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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  1. hugh crawford

    Frontenac Motor Corporation was started by Louis Chevrolet to build racing cars after he left the Chevrolet company. His brother Gaston Chevrolet won the 1920 Indianapolis 500 in a Frontenac only to die in a race at the Beverly Hills Speedway a few months later. The 1921 Indianapolis 500 was also won by a Frontenac.
    Nit too shabby a pedigree.

    Like 17
    • EuromotoMember

      Slumming over here from DT? Nice to see you.

      Like 2
      • hugh crawford

        Well I’m all over the place. Over at autopian too.

        This is kind of tempting at that price. I have been perusing MG TCs which are about as raw and primitive as I feel comfortable driving on the road.
        Driving a model T fast with that gearshift, reverse gear, and marginal reat brake pedals on the floor, no front brakes and the spark and gas on the steering wheel seems a little daunting. Fast being a relative thing, in this case relative to brakes that are merely an acknowledgement that slowing down might be a good idea, but not really a manifestation of effective stopping.
        This might be taking the slow car fast idea too far.
        A couple minutes of research on adding front brakes to model T seemed to suggest that that just makes things worse.

        Like 8
  2. Kim in Lanark

    I like the way it was updated for reliability and speed, while maintaining appearance both externally and under the hood. You still have tractor grade suspension, horsecrap brakes, and four rock hard tires with a footprint smaller than local ATVs. Looks fun to drive, but something to keep for parades and puttering the back roads.

    Like 0
    • Tbone

      Kim, quit going potty on the frontenac parade

      Like 1
  3. Bunky

    I knew a gentleman years ago who was the consumate antique auto restorer. He had a T Roadster with a highly modified Frontenac conversion. The car had been upgraded to wire wheels for safety. They failed “at speed”. He was fortunate not to be killed.

    Like 3
  4. Bill Hall

    Here in Orygon every year for ages has had Model T and pig races, As I tts a Model T like you have advertised. The drivers go round a track carrying a pig and trying to hold onto a pig. For more information contact the Tillamook Oregon County Fair I am sure it’s all on line.

    Like 2
    • geomechs geomechsMember

      That’s been on my bucket list for a few years now. PigsNFords; looks like a lot of fun for everyone except the poor pigs…

      Like 0
  5. Wademo

    Now this is cool! Troy Jonas, where are you?!!!

    Like 0
  6. PRA4SNW PRA4SNWMember

    Something Leno would be interested in?

    Like 0
  7. Christopher Eakin

    There were some aftermarket items to improve braking – one was bigger brakes with external shoes that contracted to contact the drums. I believe Ruxtell made two speed rear ends as well, giving an overdrive.

    Like 1

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