How I Restored The Fronty Ford
by Victor Jacobs
This article was first published in the Spit and Polish magazine, and has been supplied by Fronty's current owner Peter Kable.
In February 1968, I was peacefully at home working on Henrietta, my 1912 T Model Ford, when the telephone rang. It was Peter Kable telling me there was a Fronty Ford advertised at Miranda and that I should go out and look at it. My reply was: why do I want a Fronty? As after all, I had my Henrietta which was the best T Model Ford in Australia (!) I loved her, and why have two cars with the problems of deciding which one to drive on a rally.
Peter reasoned as to why I should buy the Fronty – there were no going Fronty Fords in Australia – I was a Ford Dealer (at the time) and I had the facilities to restore a Fronty etc. etc.
I spent half an hour on the ‘phone telling Peter I wasn’t interested, he finally said “look Victor, I will give you the address, go and look at it”.
Grudgingly I wrote down the name and address of the owner I had a Lions meeting at Cronulla in two weeks time, I might go through Miranda – this would give the seller sufficient time to sell it and get me off the hook! That was how interested I was in picking up a Fronty Ford (!!!)
Two weeks later I called out at the address that Peter had given me, I knocked on the door hoping that nobody would answer – I just didn’t want to get involved – but alas, the door opened and Larry, the young chap who owned the Fronty, asked me to come in. He ushered me out to the backyard – what a sight – a chassis, four wooden wheels (flat tyres), a few modern 1949 mudguards attached up in a corner, a Peerless radiator, a busted block – and that heap was the Fronty! I smugly thought this is nothing to get excited about and then promptly spent 20minutes telling Larry that he was only trying to offload his problems on to me. I can recall kicking the flat tyres on the Fronty as I passed and noted how much work would be involved and what I saw made me mad at Peter Kable for talking me into coming out and wasting my time to have a look at this pile of garbage! I then proudly showed Larry photographs of Henrietta (that I just happened to have on me) eulogizing the dear old lady.
The asking price of the Fronty was $200 – which I retorted was ridiculous, and in order to get away to my Lions meeting, made the benevolent offer of $100 with the added information that it was not worth even that much. However, after much haranguing, I looked back to this heap of garbage and suddenly a funny feeling started to come over me – all my skin started to tingle, and inner feeling of excitement manifested itself, and I felt my heart beating wildly – I was being bitten by that incurable T Model Ford Fever!
This fever reached boiling point within me and I found myself very calmly offering Larry $150 for these wonderful pieces of machinery (!) To my amazement he accepted – what a buy – he didn’t know what he was “giving away”.
On the way to the meeting, through the dinner, during the guest speaker (who was, I might add, most interesting), I found myself drawing plans of what my future Fronty was going to look like. On the way home I programmed the restoration. I could not sleep that night and did not sleep for 9 months thereafter – that was the time it took for the full restoration.
I couldn’t get to work next morning quickly enough to tell Bob Hobson my new Works Manager and whom you all know. I told him what I had bought and what I wanted him to do – he aged 5 years in 3 minutes. When I brought the car on a trailer the following Monday morning, he took one look and aged another 10 years!!!!
However, it did not take long to start restoration as once the engine and diff. were out, I was down to the bare chassis and from then on started to beg, borrow and steal parts and accessories to turn it into the condition that it is today.
Bob allocated me a mechanic who would be prepared to work with me Saturdays and Sundays plus two nights a week and Bob was to supervise all the mechanical restoration as after all he had his Service Dept. to run.
Restoring a Fronty has a lot of rewards (as well as a lot of tears). It is not a factory produced vehicle but a make-up – perhaps the Father of all hot-rods – so there was no “standard” and therefore within reason, the owner has licence to do what he likes. However, in Club circles, it is essential to keep all equipment veteran parts and not use anything other than genuine motor gear of the era. I rang a friend of mine, John Drury in Melbourne, who was also gathering pieces together to rebuild a left hand drive Fronty Ford (the way he is going about it should be completed by 1999!!)I asked him if he could give me some photographs and information etc. and he informed me he had a terrific book called “speed and Sport” which is devoted to the rebuilding of Frontys and he would send it up to me. What a tremendous book it was. I read it through four times even though I hate reading. It became my Fronty bible and I strongly recommend anyone restoring a Fronty to get a copy. Next time I spoke to John I told him what a fantastic book it was and asked where did he get it? His reply: “You gave it to me four years ago”. Through the restoration period John was a great help and to him also I am grateful.
