In Search of Period Perfection

Zach Suhr is a humble guy with a passion for the artifacts of an earlier era.

“You probably know more about this car than I do,” he tells me. Not true. Or, if it is, it’s only because of him and a handful of other guys that I learned what I know about hot rodding’s protoplasmic era between the World Wars . Among that group of teachers is the late Bruce Lancaster, a New Jersey-based librarian and hot-rod historian of the first rank who became a mentor to Zach, a resident of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and owner of both the gorgeous barn and the 1925 Ford Model T Runabout in these photos. Zach is among the next generation of enthusiasts who are keeping alive the memory of how young folks in the early ’30s had fun and went fast with old cars.

Bruce shared his knowledge frequently on the HAMB forum on the Jalopy Journal website, which is where I first crossed paths with Zach. We’re both millennials, and 20-plus years ago we’d both come to Ryan Cochran’s pillar of traditional hot rodding (along-side places like the Ford Barn, Model T Ford Club of America, Model T Ford Club International, Model A Ford Club of America, and Model A Restorers Club forums) to learn about the vintage cars that fascinated us. Information on how the factory did it was easy to find, but only by seeking out certain folks could you learn how the owners enjoyed their Fords on Day 2, in Year Five, Year Ten, and Year Twenty

Zach’s been at the history bit a long time now, and he’s a super-handy guy— equally at home wrenching, sign painting, working on historical structures, or picking up whatever other skill he might find handy to pursue his interests. A devoted husband and father of two 2-year-olds (one of whom has already laid claim to this car), he’s also short of time. It helps that everyone in the household shares his enthusiasm for old stuff, centered on the collection of mostly early Fords that are modified in various vintage ways to go faster. Zach is a retrophile whose tastes go beyond speed parts—his enthusiasm is as focused on the aesthetic potential of the era’s machinery as on the history.

Don’t let the extent of his collection versus his youth confuse you. Zach’s a working stiff like the rest of us, just one who is so obviously devoted to a particular period and style that people ultimately seek him out as a custodian of cool vintage stuff. For many sellers, top dollar doesn’t matter when you know your treasure is going to a good home.

It also helps that Zach doesn’t mind fixing or sensitively remodeling something if it’s not perfect when he obtains it. Before we shot the photographs for this article, he pointed out to me where he’d artfully disguised changes he’d had to make to the barn floor. He’s a details man—keenly aware of how everything you see here can be improved just a bit, through judicious substitution of period detail for modern-day expedience. It’s a refinement that this torch-bearing Model T deserves given its role in keeping alive the once-ubiquitous Tin Lizzie. In the pre-internet era, it was seemingly remembered only by a small enclave in Southern California and, once, in our predecessor magazine, Special Interest Autos. Those embers of history were particularly hot in the Long Beach Model T Club

in fairness to Zach’s opening comment, I interviewed the Ford’s previous owner Joe Brun, of Long Beach, California, back in 2017 in order to profile this car in Hemmings Motor News shortly after it ran (shorn of fenders) at The Race of Gentlemen in its October 2016 Pismo Beach appearance. That’s where Vernon “Gabby” Garrison’s story is more fully told. Further, a lot of what Zach and I know about the car comes via Rich “Flyin-T” Turner, a veteran of the Long Beach Model T scene and an acquaintance of Gabby’s. Gabby built this car back in the 1970s in homage to similar Ts he’d owned as a teenager in the early 1930s. Rich also has frequently posted his recollections of Gabby and about Gabby’s cars on the HAMB

Zach knows those stories, and many more. He was preparing to build a car like this, from scratch, before this one became available. He’d been studying this car, Gabby’s two earlier cars, and their contemporaries from guys with names like Roy “Multi” Aldrich, Robert Hodge, Bob Estes, the Downey Brothers, Hi Halfhill, Phil Weiand, Roy Richter, and Lee Chapel. Back circa 1932-’37, they and others constructed cars in this vein. A few of those gow jobs yet survive, in various states of preservation and originality.

“The first car I bought was in the basement of a train station, which I thought was pretty cool. I only paid $500 for it, complete and with a title. So, then I bought a RAJO BBR head, Stutz ignition, Warford transmission, and all the fancy stuff I thought I was going to use to build something like Hi Halfhill’s or Gabby’s car.”

Halfhill’s car was an all-competition job with no fenders and a Model A engine and frame rails from a Star; Gabby’s full-fendered car, with its distinctive hinged-and-chopped windshield, is all-T and pretty mild. It’s less so at present.

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