When the opportunity comes to 'wheel or observe a new or unusual 4x4, most of us at Four Wheeler can't resist the temptation. So it was when Frank Piskur offered this writer a chance to play with his recently acquired 1921 Model-T Depot Hack with a Livingood four-wheel-drive conversion.
You may have read the Livingood story in the May 2002 Four Wheeler, but we'll recap a fraction of the story here. Jesse F. Livingood began marketing a four-wheel-drive conversion for Ford Model-Ts in 1914 and continued through 1928, with a few built later. Livingood's son, Jesse Livingood II, began recreating the kits in the 1980s using his dad's blueprints and tooling. Later, he started selling a few kits per year to Model-T owners looking for something different.
The 177ci Model-T engine was a marvel when it appeared in 1908. It was one of the first mass-produced engines to have a one-piece block with a top-mounted cylinder head. This became the pattern that has lasted to today. Many old engines have cylinders bolted to the crankcase and heads integral with the cylinders, and sometimes they even had crankcases built of multiple parts. Depending on year, the Model-T Ford made 20 to 22 hp. The intake and exhaust valve were 1.47 inches in diameter and mounted in the block. Cam lift was about 0.250 inch of lift (intake and exhaust) and they had 218/217-degree durations. Most had zero overlap or some actual separation (measured in minus numbers). The carb was fully adjustable, from idle to main jet. If you thought multicoil ignition setups were something new, look again right here.
Piskur thought his rig might be an original period conversion. It turned out to be the younger Livingood's work, faithfully reproduced in the mid-1990s. A retired police officer, Piskur's tastes run to Ford antique exotica. In addition to the recently acquired Livingood T, he has a 1919 Model T roadster pickup with a snowmobile conversion kit. He has a similar conversion of a 1930 Model A Ford pickup, but done by the Snowbird Company. He also has a 1930 Model A Ford police car, still in its original Chicago P.D. livery.
Piskur has a few acres of ground behind his northeast Ohio home, and in the February mud and melting snow, we gave the old Ford a little preseason mud bath. Driving a Model-T Ford requires a major change of focus for the driver of today. Only a few of the controls are where the modern driver expects them to be, so novice T-drivers get to relive the fumbling, clueless days of first learning to drive. Fortunately, Piskur's T had electric start, or this novice T-driver would have learned the fine art of hand cranking ... or maybe ended up with a broken arm having to type this story one-handed.
The little four started at the first push of the starter button and idles with a cute "pucka-pucka-pucka-pucka" at an astonishingly low rpm. Ignition timing is controlled by a lever, so you adjust it for the smoothest idle. Pure, raw, Grade-A Choice hydrocarbons roil up from under the car. Like any good modern driver, your eye looks for gauges to scan, but there's only one--the aftermarket volt meter. In typical antique fashion, your eyes, ears, and nose must provide all the monitoring you need. You can often smell an engine that's beginning to overheat, and when the radiator starts boiling over in your face, you're forced to take the hint. When it needs oil, it will tell you by knocking or seizing up. There are no subtleties with a Model-T.Four-wheel drive is engaged with a stubby little lever that's almost out of reach, and given the soft ground, we decide to kick it in. This Livingood has a two-speed Muncie rangebox and the lever goes forward into low because the engine is so tiny and the mud is so deep. That's the only part that feels "normal" to a modern driver. Next, release the clutch lever, pushing it all the way forward, while holding the left pedal in the middle (neutral) position. Then, slowly push and hold the left pedal down for low gear. The T lurches forward, and immediately the engine lugs down hard as it churns forward in the 4-inch-deep mud. The 3-inch-wide tires on the Model-T sink deeper into the gooey mud and snow mix, making the 84-year-old fella grunt like only really old men can grunt. It's partly a grunt of joy at being useful again, and partly a grunt of pain from putting that aged body to work.
Not much to recognize here but the steering wheel. Here's your first Model-T driving lesson: (A) Clutch/parking brake lever. Fully back is clutch disengaged, with brakes applied. The middle position is for backing up. All the way forward engages the forward speeds; (B) Two-speed transmission pedal. Fully depressed is low gear. Halfway is Neutral, and full out is High gear; (C) Reverse gear pedal. When depressed, it engages Reverse only if the clutch lever is in the center position; (D) Service brake, actuated on the transfer-case brake; (E) Rangebox. Full back is High gear. Straight up is Neutral, and forward is low; (F) Four-wheel-drive lever. Pulling fully back engages the front axle; (G) Throttle. The spark control lever is on the opposite side of the column. (Photo courtesy of Frank Piskur.)
The rpm drop lower and lower. A stall is imminent, and the novice driver is flailing around trying to figure out what to do about it. His right foot is unconsciously feeling around on the floor for the nonexistent gas pedal. Frank says, "Give it some juice --- up on the column," and even though it's chugging along at what can't be more than a couple of hundred rpm, it responds willingly when the throttle lever is pushed up about an inch.The T has a bouncy ride that feels a lot like it's got pogo sticks at each corner. Small wonder since there are no shocks and only one transverse leaf spring on each axle. Lifting the left foot allows the trans to shift into high, and the engine starts to grunt again. Some jiggling with the throttle, and spark controls gets the speed up to a more comfortable 5 mph. The skinny little tires slip and spin, throwing up brown, slushy mini-roostertails, and the old Model-T positively cavorts as we churn up a sizable portion of the Piskur estate.
The Livingood T shows us its stuff in the mud and snow, with a few deep ruts and undulations to stretch the suspension out. A Model-T at work is like nothing else. It's a combination of the low "angry bee" buzzing of the engine, the whine of straight-cut bevel gears, creaking wooden wheel spokes, groaning springs, and various sheetmetal parts clanking and banging against each other. The smells are of raw hydrocarbons, leather, gear oil, wood, and hot grease. It's all wonderful feedback and proof that Model-Ts can actually talk. When the radiator starts puking, we listen and decide to cut the 'wheeling fun short. The T sighs in relief.
After bringing the old T back to its garage, the novice driver couldn't help but sit there and grin like an idiot. Just like the first time out driving with Dad. It was a serious hoot, even after realizing the wimpiest 4x4 of today could have done the same thing a lot more easily. With that thought came the realization of how much technology has improved, but how far ahead the Livingood T would have been over everything else in 1921. Imagine being on a rural, muddy road in 1921, driving by unhappy motorists stuck hub deep in their two-wheel-drive Maxwells, Pierce-Arrows, and Oaklands as you trundle by in a Livingood Model T 4x4. The idiot grin stayed for a long time.
Owner: Frank Piskur, NW Ohio
Vehicle/Model: 1921 Ford Model-T Depot Hack with Livingood 4x4 conversion
Estimated Value: $8,500
Type: Ford L-head four
Displacement (ci): 177
Max horsepower @ rpm: 22 @ 1,700
Max torque (lb-ft) @ rpm: 83 @ 900 (!)
Aspiration: 1-inch-bore Holly or Kingston updraft
Transmission: Ford two-speed planetary
Transfer case: Single-speed Livingood, part-time
Range box: Muncie (Warford more common)
Front: Livingood two-piece
Rear: Two-piece Ford spur gear type
Ring and pinion: 3.63:1
WHEELS & TIRES
Wheels: 30-inch artillery type, wood spokes
Tires: 30x3.50 Firestone Pneumatic
DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES
Wheelbase (in): 100
Curb weight (lb.): 1,500 (est. as tested)
Fuel capacity (gal.): 10
Top speed (mph): 30-45
Fuel economy (mpg): 12-14