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The Anatomy of a Model “T” Speedster: Spring, Summer and Fall

The Model “T” Ford car, produced between the years of 1909 to 1927, when stripped down to a bare chassis, served as a  perfect palette for an enthusiast to build a “gentleman’s speed car,” or racing machine in the teens to as late as the early-1930s. In this case, thanks to Lester Mommsen we have three photos of a “speedster” his grandfather assembled in Pennsylvania during the period.

The lead photo taken in the spring time of him and his sons with a stock Ford “T” chassis and running gear that he lowered four to five inches by using Laurel Motors brackets front and rear. It is also equipped with a set of “drum” style accessory headlights, and license plates and presumably it was test driven by him it in this form.

  • Mommsen out on the road in the summertime enjoying his Speed Car with a Morton and Brett body.

The summertime photo above shows the car out for a run in completed form fitted with an “Indianapolis” Model 500 body with a Fiat type of radiator shell, hood, and side skirts constructed by Morton and Brett, a body builder located in Indianapolis, Indiana. In the teens and twenties, the body manufacturer produced and sold four different types of one and two man speedster and racing bodies along with a four passenger roadster body complete with a rumble seat. View another special with the earliest form of a “Speedway” body produced by the firm for the Ford.

More can be learned about Model “T” Ford speedster coachwork in “The Body Builders” in Part IV of the Model T Ford Speed and Racing Equipment series, here on The Old Motor.

  • Catalog illustration of the Morton and Brett “Indianapolis” Model 500 body above – Mommsen and the Speedster below in the fall  fitted with an accessory windshield with an aluminum frame by the body builder.

26 responses to “The Anatomy of a Model “T” Speedster: Spring, Summer and Fall

  1. Wonderful series of photos.

    I’ve wondered, did the builders of these speedsters still use the planetary transmission? Or did the add taller gearing to the rear end, or an overdrive unit?

    It seems a little inefficient to spring for a 16-valve OHV head and still only have two gears forward.

      • Thanks

        I’d wondered about the Ruxtell rear end. But wasn’t that an underdrive rather than an overdrive? I know they were used on TT trucks to let the motor haul serious weight.

        Or did they have an overdrive unit as well?

    • my late grandfather rebuilt a 1913 speedster from parts he bought at swap meets in hwrshey PA. He donated it and 2 other T’s that he also rebuilt to a museum in Parkersburg, WV called the blenerhasset island museum 🙂

  2. First, some clarification on the “Ruckstell”. It was a two speed rear axle, made for both Ts and TTs (ton truck T). High gear was simply a direct drive, at whatever the gear ratio of the basic rear end was. In “Ruckstell” a planetary reduction dropped the gear ratio less than half (running about 55 percent). The Ruckstell used the same gears as a standard model T or TT did. The Ruckstell company did offer special gears for Ts , in ratios both higher and lower than the Ford standard of 3.63 to 1. Many other companies also offered replacement gears in both standard and other ratios. The standard 3.63 to 1 ratio used a pinion and ring of 11/40. Ring gears were offered in 36 tooth, 37 tooth, 39 tooth, and if I recall correctly a 42 tooth versions all in addition to the standard 40 tooth. Pinion gears were sold in 10 tooth, 12 tooth, 13 tooth commonly in addition to the standard 11 tooth gear. For really low speeds, even a 9 tooth was offered. Most of these could be interchanged allowing a considerable number of possible ratios. However, the 12 and 13 tooth pinion gears generally required a special offset ring gear to allow proper fitting. Special offset ring gears were offered in 36, 37, 39, and 40 tooth versions. In addition to all those straight cut gears, a few other helical cut gear sets were also offered. I do not off the top of my head know what their common ratios were. I would expect they were mostly close to the Ford standard 11/40.
    The only gears generally offered directly by Ford, were the 11/40 standard, and the 10/40 for hilly parts of the country. They both used the same 40 tooth standard ring gear.
    The Ruckstell is in no way considered an overdrive. However, the actual gearing depends upon what is inside of any and each one.
    The TT Ruckstell, is similar in basic internal design, but nearly twice the size. Basically, nothing (except the front shift lever) will interchange between them. There are only two standard gear ratios for the TT, both offered directly by Ford. Both are worm gear design, not like the car rear end at all. I don’t have the counts handy. The approximate ratio of the higher speed gear-set, is 5 to 1. The low speed set is about 7 to 1, giving the truck a top speed of barely over 20 mph.

    Two. The Morton and Brett bodies were among the best looking and most advertised of all the boat-tail type bodies. Yet, very few originals seem to have survived. I have seen at least six restored Paco cars, and more than that of Mercury cars. I know of a few Faultless cars, and personally used to own one of only a few original Champion bodied cars. I have seen dozens of original boat-tail cars, and bodies, and only maybe three Morton and Brett originals. It is interesting, that they are the one that has been reproduced in large numbers. A few in steel, mostly fiberglass.
    I wish I knew a lot more about the Morton and Brett bodies than I do. I know they offered more than four models, but wouldn’t want to guess how many. The thing I find most interesting about them, is that it appears they were advertised and sold under several different names. Speedway was a name found in a lot of Morton and Brett’s advertising,. The Speedway name, and some of the same photos were used in advertising by the Chevrolet brothers under the Frontenac name. Race-way , and a couple other names, also used the same photographs as M&B Speedway,. However, I don’t recall knowing of a connection? Maybe someone else knows for sure?

