Seeing the Elephant: 1915 Ford Model T

Have you ever experienced a moment where you felt like you had briefly stepped back in time?  Before you write to Barn Finds suggesting they send me to the nearest padded room for “therapy,” just hear me out.  Being in a situation where you are surrounded by artifacts from a certain period can sometimes make you feel as if you were in the time period represented by the items around you.  Imagine riding down a dirt road and passing an old farmhouse in this 1915 Ford Model T touring car for sale on craigslist in Bennington, Nebraska.  Hearing the sound of the four banger, feeling the bumps in the road, and tugging at the wooden steering wheel could give you an experience all too similar to a farmer heading to town over a century ago.  Is the $19,500 asking price a reasonable admission to another time?  Thanks to Gunter K for this flivver find!

The title alludes to a phrase that was in common usage among participants when I tried out Civil War reenacting many years ago.  More years than I would care to admit.  The reason I got into it was, as a history buff both then and now, I wanted to understand what being a soldier in the war would have been like.  I am well aware that battles usually didn’t have thousands of spectators (that largely stopped at First Bull Run) and soldiers didn’t arrive at the battlefield in F150s.  Spending a day or two in uniform and wearing those godawful brogans helped solidify the theory that being a soldier in the Civil War wasn’t the best way to spend your young adulthood.  My experiences were obviously quite different than someone in uniform in the 1860s, but twice I can claim to have “seen the elephant.”

Both happened at the Gettysburg reenactment.  Without going into too much detail, these were times where I could look around and everything was indistinguishable from what it would have been like in 1863.  It was an amazing, if somewhat eerie experience that went a long way towards helping me understand a soldier’s experience in the Civil War.   It must have been awful to know that the end of your life and/or the lives of your fellow soldiers was possibly waiting right over the next hill.

Why mention “seeing the elephant?”  The point is that there are many ways to do a little time travel on your own.  Those of you with collectible vehicles do it often.  The vehicles we drive today are from another world compared to cars even of the eighties.  Great progress has been made in every facet of motor vehicles.  Sometimes we need to get behind the wheel of an older car to better understand how we got to the cars of today and better appreciate the lives of those who came before us.

Take for example this 1915 Ford Model T touring car.  It is surely an older restoration, as lacquer paint jobs were largely phased out a few decades ago.  However, the car seems to present well and would likely be the hit of any local show given the rarity of anything pre–Model A still on the road.  Speaking of the road, this Model T is said to be equipped with a high compression head and runs “fantastic.”  A regular head is also included in the sale in case you want to make sure you don’t burn any rubber.  This is also an early T, which means a brass radiator shell and a few other trim pieces set it apart from later versions.

So why would you want to purchase a car like this if you are a history buff?  Imagine for a moment actually driving this authentic example of one of the most famous vehicles ever produced.  Starting from the point you crank it to learning the idiosyncrasies of the transmission, driving a Model T is an experience far removed from even the plainest car being sold today.  Owning and driving a T will give you a first-class ticket to the past.  Remember, when this car was originally sold, blacksmiths were often called upon to act as mechanics.  They are simple, easy to maintain, and every part has its purpose.  While you may never get to see the Highland Park assembly line punching out Model Ts at a breathtaking rate, you can retard the spark, work the three pedals, and motor on down a dirt road to get an eye-opening experience on how America became a country on wheels.  Seeing the elephant in this Model T will take you back to the time of your ancestors better than any book or documentary.

Is there a particular car you would like to own to give you that “see the elephant experience?”  Tell us what car and why you chose it in the comments.

 

Comments

  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    Jeff. You can console yourself knowing the elephant would never fit into the Model T. I can’t say much about the elephant as I look around the house and shop at the ’30s dock lantern sitting in the middle of my dining room table, the 560 year old Norwegian 400 lb woodworking bench in the middle of the house, the two sequencial numbered late 1980s port running lights that had whale oil in them, the 1930s Army Message Center windup clock found under a pile of scrap steel in an Army salvage yard in Detroit, the steering wheel off a ’57 Alpha roadster found in ’73 that I put a Porsche 356 horn button on and hung it on the office wall until last year when a guy in California threw an $800 offer at me which I took, the two kerosene side lights off an early Model T that the father of a girl I dated in college gave me. Don’t have the girl but still have the lights, and the mid 1800s “Gem Oak” round wood stove from an Alabama share croppers farm.The elephant would be proud.

