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John Ricci's 1927 Ford Tall T Coupe

John Ricci's 1927 Ford Tall T Coupe
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Nothing may give a gearhead more pleasure than transforming a pee-shooter into a sawed-off shotgun. What I’m referring to is circumcising that feeble old Model T, or any other vintage car model, into that sand-kicking, muscle bound hot rod. And if you’re going to flex such muscle, it better be a Rottweiler and not a poodle.                    

These hot rods are reminiscent of endless summer cruising along the boulevards, hanging out at the beaches or soda fountain shops; their engines snorting, cackling and rumbling. The hot rod is adorned with sex and rawness, speed and excitement, chrome and rubber, and houses a mega engine that takes off faster than a groom’s pants.  Other than the name and grill of the original car, there is a faint resemblance. Best of all, there is a growing resurgence for hot rods throughout North America, growing through clubs and “cruise nights” that litter the summer calendar. It’s more than a mechanical passion, but to rekindle that youthful insouciance.

The Model Tall T Coupe, otherwise known as the “tall boy” for its unique telephone booth-shaped body, may have been an awkward height for a coupe, but even after Ricci’s beautiful customization, the Tall T Coupe remains stylishly distinctive, peppy, and compact with punch.  For such an innovator, it is surprising Henry Ford misconceived the American public in assuming they would continue to buy the ubiquitous Model T forever. Though it was the highest selling car in history, by 1927 sales were plummeting and by 1929, Ford was forced to produce the Model A as a replacement.

 

When and where did you purchase this car?

I actually did not purchase this car as a complete car. I built it piece-by-piece, taking me six years to complete. I found the parts on the Internet or from my contacts in Canada and the USA.            I initially saw the basic body shell (which was just a pile of junk) at the Autorama in 1986 in Ottawa, Ontario. I tracked down the owner 4 years later and persuaded him to sell it to me because he had plans to build his own street rod but never got around to it.     

What is the story behind purchasing this car?

When he decided to sell me the body shell I had to go and pick it up. The body had been dismantled; the cowl section and rear quarters were in various towns. The body is from Ottawa; the doors are from Boston; the hood is from Alberta; the running boards and splash aprons are from Iowa; and the fenders are from Brockville. The chassis is brand new (replica of the ‘27 Ford chassis).

Why this particular car?

Since the ‘60’s, when I really got into hot rods and muscle cars, my favourite street rod was the Model T Ford. This car is actually my second Model T that I’ve built. My first street rod that I restored from scratch was a ‘23 Ford T-bucket (that took me 5 years to build from 1980-85). I’m basically a self-taught hobbyist. During my childhood days, my friends in my neighbourhood were car crazy. We used to sit in front of a confectionary store and watch muscle cars dragging up and down the avenue. It was so much fun! As we got older, we all started to work on cars and that’s how I got my mechanical experience.      

What engine does it now have?

The engine is a 305 Chevy V8, with a 4-barrell carb, mild cam, headers, etc, hooked up to a turbo 350 automatic transmission.     

Who, if anyone, helped you build the car?

I did most of the work myself. Two buddies, Ron Arial and Chess Booth, helped me with the bodywork and paint. I had some mechanical help from another friend Chris Lahaie, who helped me figure out some issues that I couldn’t solve on my own.   

Where did you learn to restore cars?  

I learnt through trial and error as a teenager.    

What part took the longest to restore?

The body assembly and bodywork took the longest to do because my buddies who helped me did it on their spare time.       

What is the hardest part to maintain? (i.e. difficult part to acquire, nagging problems, etc.)

The only issues I’ve had was wiring mainly because sometimes connections get loose because the car’s such a bumpy ride.

What colour did you repaint it? 

The car was painted in 1996. It has five coats of 1996 Mazda red color (acrylic enamel). The original color back in 1927 was black (which was the only colour this car was available in 1927. It was also the cheapest colour to paint cars).     

Is the car easy to drive?

This car drives a little bit like a truck. I have a straight dropped axle in the front with conventional shocks and in the rear I have coilover shocks. In my opinion the car drives as good as it’s gonna get. I had to install a front panhard bar because when I first completed the car, I experienced a lot of bumpsteer. The panhard bar improved it by about 95%.  

Has it won any prizes?

It has not won any prizes and that suits me fine. I built the car to have fun and fulfill a childhood dream.           

What reaction do you get from the public when driving it around?

I get a lot of compliments on the car when I go to car shows or driving down the street. Sometimes a car like this can be distracting to other drivers because they stare at the car so much they don’t pay attention where they’re going and could possibly cause an accident!  

What is the ultimate pleasure in owning such a car?

The ultimate high is when you drive the car for the very first time and you feel a sense of pride and the satisfaction of accomplishment. Something that you’ve actually created and perform better than I imagined. Now that’s definitely a `rush.’

What were your other restored collectible cars?

My first car was a 1923 Ford T-bucket, then a ‘67 Corvette convertible. Currently it’s the 1927 Ford Model T Coupe and I have another fully restored ‘66 Corvette convertible. I’m actually building another ‘27 Ford Coupe, but this one will be fenderless and channeled over the frame with a open engine compartment.           

What do you intend to do with this car?

All my current cars are keepers. I have no plans to sell any of them.           

Of all the stories associated with this car that you have experienced?   

I don’t have any funny stories associated with my car but I did have a dramatic experience when my brake master cylinder failed on my way to the a car. Luckily I managed to turn around and go home pumping the brakes so the car would stop!       

Has this car changed you?

This car has not changed me, I’m the same person with or with or without owning a classic car.          

If you were able to have another collectible car (money being no object), which car would you wish for? Why?   

If I decided to build another car, I may consider a ‘56-‘62 Corvette, you never know. When your car-crazy, impulses take over…          

What does the “hot rod” represent to you?  

A hot rod basically is a car that I’ve always dreamed of having but couldn’t afford to buy or construct. Overall, it’s a vehicle built to someone’s vision and budget. This may explain the resurgence across America for “rat rods.”         

What is your prediction regarding the future of hot rods and classic cars?    

I believe the next generation don’t have the same enthusiasm for the classics or hot rods as my generation. The only way this momentum would continue is if a dad collected or built them and it was leaked down to his offspring, otherwise, the interest is marginalized.