    Again David G, thank you.
    Those pictures are among the best I have ever seen of a M&B boat-tail. And I have seen a lot of them. Pictures at least.

    • Thank you, Wayne, for this educational post. I spent some time driving single axle trucks with the descendant of the Ruckstell before moving on to tandems.

      • Jim, you are welcome. And thank you.
        I tried google, but got nowhere fast. I don’t know exactly when? However Eaton bought/acquired the Ruckstell at about the end of model T production (1927) and continued producing the Ruckstell basically unchanged for model Ts for a couple more years. They also made a few for the model A Ford, which did not sell well as the model A and AA had adequate gearing choices to begin with. They continued building and offering two speed rear ends for medium and large trucks for many years. The Eaton built Ruckstells can sometimes be quickly spotted by the different shape of the name plate riveted onto the differential housing. (Unless of course the plate had at some time been removed or changed.)
        My dad had a ’52 Chevrolet two ton flatbed truck when I was a kid. I rode with him many times and for many miles around Northern California. He used that two speed rear end a lot, it had a vacuum shift. I never got to drive that truck. He used it in his business, and while stored for a job-site, it was severely vandalized, and being old enough by that time, soon after junked. That was just about when I got my drivers license.

        • Shame about your dad’s ’52, Wayne. With a good 2-speed axle, you can split your gears going up or down. Don’t know how reliable the vacuum shift was; by my day, 2-speed axles had an electric shift. The wires often broke, and I never seen one that wasn’t connected backwards so it was in low range with the knob in the up position. I remember there was a posting here some time ago showed a Ruckstell ad with Model T truck hauling wood a huge load of wood.

  3. T he right front wheel has a 5 lug rim mounted on a 4 lug wheel. The other three wheels have the standard rim. No limit what you can do with a Model T.

  4. More than one old racer has told me that by the end of the Model T run (1927) many people were converting the ‘T’ transmissions to Chevrolet three speeds and/or upgrading the ‘T’ trany in other ways. Could have something to do with the Model A having a conventional three speed.

  5. Great read David

    I think you will find that the lowering brackets are also Morton & Brett. I have only ever seen one set of these and they were made in Bronze type material. If you look at the construction of them in the catalogue, you cab see the angled bar section coming off the top of the front axle in the photo.

    My Morton & Brett body is very similar but higher in general with a different skirt but retains all the elaborate forged angle iron & flat iron framework throughout the body. The amount of work and hot riveting in the angle body frames is unbelievable and has to be seen to be believed. I am unsure what model Morton & Brett mine is but this is the closest one I have seen.

    Mark Herdman

    • Mark, Thanks for your comment. I am under the impression that yes, Morton & Brett did handle them but they were made by Laurel. I have read about the brackets the Company produced and they were cast in high-strength manganese bronze.

  6. David

    You are correct, Morton & Brett did list the Laurel Style lowering brackets as well as their own patent pending Bronze alloy style. I have sent you some photos of the latter bronze brackets so you can compare to what’s on the car. I think you will find they are the M&B style. Look at the flat looking bar coming off the top of the front axle and compare to the photos of the brackets i sent you.


  7. Great amount of information – thanks Wayne for the details on the “Ruckstell” rear axles.
    My first car was a ’17 “T” Touring rescued from a junk yard for $35.00. It had a 3-speed gearbox after the planetary and at the age of 13 it was a handful to drive! Turned it into a Speedster which still exists somewhere here in the East.
    Stan Smith

  8. David

    Not many people would have seen these M&B lowering brackets. Before I had seen them, I wouldn’t have said the same as you. Thanks also to Lester Mommsen for the photos and history on this rare car..


  9. Lester:
    Thanks for sharing your family photos and story. I happen to be looking for some M&B material, as well as family-speedster foots, for a writing project.

    The Blenerhasset Museum in Parkersburg looks like it would be an afternoon well spent. Thanks for that tip. I will have to stop by there the next time I am I am in that area. Photos of your grandfather’s three Model Ts are on the website. Nice!

  10. My Dad & Uncle changed a 1914 Touring car T into a (mail order)Speedster Body car . The one other thing that they did was to lower the Numerical ratio of the Differential. Because of the big difference in weight — (Way lower) it could “take off” well in “low band ” and direct drive resulted in 10 to 15 more mph! No other modifications. Edwin W.

  11. My grandfather was a big T guy, had several and lots of parts “lying around”
    I was at his place once and he said “let’s gather these up” and we built a running speedster type car. In an afternoon. I said there were lots of parts! Frames, engines w/ trannies, etc. and then went to a meet and “raced it”against other scrapyard T’s. First time driving a T for me! The steering was totally wonky, but it was all in fun. I was maybe 12 or 13.

    His club also had a T they would present as a bunch of parts and in, I forget, but 5 min or 10 max would crank it up and drive it away.


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