Keith’s collectible car - Benalla mans mint condition Model-T is a sight to seeBy Simon Ruppert
Benalla's Keith Wilson has lived in town for many years.
While he might not be your typical collector of antiquities if you venture into his shed you will find his pride and joy - an mint-condition 1920s Model-T ford.
Despite staying on Keith's property it has already passed it down to his son Jeff who intends to keep it in the family
It was originally bought by Keith's parents, Robert and May, in 1925 from Berry & Drummond's car dealership on the corner of Carrier and Bridge Sts in 1925.
It has been in the family ever since.
Despite a colour change, today it looks very much like it did in 1922 when it was brand new, however, it hasn't always looked that way.
“In 1925 my grandfather bought it second hand from a dealership, which was where the Bottle-O is now,” Jeff said.
“He bought it second hand and paid £80.
“In 1930 my grandfather cut the rear tub section off and put a tray on, for use around the farm.
“He basically made it into a ute with a wooden tray deck on the back.”
The Model-T Ute was an everyday runaround for the family and Keith and his sisters would often be loaded into the back for journeys around the north east.
“All of my grandfather's family came from Myrtleford,” Jeff said.
“So my grandmother and grandfather would put one kid in the front, the other four in the back and drive over quite regularly.
“And it was the old route back then via Wangaratta, and of course there was no issue having kids travel in the tray back then.”
Keith said he always remembers the car being in the family.
It was purchased a couple of years before he was born, so he grew up with it and even learnt to drive in it.
Not that any of those driving skills would be transferable to a modern car.
“These Model-Ts were one of the first cars to have a semi-automatic transmission,” Keith said.
“The gears are actually pedals on the floor, and it’s got a hand-brake that is actually a clutch as well.
“So you’ve got to depress the pedals to go, and to let the hand brake off.
“To engage the gearbox you’ve got a throttle on the steering wheel.
“So you’ve got to have you wits about you when your driving.”
Something that Jeff said he nearly learnt the hard way.
“I’ve had a couple of mishaps when I wasn’t concentrating,” he said.
“I nearly drove it into the shed door once. Dad was talking to me and I put my foot on the pedal thinking it was the clutch, but it was first gear and off it went.
“Those are the sorts of things you’ve just got to be careful with.
“We do drive it around, but not that much nowadays.
“About 35 km/h is the top speed, so it takes you a while to get anywhere.
“Dad has taken it to Euroa quit a number of times to the Show N Shine they have down there.
“And he’s won quite a few prizes over the years, but it probably hasn’t been down for a five or six years now.”
It was back in the 1960s that Robert passed it down to his son and grandson a few years after he had stopped using it.
It would sit in Keith's garage until 1992 when the restoration began.
“Everything was stripped down to a bare chassis,” Jeff said.
“The motor was rebuilt by Bruce Feltman out at Dookie. The suspension was all fixed up and it was painted.
“Dad found a new rear tub section out on a farm somewhere.
“When we went to fit it Dad had to make all the replacement wooden parts as the body has a wooden frame.
“When we went to fit it all up it was a little bit wider than the rest of the body.
“So we ended up having to splice it down the middle of the tub section at the back to make it fit.
“All the body work was done by Keith stamp from Wangaratta, he’s fairly well know up there in the hot-rod scene.
“The original colour was grey. You will have heard the story that Henry Ford said you can have any colour you like so long as its black.
“That's not strictly true as this was grey when it came out of the factory.
“But you could also get it in a blue or a green, with black guards.
“So we went for this colour green as it was very close to the original green Ford used.”
Part of the restoration was having a vinyl roof custom made.
“That was done by a guy over in Merrijig, I can’t remember his name though,” Keith said.
“He had a farm up there and he used to make things like that on the side.
“The interior was also replaced. A young bloke over at Yarrawonga did the interior, which was a lot of work as it had been made into the ute.
“Basically over a four to five year period it was all fully restored, repainted and all the upholstery was re-done.
“We put on a new hood that we had made, which got it to the standard it is today.”
Jeff mentioned the car has a couple of important milestones coming up.
“It was built in 1922 in the Geelong Ford Factory, so in a couple of years time the car itself will be 100 years old,” he said.
“And in five years time it will have been in the family for 100 years.”
While being a labour of love the Wilsons said one good thing about the Model-T is that parts are quite easy to source.
“You can buy all the replacement parts,” Keith said.
“All up they made 15 million of these, so I suspect there are a few remaining.
“They were all hand made and they produced them up until they bought the A-Model Ford out.”
Jeff said despite not having the opportunity to take it out too much nowadays they always get a lot of looks when it rumbles down the road.
“Kids are always wanting to get in it,” Jeff said.
“I had it out at my place at Christmas as we had all the family together.
“So we had all of dad's grandchildren and the great-grandchildren there, we took some photos with the whole family and took them for a ride around the block.
“They just loved it.”
Keith said when his dad passed it down to him it came with one instruction.
“He said it always has to stay in the family,” Keith said.
Jeff has two daughters and will no doubt have a difficult decision deciding where it goes next.
Although he said one thing is for sure, and that is that he will honour his grandfather's wishes and it will remain in the Wilson family for generations to come.