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Jay Leno's Column: The Collector

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Celebrating the Ford Model T's centenary

As a kid growing up, I always heard a lot about the Model T. How it  changed America. But I never really appreciated it until I bought one. 

I never realised how brilliantly conceived and designed it was. This  is a car that sold for $300 in 1925… the equivalent or maybe a little bit less of what the Tata Nano is selling for now in India.As an experiment I’ve been using mine to commute to work every day and I’ve found as a commuter car, it’s brilliant because unlike a lot of  other antique cars, the Model T starts on the button, first try, almost every single time. Because it was designed to be an extremely high quality, inexpensive car that would run under almost any condition. There’s no oil pump, there’s no water pump. Any moving part that didn’t, absolutely 100% have to be there, was taken off.As much as I like a lot of the other rare, antique cars, there can be dependability problems,  electrics can be dodgy and  it takes a few minutes to get some cars started. Where as this thing you literally just get in and go and nothing breaks. And when it does break, it’s so inexpensive to fix.

There is still something like a million Model T’s on the road and  there are any number of suppliers in America. You can park it  anywhere. You can get a new high compression aluminum head for cheap.  It’s an inexpensive car to fix and repair.You know here in Los Angeles, at car meets, these guys bring a box of  parts and they dump it on the ground and they set a timer. And they  built a Model T and drive it away in less than two hours. It’s hilarious  to watch them.  And it’s amazing.

You can park it anywhere. It was built to go over bad roads, which is  what LA has now. They’re all dented and rutted. The tarmac is so bad,  no one goes much over 45mph in the city anyway, so you can more than  keep up. And acceleration is certainly lively. It makes people smile. 

It looks exactly what people think an antique car should look like. It  doesn’t overheat and it’s been 100 degrees here every day in Los  Angeles.And the most amazing part I like about it is you can literally fix the whole car yourself. You’re in control of your own destiny. The  generation before ours…people could repair and control their whole lives. If you lived on a farm, you knew every part of how that farm  worked. And how the machinery worked. Nowadays, if your Prius stops in  the driveway, there’s nothing you can do. With a Model T, there’s only  three things – gas, spark and compression. And it’s quite simple to figure  out what went wrong and get it going.

It was built with the highest quality steel available at the time. And  the reason there are so many Model T’s around is that many other high-priced cars totally rusted out. And a lot used wood as a body. The  Model T was all steel. It was stamped out. So consequently, it didn’t rust out as much as other cars of the period. Now there are almost no  Chevys and very few Dodges from the late teens and early 1920s. but  there’s still plenty of Model T’s around.

You know, I went to see a guy who was a big Model T supplier in  Massachusetts and when I was home I said ‘let me go and see this guy’s  stockpile’ in this big warehouse. And I drove down to his place. It’s  a little trailer and all his parts were outside in a huge pile. And he  said ‘you just kick the rust off and they’re ready to go again’. And  these parts had been outside in his back yard for 60 years. He just  goes back, takes an axle, sandblasts it and cleans it up.You know it’s funny when you watch these old movies. Laurel and Hardy  going backwards and forwards real quickly. And you think they must  have speeded up the film. No they don’t. You can actually move that  thing back and forth very quickly. The other fun part about a Model T  is nobody knows how to drive it. I went to a premiere in Hollywood and  I pulled up in the T and the valet came running over. And I asked him if he’d parked one before and he said, ‘We can park everything’. And  this guy got in and was bewildered and he stalled it, then he didn’t  know how to start it and OK, thank you. So there’s a great deal of  satisfaction in not giving it to a valet to be manhandled.

I’ve been celebrating its 100 birthday by using it as my commuter car  every day. You know, I hear people talk about hybrids and Priuses and  I say to them, ‘you know my car was built in 1925. It was last painted  in 1962. You know my car has not really used any resources other than  some fossil fuel and since there’s no lead in the fuel anymore, it’s  not polluting that bad’. You know, that’s sort of why I’m doing it. My  friend who can get a new hybrid, a new Prius every three years, I think  I’m actually doing more for the environment by continuing to drive the  same car over an 80 year period.All in all,  I think it’s the most significant car of the 20th  Century.   Happy 100th Birthday.


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