making Fords faster
With the boom in Model T Ford sales in the 1910s & 20s, it followed that there would be a boom in accessories to suit it. The period saw all manner of bolt-ons, fix-ups and improvements hit the market. Some of these were little more than 'snake oil', but there were just as many genuinely beneficial products out there, many of which were created to make the T go faster. Aside from custom wheels and lightweight 'speedster' bodies in dozens of different configurations, engine modifications ran the full gamut, from improved carburettors and distributors to advanced heads and even superchargers! However, the most common modification made by those seeking more performance was head alteration. Overhead valves may seem very common now, but back in the 20s, they were quite exotic - and quite expensive, too.
As such, they were rarely added to new roadgoing cars, instead finding a market with those stripping down and refitting secondhand Ts as racing machines. Amongst the most popular types of OHV heads of the time were those made by Louis and Arthur Chevrolet (known as 'Frontenac'), Robert Roof's 'Laurel/Roof' heads, and the 'Rajo' OHV heads made by Joe Jagersberger (the name came from a combination of Racine, Jagersberger's home town, and Joe). Basically, if you were racing a T in the 1920s and you didn't have a 'Fronty' or 'Rajo' equipped engine, you weren't in the race! With T production finishing in 1927, the market for these add-ons gradually dried up, to the point that most were out of business by the 1940s.