A Model T Ford owner (left) stops at a junk yard during the great depression to buy a few extra coils for his Model T. The junk yard owner is evaluating the coils.
The heart and soul of the Model T Ford is its ignition system. Very advanced for its day, it is widely misunderstood by many in the car hobby. Many do not comprehend how utterly reliable and trouble free the Model T ignition system is when it is properly serviced. Here we will examine the flywheel magnets and care for them properly during an engine service event.
The main component of a Model T magneto is what we would today call a variable frequency variable voltage permanent magnet alternator. The chart above was published by Ford to show what the typical magneto output should be in a Model T Ford. The output will be lower if the magnets are not fully charged. While the engine is apart the magnets can be charged.
Above we have bolted the flywheel to a workbench holding fixture to speed the job. A large slot head screwdriver is used to break loose the screws retaining the outer end of the magnets. A hammer is used to tap the screwdriver to make sure it is seated properly. The screwdriver has a square shank allowing easy turning of the peened over screws. Sometimes it is necessary to grind off the peened over ends of the brass screws first. In any case, the screws are thrown away and replaced by new ones.
Warning: Original Ford magneto screws and flywheels (or ring gears on later T’s) are tapped for #14-24 screws. Reproduction magneto screws are 1/4 – 24 thread, which is close but not the same. New screws in either thread are available from the T part sellers.
Safety wire is cut on the center row of bolts securing the inside of each magnet. I break them loose with a ratchet. Then they can be removed with a speed handle. The magnets are kept in order as they are removed, with the upper side staying upward. We take a moment with each magnet to inspect for cracks, then whack each magnet soundly against the vice to see if it is weak enough to break in half. You want any marginal magnets to fail now, not in the engine at driving speed!
Our flywheel is from a 1919 or later engine. It is being used with a 1915 engine. The ring gear looks absolutely perfect. It has been started for the past 30 years using a 12 volt battery and an unmodified T starter. It will last another 100 years we think. If the flywheel were from a 1918 or earlier Model T the screws thread into the flywheel itself, there is no ring gear and no provision for a starter on the earlier cars.
A magnet charger is made using one of our magnets clamped in the vice. I put a piece of 1 1/4″ ID Tygon tubing over each end of the magnet. Then I wrap 12 turns of # 10 AWG stranded wire around the Tygon tubing starting at the top of one magnet end, reversing the wire turns at the center of the magnet and continuing up the other side of the magnet with the same number of turns wound in the opposite direction. Some black duct tape is applied to the wire to secure it in place. Our low buck magnet charger is ready for action!
How to Drive a Ford Model T in Plain English (Summary)
For the visual learners out there, the following video shows you what to do. If you learn better by reading, the “how to” section is below the video.
With the car on level ground and the engine off, climb up behind the wheel. Notice the hand lever on the floor to your left, the two levers on the steering column beneath the steering wheel, and the three pedals on the floor.
Let’s start with the hand lever. All the way back it sets the rear wheel parking/emergency brakes and puts the transmission in neutral. Half-way released it maintains neutral, and fully released it engages the planetary transmission in high gear. Feel it a few times, notice that it holds the left pedal in neutral mid-position, then release it, and notice that the left pedal is all the way up.
Next, the lever to the left beneath the steering wheel is the spark adjust advance/retard from before top dead center ignition to after top dead center. To retard the spark it is moved up, to advance the spark it is moved down. The Model T is always started in the retard position, as it was designed to be started by hand cranking. Unless it is retarded the engine can and will KICK BACK and do damage to hands, wrists and arms. NEVER crank it except in the retard position. After the engine is running, the lever can be moved down to advance the ignition until the engine chuckles smoothly, and when rolling to get the best performance.
The lever to the right is the throttle lever, there is no foot pedal like a modern car. Up is idle speed, down is as fast as it will go. Maximum performance in a Model T is like with a mule, with both ears laid back.
Next, the foot pedals on the floorboard – The left foot pedal changes your forward gear ratios, up is high, down is low. The Model T has just those two forward ratios, high gear and low gear. Midway between high and low is the neutral “out of gear” position of the left pedal.
To engage first gear, let the handbrake lever off and push the pedal all the way down until it becomes HARD. Pull the handbrake up and feel how the lever holds neutral position on the gear pedal.
