The Ford Model T is one of those cars that even people who know nothing about cars have likely heard of. Usually, they’ve heard wrong things about it, like it was the first car ever, or the first mass-produced car, neither of which are true. What it was, though, was incredibly important. Most people aren’t aware of how weird these things were to drive, so this episode is all about showing just that. Oh, and also driving a loosely Model T-based hot rod that’s worth way more than I am, a living human being.
I like to think of the Model T as the first real proof-of-concept of the very idea of the automobile as a mass-market, everyone-should-have-one thing.
Sure, there were plenty of cars before the Model T, and even some relatively accessible ones, but when it comes to sheer numbers and market penetration and bringing the concept of driving to the most people, you can’t beat the Model T.
All of that is why it’s so amazing that the way a Model T was driven was a technological dead end. The T set no standards for how it was controlled, which is remarkable considering that it was once by far the most popular and common car in America.
I think the video gives a pretty good rundown of how you drive a Model T. It’s not really all that hard, it’s just very different than how you drive almost anything else.
Because there were once so many Model Ts around, it makes sense that they would become the basis of other fun things after their original lifespans were up. As a result, there’s a whole category of hot rods known as “T-Buckets,” a movement that started as early as the 1920s but really came into its own in the 1950s. T-Buckets were re-purposed old Model Ts into hot rods, usually with big-ass V8 engines and little else, making for fast and light rods with power-to-weight ratios similar to a missile or something.
One of the most famous of these T-Buckets was the Grasshopper Roadster, built in the late 1950s by John Geraghty. This was a truly incredible build, which used a 1915 Model T body, but everything underneath it was totally custom.
The car used a supercharged Oldsmobile V8 making over 800 horsepower, bolted to a LaSalle transmission, and everything slathered in chrome. The interior is incredibly minimal, as there’s no actual floor and you’re basically sitting in a chromed lawnchair strapped onto a massive engine.
The Grasshopper as I drove it was painstakingly and methodically rebuilt and restored by Dave Shuten, who did an astounding amount of research to make sure that every single little piece of this car was just right.
It’s worth well over $200,000, and Dave is very aware of how much work he put into it, and, as a result, wasn’t really crazy about me driving it. That’s why I had to get in in just my socks, and had to swear a blood oath that I’d barely touch the throttle as I trundled down the road.
As a result, driving the Grasshopper was one of the most amazing and frustrating experiences I’ve had in a car. You can feel the raw, unhinged power of the thing, as the whole car is vibrating and pulsing with the engine as you sit there, effectively crammed into the very mechanicals of the car.
It wants to go. You want to go. Dave wants you dead if you do give in and go, though, and I do completely understand why.
I just don’t have to pretend to be happy about it.
Even so, it was still a huge honor to get to drive at all in this legendary, one-of-a-kind beast, and I’m not sure what I even would have done if I had been allowed to give it the beans—set a speed record on some residential cul-de-sac before going into a panic, slamming on the brakes, and soiling my pants so badly they become fertilizer?
It’s probably for the best that I just did what Dave wanted.