Bob Hobson and I put our heads together to work out what the engine needed – rebore, resleeve, aluminium pistons, an oil pump, a drilled crankshaft to oil feed the engine, a Fronty head, a Bosch magneto instead of the magnets, the flywheel had to be cut down to 10” in order to save weight and add to speed and all the other “hot” gear necessary. Included in our planning was an A-Model crankshaft in order to give strength to the engine. That caused problems as by modifying one part caused a ricocheting action right down the line so other parts required modifying too. The motor block was sent out to Les Parry, who completely rebored the engine and modified the various parts under Bob Hobson’s instructions.
Barry Perdriau from “Motor Repair and Welding” did all my machining and lathe work and whilst all this was proceeding, I commenced designing the body panels – what there was of them. Here again I was fortunate, I went to see Jim Elliott who had a panel-beating shop in King Street, Newtown. He had retired and welcomed the opportunity of taking on the Fronty, and he was a first class body builder. His advice was to make a scale model out of spackle to show him how I wanted the design and as you all know (but won’t admit) it did turn out first class. On Jim’s advice I bought the spackle and some fine mosquito wire and formed up the body work to scale. From this plaster cast Jim could see exactly what I wanted – the cowling was a design taken from the Tiger Moth which gave a slip stream protection to the driver and passenger uplifting flying insects and dust and proving most effective. A half bonnet was designed to give plenty of ventilation to the engine which was badly needed and I think I hit the jackpot with the seating. In this regard I used the most up-to-date technical knowledge and equipment available – my sitting a person on a kerosene tin, measuring the back for correct positioning of the seating cushion, wrapping it around the person’s body so that he could sit comfortably without falling out etc. Allowance had to be made for padding, cushioning and the final leather upholstery – and so with all this precise information the body builder went to work and I have the two most comfortable driving seats imaginable.
I was fortunate in being able to do a deal with Charles Perdue from Lismore, swapping the Peerless radiator, bench seats and other parts for a Fronty overhead valve conversion unit, Ruckstell axle, oil pump, water pump and other parts. I then wrote to America and obtained a brand new set of Rocky Mountain brakes and other gear, to try to stop this “hot beast” once it got going.
I planned everything along the lines of the genuine Fronty racing car. The true racer has no mudguards and few body panels but this would not pass registration so I endeavoured to design the body with the resultant appealing lines. Parts were purchased and volunteered from various people, swapped here and there, and thereby evolved the Fronty. It was most gratifying to have the co-operation and help from fellow enthusiasts to whom I am most grateful. For instance, George Green heard I required a petrol pump to pressurize the tank and came up with a Rolls Royce pump. I was most reluctant to put a R.R. part on the Fronty as I doubted the quality would be good enough!!! But as no other was available, the famous R.R. brand went into the Fronty and so far has proved worthy – Thanks G.G., we all know you love Fords!!!
With all the modifications we had to make to the engine, particularly, the crankshaft, we never knew whether it was ever going to operate properly and had many more worried nights. The diff. was pulled to pieces and rebuilt and so gradually we were getting to the stage where real assembly was about to commence. The chassis was undercoated and painted, spokes of the wheels were reset and the engine was finally assembled.
Because it was in the workshop and taking up valuable productive workspace all the mechanics and apprentices considered it would never go and it quickly became nicknamed “The Yellow Terror” which has stuck to this very day. It was not unusual for me to go in on a Monday morning and see humorous signs around the car such as “another F-I- II” – a couple of weeks later another sigh “another Opera House” and finally a few weeks later someone had brought in green weeds 2ft high sprouting from each of the wheels! Yes, everyone made fun of it, and between them they all had secret bets that it just would not go!
However, the great day dawned when we had the motor in, four wooden wheels and a makeshift firewall holding the steering. With wires just joined together we gave it its first crank. The timing was trial and error as we were all scared that we may get thrown through the side of the building! But much as we tried it would not kick. Tired and haggard we finally got the tow rope and towed it around Service City at 10.00 at night, then, all of a sudden it burst into life.
Madly adjusting things to get the right lever positions we did not notice that the exhaust had not been tightened correctly and “the Yellow Terror” started to catch alight. I know my fellow members would be aghast to learn that the Fronty dearly died in infancy!!!!
We quickly extinguished the flames, back into the garage, and we called it a night content in the knowledge that it was a “goer”.
