Reviving a Model T


The following explains the recommended steps for resurrecting a Model T that has not run in 10 years or more and has been in storage. Much of this article is made up of excerpts that came from a piece written by Milton Webb of Elk Grove, California entitled “Tuning a ‘T’ for Durable Touring.” The article appeared in the Vintage Ford in 2003. The western Idaho Model T Club claims no ownership. Furthermore, repairs discussed in the following article are to be completed at your own risk and on a Model T that still the way Henry intended it. This article is for guidance only and correctly completing repairs is the car owner’s responsibility.

It takes much more than a can of gas and a new battery to get a mothball 'T' ready and SAFE for the road.

People always say, "It ran ok 10 years ago." Another popular one is, “My grandfather drove it all the time before he parked it in the Barn.” The fact is that something unexpected usually put the Model T in the barn for the last time and it usually takes all the checks, cleaning, repairs, and adjustments outlined below to get the previously stored Model T correctly and safely through the first mile of its new life.

In the article I will refer to the “Model T parts suppliers.” I am referring to the following:

As I always recommend before working on your Model T purchase a copy of the Model T Ford Service Manual and join the MTFCA. Their magazines will help you understand your car better and let you see what other people are doing. Join your local Model T club. There are many great people to meet right in your very own town. Additionally, remember that the Model T should never exceed 30 MPH and the engine should never exceed 1500 RPM.  


Install a new 6-volt battery, negative to ground. Remove and clean ground strap bolt on the frame.

Install new #1 gauge cables, from the battery to the switch and from the switch to the starter. Old cables are usually corroded even when you cannot see the green. Check that the starter switch is in good order. If not replace with a new one from one of the parts suppliers.

Caution: Do not use 12 volt cables [number 4 or 6 gauge]. 12-volt cables will get warm or hot during crank, plus the cranking may be very slow.

Test starter hook the starter post to a 6-volt battery plus (+) terminal with heavy jumper cables. Hold the starter on the floor. Connect the negative (-) terminal to the starter at the mounting bolt flange. Run starter motor [no load]. Grasp the starter shaft and hold to slow down the shaft. If you can slow it down some, but can't stop it, the starter is good. If you can stop it [shaft], it won't crank engine. Refer to the T Service Manual for rebuilding instructions if needed.

Inspect all the wiring on the T and replace and /or repair any that looks questionable. It is always a safe bet to install a brand new wiring harness from one of the parts suppliers. Lastly, install an in line 20 amp in line fuse in the yellow wire between the starter button and the terminal block.


The commutator or timer, coils, and coil box are usually in need of cleaning, adjusting, and tightening. Corrosion takes its toll from sitting.

Clean the timer and roller or brush with solvent and sand the grounding bars to shiny clean with fine sand paper. Sand the roller or brush tip. Sand the brush-type timer bars and clean with solvent.

Check the wiring from the timer to the coil primary for shorts and opens by disconnecting both ends for testing. Re-install wires to timer, routing them so they will not touch metal or kink when advancing or retarding the spark.

On roller-type timer, oil rotor and timer bars liberally with 30wt motor oil upon re-assembly. On brush-type timer leave the brush and timer strips clean and dry.

Check timer for proper adjustment using the Model T timing tool pictured below available from the parts suppliers. Directions can be found in the Model T Service Manual.
Lang’s # 3170
Snyder’s # T-3170

Clean all the wire connections on the coil box and check for tightness. If the coil box wood is in bad shape install a new wood kit from one of the suppliers. Treat the wood with sealer or stain, but do not paint the wood, especially with black paint. Painting may cause shorts. Black paint can contain charcoal which is a conductor.

I strongly recommend you let a professional restore the coils, installing new points and modern condensers, and adjusting to the correct current draw using the hand crank coil tester. Some old timers will say that the coils can just be adjusted by ear or just adjust them and they will be fine without new condensers. This is incorrect. At minimum the condensers in the coils are over years old. Don’t cut corners fix them correctly and send them to a professional. It will be well worth it. I would recommend the services of Ron the Coil Man.