    Like 12
    • bobhess bobhess Member

      Forgot… yes I’d pay 19K for this piece of history. Been doing that most of my life. Point: have a ’59 Bugeye race car with a history back to 1974 and a ’60 Bugeye we’re building into a Vintage race car. As one of two engines for the ’59 cost $22,000 to build in mid ’90s money I’d have a much fatter bank account if I’d gone with something like this Model T.

      Like 9
      • Derek

        Bob, I’d be having a word with myself if I’d spent 22k building an A series.

        My biggest expense building race 2CV engines was always time. Measuring, weighing and so on.

        Like 1
  2. Tony Primo

    The first thing that popped into my mind was this Jeff.
    https://youtu.be/tnPG1v61AEk

    Like 3
    • Yblocker

      I still have the original 45.

      Like 3
  3. Jeremy Epstein

    I’d really love to go for a spin in my family’s best-ever car, a ’67 (or maybe ’68?) Mercedes-Benz 250SE. I never got to drive it but it was a very memorable ride.

    I’d have to find a good Top 40 oldies station on the AM radio like WABC we used to listen to on our long trips, for the full experience.

  4. That Guy

    This is a great writeup, Jeff. Probably one of the best I’ve seen on BF.

    As a car nerd I feel a certain amount of guilt at having never owned a pre-WW2 car. The caretakers of these cars are dying off, and in a hobby driven in significant part by nostalgia, there are few people alive today who would be reliving their youth in such a car. So it’s left to the perhaps more hardcore folks who appreciate and enjoy ancient mechanical stuff for its own sake to become caretakers of cars like this.

    I don’t know how this price fits with the current market value. Given the wonderful condition and the fact it’s an early brass car, it seems realistic to me. I’m not in a position to take something like this on right now, but I hope to become a caretaker of something like it, a quarter- or half-century older than me, eventually.

    Like 8
  5. Jay E. Member

    This is a really nice writeup, I completely get what you are saying and this made this a much better read than the dozens of other prior T listings. Can a Model T take you back? Certainly. In the right circumstances, on a dirt back country road or even driving across fields with no road, which I often did on our horse ranch with our (virtually identical) Model T. The frame is very supple and acted like a large suspension on its own, so the ride is surprisingly comfortable. It is immediately apparent how the speed and ease of travel is compared to a horse but it took many years before cars replaced horses all together. The rip in the space/time continuum happens as soon as you get to two lane blacktop and a lifted F350 rides your ass though.
    This car is not technically a “Brassie” as they ended a couple of years earlier. But it does have the brass shell, which looks better than the later painted ones. I think the headlight rings are added and were actually black on this years version. But they look nice. It is may have a tough time finding a buyer a this price, but a 15k offer might take it home.
    Whether it is worth that much for a ride in a time machine once or twice a year, that is the question. The novelty wears off pretty quickly.

    Like 4
  6. TheOldRanger

    I love this car, nice article too. I got to ride in one of these several years ago at a car show in Dallas. I was admiring it while it was on display and made a comment to an older gentleman (even older than me) that there was something about these older cars that just stirred the soul. Turns out it was the owner, and was getting ready to move it outside to the transport vehicle to take it home. He invited me to ride with him, and he took me on a “spin” a bit longer than he had intended. It was truly a blast from the past, and I just remember all the people who waved at us while we drove a few blocks around the convention center.

    Like 7
  7. MisterBlue

    BTW, “seeing the elephant” means having actually been in battle. No offense, but reenactments aren’t the same as being torn up by bullets and bleeding on the ground while artillery pounds your position and giant forces move all around you. One can get sober really really fast.

    Like 5
  8. Tyler

    Had a relative that had a T, about a 18 or 19 model & I had ridden in it a couple of times. Seeing what it took, I’m not sure I’m coordinated enough to drive one. They really were marvels of their day. Amazing how many survived the scrap drives of WW2 & the hot rod era of the 50’s.

    Like 3
  9. Mtn Goat

    Thus not a pre war story,
    Rottin Ronnie would tell story’s bout
    T’s & A’s in long long ago times while
    Cruisin the 60 Bonnie rag-top
    I miss that Dude !