The following Saturday, Peter Kable came around and with Bob Hobson and a mechanic we did some fine tuning, put some traders plates on, a kerosene tin as a makeshift seat, and decided to drive along General Homes Drive. We must have looked a sight- a chassis, 4 wheels, radiator and two kerosene tins with a string as a hand throttle. After a good tow start, Bob and I “set sail” with Peter and the mechanic in a “Jag” behind together with all the emergency gear. It was an exhilarating feeling with no mudguards, watching the wheels go round and the shock absorber springs moving in and out as the car drove along the road. We were pushing along at about 20 m.p.h, everyone passing and staring at this funny contraption on the road until some young boys in a F.J. Holden came abreast and started to “gawk” at us.
Bob Looked at me and said “Why not pull the string and see what happens”. I pulled the string and it was like being hit in the rear by a 10-ton truck. We took off like a shot and left the F.J. and the gawking” boys for dead. We flew under the airport tunnel and Peter was flat out keeping up behind and later informed us that we were travelling at approximately 70 m.p.h That was our first burst, we turned around and back to the workshop excited about the performance and drank to the success of our achievement.
We now started on the final assembly work, undercoating and painting the body – that is what there was of it – I collected the instruments from many quarters. Mike Bendeich supplied the brass oil pressure gauge, Neil Martin the rev. counter and other parts were borrowed or stolen. A wood bender made the steering wheel which I wanted to stain and use a Dulux Timberglo, but the experts at Dulux said there was no way it would stay on in the sun. After exhaustive enquiries I decided to be the “expert” myself and put the Timberglo on each night over a period of 5 nights, sanding in between each coat. After 10 years the Timberglo is as good as ever and the steering wheel had been admired by many people.
My first outing with fellow Members was to a charity day by Rotary at Ashfield, but because the fly-wheel was cut down so much, it was most difficult to crank and start. With about 9:1 ratio, one had to really get the feel of how to crank it – Bob and I could do it, but only with a lot of effort and sometimes we would crank all morning before she would fire. Members quickly found that whenever I was present they would all have to push to get me on my way. It was therefore decided to pull the engine down and put in a new fly-wheel with a larger diameter. But to no avail – it was still a big problem to start. After more exploratory work a very good friend of mine the late Ron Body, formerly Service Manager of Hastings Deering, came on the scene and after pulling the engine down for the third time, told me that there was no way to get this “cranky machine” to start easily, and that in the Members interest I should put on a self-starter!!! Down came the engine again, a self-started was applied which was the greatest thing I ever put on the car.
In November, 1968, I considered that “the Yellow Terror” was completed and I commenced competing in many Club Rallies but always to the jokes of many people which incidentally we T-Ford owners must put up with. But what a car it has been – I din not know it would have so much character and appeal. As soon as it was put on the road it became a sexy, sporty car which captured the imagination of everyone and besides looking sporty it is sporty and sexy – half a bonnet for ventilation it has one load of power, a quick take off and will get to 60 m.p.h. well inside a minute. I have never changed out of top gear on any hill in Australia or New Zealand over the past ten years!!!!
Of course you have to be born either rich or lucky and I am afraid I am endowed with the latter because one day the telephone rang and the conversation went like this –
“Mr. Jacobs, you don’t know me but my name is Eric Lang and I am interested in buying a Veteran T-Model Ford and I would like some advice on how much to pay for it etc. etc. etc.
Over a period of years I have had dozens of conversations like this and sat back in my chair and tried to appear interested even tho’ I was busy as how can you value a 60 y.o. car over the telephone. I therefore appeared as interested as possible to this “nut”. I asked him some questions about the car and asked if it had any accessory gear to make it more valuable and he replied –
“It has racing T-Model Ford wire wheels”.
I immediately came to life – this was no “nut” I was talking to but a man who had to be respected and from my many queries I was assured they were genuine Ford racing Fronty wheels. I convinced him that they were the wrong type for his car!! and the club frowned on anything not original for a roadster type of car. So over the telephone we did a deal of his wheels for my wooden ones, plus my friendship. Eric Lang certainly got a good deal!!!!
Joking aside, since then Eric, his wife Peg and I have been great friends.
Since 1968, the Fronty has proved a long distance runner. It has been on three International Rallies, six National Rallies and many long distance runs throughout New South Wales. Perhaps its greatest achievement was to drive from Sydney to Perth in 1973. I suppose if I count the many Katoomba, Canberra and Newcastle smaller runs, the Fronty has driven well over 30,000 miles – it must have because Ken Moss has supplied it with three sets of tyres.
Yes, I am afraid I must agree with my fellow Members, it is an “a beast” but is has given me and a lot of other people a lot of pleasure.