Clean or replace the spark plugs and adjust the gap to 1/32 inches.


In the fuel system, checks include the fuel tank, fuel lines, filter, and carburetor.

Start at the fuel tank. If it's full of flakey rust inside, or there is 'algae' and\or it has rust holes in the bottom, have it restored professionally or replace it.

Disassemble the fuel sediment bowl, clean in solvent and replace the filter screen.

Disassemble carburetor and clean in carburetor cleaner. If float needle valve seat is frozen in the carburetor top, leave it alone. Use the old needle valve.

If the needle valve seat can be removed, replace it with a new 'Viton' tip needle and seat or a double check ball-style valve Grose Jet.

Test the float [brass] in hot water. If small bubbles escape while immersed, the float is defective. Replace it!

The older carburetors use a cork float. If intact clean and coat with a thin coat of gas-resistant sealer.

Adjust the float to specification. Turn carburetor upside-down. Usually, if the float is 'level' with the top surface of carburetor, the float level is ok.

Re-assemble and install carburetor. Adjust needle valve to one turn open from seat. Most 'Ts' run at around ½ to 1 turn.

Pour in one gallon of gas and test for leaks and flow out of the sediment bowl.


Remove all four plugs and measure the compression. Continually crank the engine until the compression pressure has built up four times. Record the compression pressure of each cylinder. A good T engine cold will crank 50 psi on each cylinder. 45 psi is ok. 25 psi is a worn engine or bad valves and there may not be enough power to propel the car. If the compression pressure varies over 5 psi from cylinder to cylinder, grind the valves and set the tappet clearance to 0.010 inches.

If there's no starter, remove all four plugs. Crank each cylinder through compression with your thumb covering the plug hole. If the pressure is about equal in all cylinders, the valves are probably ok. Also, visually look down each plug hole at top of valves. If they are the same color, the odds are they're good enough to start the engine.

Drain the oil. Install 3.5 to 4 quarts of generic 10-30 motor oil. Check for fullness out of the top oil level petcock.

If the old oil is 'jelly' or 'syrup' let it drain overnight.

If equipped with an external oiler, disassemble and verify it's not plugged up.

If the car is equipped with a water pump, and not one of the first few hundred Model Ts that came from the factory with one, take the water pump off and throw it away. Replace the fan belt with the factory belt and replace the lower water inlet with the original part # 3015.

Flush out the radiator and re-fill with 50-50 antifreeze and distilled water.

If the radiator tubes are rusted on the top end or the radiator is leaking, remove radiator and have it professionally checked and flushed at a radiator shop.



By now, you know if neutral has a slight drag which is normal. In some cases, long storage and some oils will allow the clutch disks to seize up, caused by congealing of the old oil. If this occurs, jack up one rear wheel so a neutral will be available for easy start up.

To test for neutral before start up pull the emergency brake lever all the way back neutral and rear wheel brake. If it cranks with the starter, neutral is ok. If not, pull the engine through with the hand crank. If no neutral, then try and free up after start up see 'Run Start up' later in this article.

If neutral is ok, check the pedal adjustments next. Low gear pedal should tighten the band just before hitting the floor board. The high gear lever should begin to engage the clutch shaft lever for neutral about midway between all the way down and the vertical position. The rear wheel brakes should not drag at this point. Pull the brake lever to vertical position; both rear wheels should have an equal heavy drag [see Rear Axle Drive Shaft and Brake Adjustment].

The transmission brake pedal should engage about one inch above the floor board.

The reverse band should engage about halfway between full up and the floor board.

If band adjustment cannot be obtained, review the Ford 'T' Service Manual or the Transmission Manual [MTFCA] for relining and adjustment procedures.


Start with the steering gear. Remove the steering wheel and steering gear cover. Pack with wheel bearing grease. Lube steering collar [lower part] with grease cup.

Check the pitman arm on the shaft. Many times this nut and arm are loose on the steering shaft. Check woodruff key for slop. Oil threads and tighten to around 75 pound feet torque and re-install the cotter pin.