  10. Frank Barrett Member

    Appears to need nothing and likely to be a good local show car and driver. Simple to maintain, inexpensive to insure, fun for the family. Looks like a positive way to spend the money and preserve a slice of history.

    Like 2
  11. Richard

    That’s a nice looking car but I wonder why no photos of the motor. Electric starters weren’t available when this came out so most cars have been retrofitted. Also prices have been down on these for years and aren’t getting better. Most (more than 50%) of our local T club members have died since I joined in 2006 so the demographic for these isn’t really around anymore. On the plus side, the brass cars are more valuable than the later ones and parts are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. The speedometer is also a nice feature. First year for electric headlights. While innovative, that makes for a less desirable car than pre-1915. I may be behind the curve with inflation but this looks like a fair deal at $13-15k. If it’s important to you, ‘T’ authority would likely point to incorrect features on the car as most have at least a few.

    Like 3
  12. Charles Marks

    Love love the old stuff. Always marvel at the innovations on cars of that vintage. For the most part, these guys were not trained engineers. Just practical-minded men who figured things out without the benefit of anything other than their ingenuity. Wish I could take this home but not everybody in my house thinks I need something like this……🤣😫

    Like 2
  13. butchb

    About 30 years ago I visited a tractor salvage yard in North Platte NE. The yard owner had been keeping one of these T’s in his living room for decades. After all this time I’m sure the yard owner is long passed. I wonder if this is the same car….

    Like 2
  14. CeeOne

    maybe a week ago, Final Jeopardy was “Business Milestones” and the answer was “these were sold in 1908 for the equivalent of $27,000 today.” I guessed Model T Ford, but none of the contestants got it right. I have the receipt for the one my grandfather bought in 1919. It was $750, Freight was $72.55. Something was $1.10, gasoline? And something was 60 cents. A certificate? And an owner explained how these were driven at a local car show: https://www.youtube.com/shorts/Rh2b_7YxZlI

    Like 1
  15. MikeH

    Great writeup Jeff. You captured the philosophy of those of us “keep it stock” guys. My house is full of antiques, including me, like Bob Hess’ house. If I have a ’15 T, I want it to drive like a ’15 T. I want to experience what it was like in 1915. Jeff can’t go back to Gettysburg except superficially, just as I can’t really go back to 1915 and live in a farmhouse with no electricity, running water or indoor toilets–nor do I want to. But I can drive a 1915 T and at least experience what it was like driving a 100+ year old car. Change that car, modernize it, and it totally loses its antique value for me as a history buff.

    Like 4
  16. BobinBexley Bob in Bexley Member

    Can you imagine driving around bouncing in the ruts with non-safety glass in front of your face ? We just don’t think about how good we got it in todays world. If you’re twisting my arm a Roaring Twenties Lancia would have to be a blast.

  17. Steve H

    Check out the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn. You can ride in a real Model T with an experienced pilot at the controls.

    Like 1
  18. Dallas

    Interesting to see the viewpoint of a (former?) historical re-enactor. MisterBlue is right, of course – reenacting is nothing like being in combat, that’s why people do it as a hobby. But there can be “time travel moments” like you had at Gettysburg. For me one of the best was marching through La Haye Sainte farmhouse on the field at Waterloo at the 200th anniversary event in 2015. No civilians or modern stuff to be seen – artillerists sitting on their guns smoking pipes, red-coated infantrymen by the side of the road taking a leak, engineers worrying about whether the small bridge would take the weight of the guns, everything looked just like it did in 1815. That was cool.

    Like 1
    • MikeH

      I had to look up La Haye Sainte. Ive been all over Belgium but somehow missed that. Fascinating story.

  19. Larry Ashcraft

    That’s why my 1940 Ford Coupe will remain close to stock. 1953 Merc flattie, two speed Columbia rear end, three speed manual “on the tree”. The whole experience of cruising down the road at 55 takes me back to my younger days. The rods I see with later model drivetrains and modern interiors with all the latest gadgets do nothing for me. Driving a modern car that just looks like a 1940 Ford doesn’t appeal to me.

    My first car was a 1951 Ford that I built my self starting at age 15. My ’40 is older, but almost the same experience.

    Like 2

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