Model t Speedsters
Photo DRIVING HISTORY Top speed is a scary 60 m.p.h. or so. Credit Mark Wilson for The New York Times
The Model T has 21-inch wheels and thick tires, and Mr. Zabala sat high above the road. Maneuvering the levers, pedals and steering wheel, he resembled the man behind the curtain in “The Wizard of Oz.”
“It’s a tall car, ” he said.
Mr. Zabala was 4 years old when his father brought home a Model T pickup truck. “I can remember being in the backyard and sitting on his lap, and him moving the car around, ” he said. “He did a full restoration on that one.”
Mr. Zabala began driving Model Ts before he received his license. “A family friend had a big field in the back of their house, and my dad let me take it out in the field and drive it around, ” he said.
Mr. Zabala was wearing a polo shirt with light jeans. He was going about 25 miles per hour. “I’ll usually cruise at 40, 42, ” he said. The engine produces only 22 horsepower or so. He has, he said, reached top speed: around 60 m.p.h.
“It’s a little scary, ” he said, and recalled a recent ride with his girlfriend, Mallory MacRae, in which he got the car up to 55 m.p.h. “The engine is screaming. It’s going all out at that point.”
“You can’t really describe it until you ride in it, ” Ms. MacRae added.
“The first time I rode in it, it was a sunny day, ” she continued. “And I just kept feeling wet, and I said, ‘Is it raining? I think it’s raining.’ And he said, ‘No, those are bugs.’”
They both wear sunglasses now.
“I carry hair things in there, ” she said of the toolbox. “I have elastics and bobby pins.”
A couple of years ago, Mr. Zabala and his brother, Micol — the car belongs to both of them, though Micol is in the Navy and stationed in South Carolina — were caught in a Michigan hailstorm.Photo The bare-bones dashboard. Credit Mark Wilson for The New York Times
“It just started getting nasty — nasty thunderstorm, ” Mr. Zabala remembered, after pulling off the road into an apple orchard. “So we already had our rain gear on, and all of sudden we start hearing ping, ping, ping, ping, ping.”
Just as Mr. Zabala finished his story, a blue van appeared down the orchard’s narrow path and stopped next to the Model T. The driver poked his head out the window. “You going across the country in that thing?” he asked.
“Going to South Dakota in two weeks, ” Mr. Zabala replied, referring to a tour by the Model T Club International. Mr. Zabala and Ms. MacRae will take the car by trailer to Rapid City and use it for day trips.
“That’ll be a fun ride, ” the driver said. “Don’t forget your goggles, though.”
The car has been resilient over the 2, 000 miles Mr. Zabala has put on it. The only thing to break was one of the gears in the rear axle. Mr. Zabala was on a club tour at the time.
“We pulled it over to where all our trailers were, ” he said. “And I think we were four or five guys, we basically lifted up the back end of the car, pulled the entire rear axle assembly out from it, set the car back down on the springs and within four hours we had it apart.”
Leaving the orchard, Mr. Zabala wound the Model T up to speed. He nudged the brakes and kept his hand on the throttle. Though the car was only doing about 40 m.p.h., it felt much faster.
But, he explained, the thrill of driving his Model T, with its open-air experience and panoramic view, had more to do with the senses.
“You see things differently, ” he said, “especially in this car when you’re out in the open and there’s nothing around you. You’ll catch things that you wouldn’t catch in a modern vehicle.”