Test the drag link ball caps for looseness by turning the steering wheel free play [wheels on ground]. Put your finger between the cap and the steering arm. If there is 'slop' [more than 1\32 inch], remove cap and grind flat face. Re-install cap and re-check for clearance [less than 1\32 inch]. If ok, disassemble, grease with bearing grease, tighten bolts and jamb nuts, insert cotter pins. Test for binding (lock to lock) with wheels off the ground.

If drag link binds, loosen bolts slightly, tighten jamb nuts, and insert new cotter pins. Check for binding again. Repeat drag link cap check on the right end steering link.

Check and oil the tie rod ends. If more than 1\32 inch clearance, replace pins and bushings [See Ford 'T' Service Manual for procedures]. Rebuild kits are available from the 'T' parts supply houses.

Check the radius rod 'wishbone' ball and cap. If less than 1\32 inch play side-to-side when turning the steering wheel [front wheels on ground], grease wishbone ball cap, tighten and/or replace studs, spring, and nuts. The wishbone ball must be tight in the socket with no side-to-side play.

Safety wire both studs to each other. Do not use cotter pins. Ball joint studs may work loose and unscrew.

Remove and inspect the front wheel bearings and grease seals. Clean bearings in solvent. Blow dry with air and then wash in solvent, again. If rollers are pitted, replace bearings and cups races.

Grease bearings using wheel bearing grease. Install inner wheel bearing and seal. Install wheel on spindle shaft and screw on outer wheel bearing. The right spindle axle nut and bearing should be a left-hand [counterclockwise] thread. The left side is a right-hand thread. Tighten until snug and back off until light bearing play exists. Install washer and jamb nut. Tighten jamb nut to line up cotter pin slots. Bearing play should be just snug without binding. Turn wheel [off ground]. If it stops abruptly, loosen jamb nut, loosen bearing nut one notch, re-tighten jamb nut. If the wheel turns freely, adjustment is ok.

Lastly, test the spindle and bushings king pins for end [up and down] play and for vertical plane play.

In the vertical plane check [wheels off ground], grab the top and bottom of the tire and wiggle in and out. If the outer rim moves in and out more than one inch, look at spindle bushings and wood spokes [spoke looseness checks in 'wheels' section]. If in and out movement at spindle [king pin] bushing is more than 1\64 inch [0.015"] the spindle pin bushings are very loose and should be replaced.

Next, test the bushing end play [up and down movement in the vertical plane]. The end play clearance should be zero. Test by placing a tire iron under the tire [wheels off the ground]. If end play clearance is greater than 0 [like 0.005" or 0.010", 0.015" is 1\64 inch], remove cotter pin, loosen jamb nut, tighten spindle bolt ¼ turn, re-tighten jamb nut, and re-test for end play.

The bottom portion of the axle has a thread for the spindle bolt. If it's stripped, tighten jamb nut to take up end play. The Ford 'T' Service Manual specifies tightening the spindle bolt until 'resistance' to turning exists.

To avoid wheel wobble at low speed, tighten spindle bolt to just zero end play, as outlined above. If left tight [resistance] steering will be hard and the car will steer you and you will be constantly correcting as you travel down the road.

Oil the oil caps at top of spindle bolt with motor oil. If oil drips to ground out of bottom bushing, oil holes are open. If not, disassemble spindle bushing bolt, clean oil holes and re-assemble. Test for end play, align spindle jamb nut, and install cotter pin.

Test for camber, caster, and toe-in ['gather']. Make a 'plumb bob' with a string and a nut tied to one end. Measure camber by holding the string at the top outer surface of tire. Move forward until string clears the hub cap. The horizontal measurement to tire surface at bottom is three inches [specified in Ford 'T' Service Manual].

Test the caster [pitch] by holding a carpenter square perpendicular to the floor and touching the front surface of bottom spindle\axle area. Measure the distance from the square to upper edge of spindle\axle area. This measurement should be the specified ¼ inch on both spindles.