The center pedal is for reverse gear engagement, but either the hand lever or the left pedal must be in neutral position before engagement, or the engine will stall. All the way down HARD is reverse position.
The right pedal is the brake. It engages a band around a braking drum in the transmission, operating in the engine oil bath. Therefore, to avoid burning off the oil due to friction heat, and wearing out the band quickly, apply the brake in relatively short duration thrusts to allow the oil to wash and continue lubricating and cooling it.
Note: The Ford Model T only applies braking to the rear wheels.
Braking by right pedal is via the driveline to the rear wheels only, does not actuate the rear drum brakes, and can cause dangerous skids in slick road conditions, as the differential will allow one wheel to spin forward and the other backward. Therefore, in slick conditions, use the hand lever to apply braking to the rear drum brakes.
Get the feel of the controls, they will become familiar quickly
1. Raise the right side of the engine hood and check that the engine oil level is adequate, within the limits prescribed. This is done by opening the lower petcock at the rear of the engine. If it does not flow, close the lower petcock, open the upper petcock and add oil until oil flows from the upper petcock. Close the upper petcock, lower and latch the hood.
2. Remove the radiator cap and top off the radiator with fresh water and/or antifreeze solution in freezing weather. A 30-40% methanol (wood alcohol)/ water solution may be used, but a 50% ethylene glycol/water solution is recommended for all seasons.
Please observe that the hand crank is located in the center of the car below the radiator. To crank the engine, one must stand in the path the car will take if the engine starts while in gear. The car is NOT OUT OF GEAR UNLESS the Emergency brake/neutral lever is all the way back and the rear brakes set. This must be done FIRST, or you will get run over by your own car should the engine start, MOST EMBARRASSING!
NEXT, move the spark advance/retard lever all the way up to retard position. Move the throttle lever down approximately ? of the quadrant.
Observe that the Magneto/OFF/Battery Switch (or key) on the coil box or dash panel is in the OFF position. The Model T may be started in either Magneto or Battery position, usually in Battery position unless the battery has lost charge.
Observe the wire ring at the lower left corner of the radiator as you face the car. This is the pull wire of the hand choke. PULL IT OUT.
With the switch (or key) OFF, push the crank in and crank the engine over one or two turns, finishing by coming up against compression and just past.
Turn the Magneto/OFF/Battery switch to Battery. The coils will buzz, and sometimes the engine will start without further cranking, especially if warm. If it doesn’t, the engine must be cranked through one more cycle of intake/compression. Do this carefully with your LEFT hand, pulling up ONLY by ratcheting the crank as necessary. Do not grip the crank handle but cup it in the palm of the hand with the thumb on the same side of the handle as the fingers. As the cylinder begins to come up on compression, ratchet the crank down to the bottom. Now pull up swiftly, and the engine will start. If not, repeat the process.
NEVER start the car with your right hand. If the engine were to misfire or kick back, you would likely suffer a broken wrist and/or arm. The right hand may be used for priming the engine, as you need your left hand free to operate the choke, but when ever the ignition switch is ON, you MUST use your left hand. again, do not grip the crank handle but cup it in the palm of the hand with the thumb on the same side of the handle as the fingers.
In cold weather the choke may need to be left out until the engine warms. It may be released (or set) from the driver’s seat by pushing down the choke/carburetor adjust knob to the right side of the dash panel.
Speed up the engine with the throttle lever, advance the ignition with the advance/retard lever about half-way, then return the engine speed to an idle. It will now chuckle over smoothly at about 400 rpm.
The excellent Gilmore Museum in Hickory Corners Michigan is offering Model T driving lessons and one of the instructors is in his 90’s!
Read the article from the Washington Post here, great way to introduce younger people to the hobby. Model T starting and driving are acquired skills. I say this with some experience as I assisted in the restoration of a T back in my apprentice days. This will ensure that the knowledge lives on.
If you don’t about the Gilmore, take a look here, it’s on my bucket list to visit, nearly made it a few years back!
sit the birthplace of the Model T. Avenue Plant is again open and evolving into a symbol of Detroit’s ability to invent, innovate, and rebound.Walk the plank floors worn smooth by hundreds of workers and thousands of cars. See Henry Ford’s competition, his early successes and false starts. Learn how volunteers saved one of the world’s most significant industrial building
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