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The ‘T’ Party

Arizona’s Model T clubs are enjoying new respect as key holders to American ingenuity.

Jimmy Magahern | Jan 4, 2012, 12:10 p.m.

“Prior to that, people used dry cell batteries to run the ignition,” Fellin says. “Which, coincidentally, were the biggest single source of roadside failure back then. So Henry Ford put his bright engineers together and said, ‘Come up with some kind of magneto so people won’t have to use the battery to start the car.’ That’s the kind of thinking these cars represent.”

Like Jobs’ iconic iPod, the genius behind the Model T was that it just worked, without a lot of effort from the owner — and still does, according to members of the East Valley Model T Club and other Arizona groups like the Sun Country Model T Club and the Tucson Touring T’s, whose members frequently travel to join in the Mesa parade.

“They’re pretty easy to work on, and easy to get parts for,” says Ed Stolinski, a former body shop owner who’s restored six Model Ts of his own and has helped several club members get their Ts up and running. He pats the hood on his 1926 Model T Speedster and says he once drove it all the way from New York City to Seattle. “It did just fine,” he says proudly. “No problem.”

“I’ve been driving mine for 30 years,” says Steve Francois. “Haven’t really had to do anything to it.”

“You can license ’em and drive ’em, and they’re easy to work on,” Fellin adds. “It’s a 90-year-old car that still works. That’s really why everybody loves Model Ts.”

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Speedster owners have always had more leeway. “With these, you can do whatever you want,” Linney says — and he does. “Most guys here will tell you these cars only go 25 or 30 miles per hour, even though a stock Model T can do 45 without pushing it. I’ve had this one up to 70!”

Suited to a T

At 50, Steve Linney is kind of the youngster in the Arizona Model T community — and his car, a stripped-down 1919 Speedster painted bright orange instead of the customary black, reflects it.

“This was kind of like a kid’s Model T back in the ‘20s and ‘30s,” says Linney, who bears a passing resemblance to Bill Murray behind the greying mustache and baseball cap. “It was for the customizers. You could buy the frame and engine block from Ford and then make your own body.”

Model T purists insist on keeping the pre-1925 models painted black, the only color Ford initially offered them in. As legend goes, Henry Ford discovered black was the color that dried fastest, an important factor in rolling them off the first auto assembly lines in an efficient manner. But Speedster owners have always had more leeway. “With these, you can do whatever you want,” Linney says — and he does. “Most guys here will tell you these cars only go 25 or 30 miles per hour, even though a stock Model T can do 45 without pushing it. I’ve had this one up to 70!”

Bought and restored 16 years ago, it’s the first Model T Linney’s owned, although he says he’s been wanting one since he was old enough to drive.

“I’ve been into these cars since my early 20s,” he says. “Most kids back in my day wanted a Camaro or a Mustang. But I’d go to swap meets to collect Model T parts.”

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