Measure the 'gather' [toe-in] by holding a tape measure the inside front rim edge about halfway up from the ground. Measure distance to same spot on other rim. Move the tape measure to the inside rear rim edge. The 'toe-in' should be around 3\16 - ¼ inch. For example, if the front measures 53 ½ inches and the back is 53 ¾ inches, the toe-in is ¼ inch.

Many times, the toe-in measurement will be ½ inch toe-in or up to ½ inch toe-out! Needless to say, the car will wander all over if the above measurements are incorrect.

Review the Ford 'T' Service Manual for detailed procedures to measure camber, caster, and toe. Toe is the only thing adjustable on the front axle.


In 1998, the wheels with metal outer rims may be up to 78 years old! Wood felloe and wood outer rim wheels may be 88 years old!

That's old! If the spokes are loose in any way, consider having them re-spoked by a professional wheelwright advertised in the Model T magazines.

The wheel(s) may be slightly out of true in the vertical plane. An inch wobble is ok but if greater consider re-spoking the wheel.

You have read about wheels folding up on curves and causing accidents. It's worth the price to your family, friends, and relates, in-laws to make safety a top issue!

Do not try shimming, epoxy, or resin to 'tighten' up the spokes.


Test the drive shaft front bushing by removing the drive shaft housing plugs. Insert a small screwdriver and push up. If it pushes up 1\64 inch [0.015 inches] the clearance is barely acceptable the clearance spec for this bushing is 0.002 - 0.006 inches. If the clearance is over 1\64 inches, it's very loose! This measurement excess may indicate other rear axle wear and excess end play.

With a screwdriver, move the pin fore and aft to check drive shaft end play. If over 1\64 inches [0.015"], it's too loose. Although loose, one can drive the car. Consider re-building the drive shaft assembly. Check the Ford 'T' Service Manual for overhaul procedures.

If the drive shaft U-joint pin is loose, support the bottom of pin with a punch and blocks [hardwood on cement] to the floor. Peen the top of pin with a ¼ inch punch and a two-pound hammer. Turn drive shaft 180, and peen the other end. The pin is quite soft.

Grease the drive shaft bushing cup with bearing grease, and turn it in ½ turn for every hundred miles or so. A front drive shaft bushing without grease is a 'high wear' item on a 'T'!

Test the rear axle up and down play with wheels off the ground. Any play up and down up to 0.005 inches is ok. Test the wheels with a tire iron on the bottom side of the tire using the iron as a lever. Lift it up and down. If it's over 0.005 inches, it's loose! The wear is usually in the bearing axle sleeve upper outside edge [Part #2509].

To remove wheel hubs, jack up one side. Install a 'wheel puller' to remove hub. Most wheel hubs fall off or come loose with not much work.

Remove the bearing [two small screwdrivers] and feel the ridge wear in the axle sleeve. Remove the race with puller from 'T' supply houses. Install inner axle seals and new 'heat-treated' sleeves. 'T' supply houses have these parts.

Measure the rear axle bearing diameter with a micrometer. The standard diameter size of the roller bearing is 0.500 inches. If it measures 0.495 or more it’s ok. If it less than 0.495 inches, replace the bearing.

While the bearing is out, check the axle end play. If over 1\32 inch [0.031"], it's excessive. If left this way, the axle may shift in and out causing the drum to rub the brake lining edges. It may squeal! Check the Ford 'T' Service Manual for correct set up when re-building the rear axle assembly.

Install inner grease seals [Part #2511] and the bearing sleeves [there is a left and right sleeve; grease holes must line up!].

Grease the rear axle bearing with heavy duty wheel bearing grease or moly grease. Install bearings. Tap bearings in lightly and turn cage back and forth. With old bearings, they will slip in easily. With new, reproduction bearings, a moderate tap is ok.

When all the way in, the bearings will rotate easily, because the axle is usually worn from 0.003 to 0.005 inches on the bearing surface area. If in doubt about the above, review the Ford 'T' Service Manual for procedures.

