Footloose in a hand-built American classic
Vintage ride: Simon Neubert, an SRU music education major from Saxonburg, built this 1926 Model T Ford from original parts. He comes from a long family line of Model T enthusiasts.
Augut, 6, 2015
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - "It's not an easy car to drive," Simon Neubert says of his Model T Ford. "The floorboard pedal on the right is the brake. The pedal in the middle is reverse. The pedal on the left is first gear, second gear and neutral. Everything is basically backwards."
The manual transmission doesn't deter the Slippery Rock University music education major from driving his hand-built, vintage speedster to campus and elsewhere as the signature vehicle of his vintage-car hobby. Neubert, of Saxonburg, cranks the engine, nudges the brakes and keeps his hand on the throttle as he experiences the thrill of an open-air ride with panoramic views of Old Main and beyond.
Those who see him behind the wheel get a glimpse of an American classic.
"It's not a trailer queen by any means," Neubert said of his 1926 Ford Model T Speedster. "I have driven it more than 600 hours for more than 20,000 miles. "There is a sense of love, pleasure and raw feeling that it gives you to drive a 90-year-old automobile."
It must be true that history repeats itself because the SRU community could be mistaken for a vintage car museum this summer. Aside from Neubert's jet-black duesy, car buffs have been spotted driving 1960s VW Bugs, a late 1960s Pontiac GTO and a 1968 Dodge Charger. Drive Route 173 to Interstate 79 and you'll pass an orange VW Beetle and early 1960s Chevrolet Corvair up for sale.
Ford Motor Co. built the Model T, colloquially known as "Tin Lizzie," from 1908-1927 and marketed it as an affordable vehicle. Henry Ford watched 15 million Model T's roll off his Michigan assembly lines, selling the cars for $300.
Some families are Ford families; others Chevy. The Nueberts are a Model T family. Simon's grandfather, father and three uncles have owned Model T's.
"I come from a large family that has entered the Model T hobby," said Nuebert, who is currently helping to restore a 1926 Model T Pickup with his uncle.
He became interested in the car when restoring one with his dad.
"I have known I was interested in Model T's since I was nine-years old," he said. "My father is mechanic by trade, his twin brother is a truck mechanic by trade, my uncle Paul is a body man, my other uncle is a gear head too, so naturally we have restored many cars. My grandma has a whole photo album of cars that her sons have restored and driven."
One twist on Neubert's '26 is it was never actually a car. Neubert assembled the vehicle over seven months from donated and acquired parts.
Neubert said he sought Ford parts.
"The car's driveline, engine, rear axle and steering is all as Ford would have built it, but I have added some vintage era speed parts so the car does drive quite a bit faster than a true bone stock Model T," he said. "The body is a Ford script body that would have come from the factory in 1926, but we did not put the fenders or running boards on the car. We custom built the interior, top and windshield because we simply did not have the parts or the funds to do it so we just did it ourselves."
Neubert said he customized the car with an interior of his design, dual-side exhaust pipes, blue wheels, stickers and a period accessory called a Ruckstell rear axle.
"Before I even started building my car, I said I wanted to build a speedster that put out the horsepower. Going fast is easy, stopping is another matter. My dad and I took the rear axle of a Model T to the junkyard and started taking cars' brake systems apart and seeing what we could make work for a Model T. By the end of it, we had designed a complete hydraulic disc brake system that could work on any Model T that would make it safer and easier to drive."
Part of the mystique of the Model T is its iconic American status. No wonder people smile and ask Neubert about the car at the gas station.
"The Model T was a very simple design but quality made," Neubert said. "They were all designed to run without a battery and were ruggedly built to survive. The roads and conditions back in the 1920's were horrible but the Model T continued to be the number one choice for the everyday man to own. You can still find cars today that are original, un-restored and run."
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