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1923 Ford Model T hot rod

30 Dec 2020 Features

1923 Ford Model T hot rod

How a Kiwi recreated a long-lost star of America's show rod era

THIS tale brings together the stories of two extraordinary car crafters. They have never met in person, and they built their cars decades apart and on completely different sides of the planet. What linked them? A plastic hot rod model.

This article was first published in the November 2020 issue of Street Machine

By the 1960s, car shows and wild show rods were a big deal in the USA. All kinds of corporate interests got involved, including model car companies. In the days before kids had computers to entertain themselves, models were a massive industry.

Ford Model T side

A little different: Aside from building the car right-hand drive, there are a few differences between Martin’s car and Uncertain-T. These include a wider front axle, a larger radiator, and disc brakes on the front where the original ran none

The model guys glommed onto the fact that kids loved show rods and started building kits of real-life show rods. This turned into an arms race. Having your car on the cover of a magazine was one thing, but having a model made in your car’s image was next-level – and it paid some too.

This drove the show rod guys to build ever-wilder creations, far removed from anything you’d see on the street. Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth, the Alexander Brothers, Bill Cushenbery, Dean Jeffries, Carl Casper and George Barris are all famous names that built crazy show rods that were turned into models for the youngsters of America. However, some regular joes also had their cars immortalised in scaled-down plastic by companies that included Revell, AMT and Monogram.

Read next: Rod Hadfield's twin supercharged Boss 429 Model T

Ford Model T rear

The key at the back of both Uncertain-T and its replica was a fad that mimicked wind-up toy cars of a bygone era

One of those ‘average’ guys was Steve Scott. In 1960, Steve was in his LA high school physics class when a classmate drew a picture of a wild, tipped-over Model T coupe. Young Steve decided to build it for real, and five years later it took the show world by storm, winning big at events all over the country and becoming a paid attraction. It was featured in Car Craft, Popular Hot Rodding and even the Australian Hot Rodding Review, and in 1966 was released as a 1:24-scale model by Monogram.

Read next: 1927 Ford Model T

Ford Model T engine

Like the original, Martin’s T packs Buick nailhead power. The 401-cuber is a toughie, with roller rockers, ported heads and a lumpy cam. The car also runs Hilborn injector stacks, but with Holley EFI and a Joe Hunt MSD magneto. Finned dress-up gear is by Moon

Aside from the paint and trim, young Steve designed and built the car he dubbed Uncertain-T from scratch, including the aluminium chassis and fibreglass body.

All of that would be enough to engrave Steve and his T into the annals of history, but there is also an element of mystery to his story that has intrigued hot rodders for decades. It seems Steve Scott grew disillusioned by the car world and dropped off the map in 1967. Uncertain-T wasn’t seen after 1972, and so became an object of rumour and myth.

Read next: Wild 1960s-style 1927 Ford Model T coupe

Ford Model T engine

Kiwi Martin Bennett entered the Uncertain-T story in 2012. Martin had built plenty of cars in the past, but his only plans at the time were to do some travelling with his wife. But when asked what he would build if he had his druthers, Martin put his hand on an unbuilt Uncertain-T model and knew he had the answer.

Martin assembled the model and then used that as the basis to recreate the real thing, full-size. “My goal was to build the T as close to the original as possible,” he says. “Obviously some things had to change to make it roadworthy to drive in New Zealand.

Ford Model T exhaust

“The task was to reverse-engineer a full-size car from a 1:24-scale model and the magazine articles of the day. I thought I had everything I needed to do the build.”

The first task was the tilted T body. For this, Martin turned to Clive Plumtree, who employed boat-building techniques to craft the body, dash and centre console. This was covered in fibreglass and gelcoat, ready for paint. A huge task, but it was just the beginning.

Ford Model T dash

The Model T tiller sits on a chrome column with an adjustable drop that allows it to be positioned upright for show and on a legal angle for driving. And dig that turned-metal dash fascia with vintage-style Stewart Warner dials!

“When we built the first chassis, we just made it flat because that is what it looked like,” explains Martin. “Then we put the body on and it just looked all wrong – the stance and proportions were out. So we went back to the model chassis and worked out it had a three-degree kick in the firewall. We remade the chassis, put the body back on and it was perfect.

“I think it is harder to build something like this as an exacting copy than to just follow your own creativity. I loved the challenge of getting all the details right.”

Ford Model T dash

Another herculean task was finding the unobtainium 60s speed equipment that would be needed. The 12x16in ET rear wheels were custom made, and Martin somehow convinced Radir to add two inches to their mould to make pie-crust slicks to suit. That makes them wider than on the original car, just because Martin preferred the proportions.

The Stewart Warner gauges were made just for this car. Likewise the Hilborn injection. Moon repaired its original nailhead valley cover mould and managed to dig out the mould for the finned sump as well.

Ford Model T seats

Making everything all the more difficult was the fact that the build was kept under wraps for seven years, ensuring maximum impact on debut at the 2019 SEMA Show. Martin, his wife Marion and the T then toured the US, featuring at some legendary events, including the Detroit Autorama and the Grand National Roadster Show. They even got to meet Junior Conway, the man who shot Uncertain-T in tangerine for Steve Scott all those years ago. And to cap it all off, the car was shot for issue 83 of the esteemed Rodder’s Journal.

The wildest part of all is that this rolling jewel runs, drives and is currently terrorising the citizens of the North Island town of Cambridge. And Steve Scott? He resides in Hawaii and thoroughly approves of Martin’s tribute. He is working on his own model kits of the Uncertain-T – you can check him out and read more of his story at stevescottsuncertaint.com.

Photos: Alastair Ritchie

Martin Bennett

MARTIN & MARION BENNETT
1923 FORD MODEL T

Paint: PPG Candy Tangerine with gold flake

DONK
Type: 401ci Buick nailhead
Injection: Hilborn
EFI: Holley

SHIFT
’Box: 727 Torqueflite
Converter: 2400rpm
Diff: Winters Quick Change

BENEATH
Brakes: Wilwood single-piston calipers and 12in rotors (f), F100 finned drums (r)
Steering: Fiat rack
Front suspension: Schroeder torsion bars
Rear suspension: Inverted leaf springs

ROLLING STOCK
Rims: Borrani wires (f), ET 12x16 (r)
Rubber: Kenda 3x16 (f), Radir 12x16 pie-crust (r)

THANKS
Graeme Cox Engineering; Mark Jones – paint; Mike Gibson – upholstery; Erynn Cross at Cross Auto Electrical; Nigel Weber at Steamworx; Performance Imports for the engine; Jim Brown for the trans; Mark Rendle for persevering with me at the eleventh hour!