Check the brake shoe lining. The small 9-inch brakes with lining are inadequate for hill country, but may be ok for flat country. You may want to consider 'rocky mountain' brakes.

The 11-inch brakes found on 26 or 27 T’s are much better and adequate for mountain driving.

Oil brake arm cam lever bushings. Put a thin film of bearing grease on the cam surface [top and bottom]. Install lining. Disconnect brake rods.

Prepare rear axles. Remove axle burrs and shine taper surfaces with fine sand paper. Peen the outer end of the axle keyway. Insert the axle key by tapping into the burr. You don't want this to move when installing the wheel hub. Clean axle threads with a die if necessary. Tap nut to clean threads if needed.

Oil axle surface, axle thread, and nut for a better torque, and ease of removal at a later date.

Slip on hub drum. Rotate wheel. If you hear a metal scraping, it may be the brake lining edge rubbing the drum. Remove hub and install an axle shim [Part #2505 SH] coated with oil. Recheck for scraping sound and add more shims if needed.

The oiled axle shaft surfaces will provide a better seating of the hub on the axle. Install the nut lightly for now. Re-install brake rods, oil clevis pins, and install cotter pins.

Adjust the brakes for equal drag. Pull the emergency brake handle to the vertical position. Test for equal drag on both wheels.

Move brake lever to neutral with no brake. Test for free-wheeling at rear wheels. The trick is to have the wheels free in neutral with no brake drag, then pull lever to vertical. The wheels should have a heavy equal drag to almost locked up with brake lever in vertical position.

Make sure emergency brake lever and locking pawl doesn't slip. If it does, replace the pawl.

I often find the rear brakes are, adjusted too tight. If tight, the brake applies the instant you pull the lever into neutral.

As new brake lining high spots wear in, re-adjust rear brakes for equal drag as outlined above refer to ford service manual with questions.

If all the above adjusts out as discussed above, tighten brake rod clevis jam nuts and install cotter pins in clevis pins.

Torque the axle nuts to 75 foot pounds, align the cotter pin slots, and insert the cotter pin.

Fill the differential case to bottom edge of fill plug hole with 600w gear oil. This can be purchased from the parts suppliers. Do not use any gear oil that has EP additives as these can harm brass.  


Now, for the big test! If all the above has been performed with good repair practice and adjusted to specification, your car should start in 5-10 seconds and almost be ready to drive on tour! The order of startup and drive events are as follows:

Find a local Model T Club member to help you and check your work.

Turn on gas and adjust mixture rod to one turn open from seated position. Hook up battery.

With gas at half throttle and spark in full-retarded position, crank engine for five seconds. During crank, choke for up to two seconds.

On hand crank models, use the same throttle and retarded spark settings as previously discussed. With ignition off, pull crank through three times with full choke. Release choke.

Turn on ignition, leave spark retarded, and crank to start.

Upon start up, be prepared to choke slightly as the engine begins to rev up. If it's sputtering, open choke [no choke] to let it rev up more. Advance spark to half way. To lean the mixture, turn mixture knob clockwise until the engine runs smoothly. Most T’s run at ½ to one full turn of the adjustment knob. If adjustment is a lot different than this on NH carburetors, something may be wrong with the carburetor or float. Review the Ford 'T' Service Manual or the Carburetor Manual published by the MTFCA.

Return to idle slowly. Adjust idle throttle screw and mixture rod to maintain good idle smoothness.

During warm up, rev engine to around 800-1000 RPM. Leave it at a steady RPM. Never at any time rev a Model T engine above 1500 revolutions per minute. Listen for knock(s).

Short, with a well-insulated screwdriver, one spark plug at a time. The motor should drop in RPM. Simultaneously, listen for knock while plug is shorted. If the knock goes away while shorting out the cylinder, the rod is loose. This also checks to see that each cylinder is firing correctly. If one is not firing the engine will not slow when the spark plug is shorted.

