Truly unique 1921 Ford Model T
Australia has produced more than its fair share of great motoring journalists, and one of the greatest is Doug Blain who – like several of his compatriots – came over to the Old Country in the 1960s to show us how it should be done.
Doug was the editor of the hugely influential Car-magazine, 1964-1971, and latterly publisher of the Automobile, a title that suited his predilection for really old motors. He has an uncommon sensitivity for historical objects, and not just cars: since the 1970s, he and his wife have dedicated much of their lives to conserving and restoring the Grade I listed Monaughty House, one of the most outstanding late-medieval houses in Wales.
It was natural, therefore, that Doug should start what he dubbed the Oily Rag Collection: vehicles that he thought needed to be conserved ‘as is’ rather than restored to new condition.
Among them was this remarkable Model T saloon, bodied in the UK in 1921 by Birmingham coachbuilder Ball & Co, and painted an unusual grey-green.
Even more unusual is the interior: a riot of plush cord and elaborate brocade that would not look out of place in a French boudoir. It, like the exterior, has survived in remarkable condition and features a folding occasional seat next to the driver, for easier access to the rear. It all gives the impression that the owner of this car expected to be chauffeured rather than stoop to driving him- or herself.
The car seems to have had one owner, a William Fryer of Cheshire, until 1956, and then just a few further keepers until Doug acquired it in 2015. Last year it was sold through Bright wells Auctions to Model T specialist Richard Rimmer of the T Service, who was taken – as Doug had been – with its amazing patina and general originality.
Although the car had been recommissioned before Doug bought it, Richard had to do a huge amount of work to make it usable. ‘It was totally unsafe!’ he laughs. ‘The front axle had a huge amount of wear in it, the rear axle wouldn’t have survived being driven, the radiator core was rotten, the cylinder head cracked…’ And much more besides. Richard carried out sympathetic repairs, using good secondhand parts where possible to maintain ‘the look’. He’d love to keep it, but the familiar problem of too many cars, too little space means it’s now up for sale at £18,500: visit tservice.co.uk.
The Dunlop Cord tyres are of unknown age so my test drive is restricted to a trundle along some farm tracks but the T performs exactly as you’d expect: it burbles along at a modest speed (30- 35mph would be comfortable on a surfaced road) and feels as though it would last forever. Which it probably would, given appropriate care: it’s lasted a century so far, after all. Put some fresh tyres on it, take it to your local classic car meet, and I guarantee that this humble ‘oily rag’ saloon would be the star of the show.
Facing page, above and below Definitely not ‘any colour so long as it’s black’, this Model T is hugely original and wears rare English coachwork.