If you have any doubt about knocks or bad engine sounds, review the MTFCA Engine Manual for procedures.

To test the transmission bands, set emergency brake and start engine. Warm up. With emergency brake set, push in low pedal gently. Listen for a changing transmission 'whine'. This is the beginning of low band engagement. This point should be around one ­ two inches up from the floorboard surface.

Next, push in reverse pedal with emergency brake set. The pedal should travel about half-way to the floorboard surface.

With new, or old transmission bands, start with the above suggested adjustments. The real test is on the road. The adjustments may seem on the 'loose' side to you. However, the loose adjustments will minimize premature failure due to excessive drag.

If the bands are too tight, they will already be partially engaged. They may work against each other, and the transmission may sound like it's binding up. Further the bands may burn and fail prematurely due to lack of oil [cooling].

Sometimes the clutch disks will not allow a neutral. To test for neutral while running with one wheel jacked up, pull brake lever back slowly to neutral. Note RPM change, if any. Then continue to pull increasing brake drag. Engine RPM should not change and transmission neutral is ok.

If engine slows down during this maneuver, clutch disks are hung up and\or oil is congealed on disks' surfaces. Try this brake on\off procedure for 10 minutes.

If it [neutral] still does not work, change oil again and add ½ quart of type F ATF to the crank case and repeat above steps. If it still hangs up after an hour or so of running refer to the Model T Ford service manual.  


Now the big plunge! You're ready for the road!

Find a local Model T Club member to help you and check your work.

If you are not experienced, ask an experienced friend who regularly drives Ts on tours to drive your car the first time.

Crank engine three times to prime

Crank and start
Adjust mixture and spark advance
Listen for knocks or other potential problems
Test transmission band adjustment
Drive car, test shifting
Drive car, test brakes
Drive car, test for wheel wobble
Test for overheating
Drive car on tour!

Slowly, slowly, engage reverse pedal gently and back out of the driveway. Leave emergency brake in neutral position to hold clutch pedal in place, while backing up.

Push in low pedal to move forward. Leave emergency brake lever in neutral. Accelerate to 10 MPH in low, and then let up on the throttle and low pedal.

Let the car coast. Then apply foot brakes, gently. No chatter during stop- Next accelerate to 10 MPH in low. With your foot still on low pedal let the brake lever into high gear position all the way forward. At 10 MPH, let throttle off slightly and simultaneously let clutch [high gear] engage by slowly letting up low pedal.

Note how smooth the shift is! If it chatters, the clutch disks may be 'hanging up' on the inside of the transmission brake drum guides.

After 50 miles or so, change the crankcase oil, again. When bringing your car out of mothballs, the syrupy oil could cause the hang-up and rough shift. New oil may minimize the rough shift.

You have been applying the emergency brake gently, noting pull. At 30 MPH in high gear, let up on throttle and pull emergency brake to lock the rear wheels [panic stop]. Be prepared for a pull to right or left.

If it pulls to right, adjust the left clevis pin one turn tighter and re-install cotter pin. Try panic stop again. If you cannot get equal pull, re-line emergency brakes as discussed in brake section.

Test for front end shimmy:

Proceed over chuck holes slowly [5 MPH]. If shimmy develops, re-check front end looseness and alignment checks, as outlined in the 'Front Axle' section.

Test the radiator. If it boils on a cool day during these pre-tour tests, consider a 'flat tube' radiator re-core or a new radiator. In a good radiator system, water pumps are unnecessary, even on hot days.


If all the above works as outlined above, you're now ready for a durable tour.
Before every tour:

Fill radiator to level with the word Ford on the front of the radiator

Check oil level at top petcock

Lubricate the car following the Model T lubrication chart

Fill tank with gas

Start, warm up, and go on tour!


In Closing:

Remember, your Model T will last you for many thousands of miles. It was never designed as a race car of any sort. It was designed for speeds not to exceed 30 miles per hour and 1500 revolutions per minute of the motor. It was also designed for slow and calm driving. If treated correctly it will last a lifetime.Type your paragraph here.