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1915 Ford Model T Speedster Livingood 4WD - Livingood: The Trail-T Rare Rigs

A Jeep Before There Was Jeep

Jim AllenPhotographer, Writer

Is there anyone out there that hasn't heard of the immortal Ford Model T? If so, sorry, but you'll need to go back and do Car Guy 101 all over again. The Model T was the first opportunity many Americans got to join the automobile age. Built from 1909 to 1927, the T was simple, inexpensive, and came in any color you wanted, as long as it was black.

When the Model T debuted, there were only a handful of 4x4 manufacturers in the U.S., most of which built large trucks. Only the Four-Wheel Drive Auto Company offered a line of production 4x4 touring cars, but by 1912, the limited market for such vehicles had forced them into building big 4x4 trucks. In those days, anything with four-wheel drive was nearly double the cost of a similar 4x2. The need didn't justify the cost to many people. It was much cheaper to get stuck.

Jesse L. Livingood had a better idea. Seeing the need for four-wheel drive on the terrible roads of the day, he sought to develop a system at a cost more people could afford. In 1914, at the tender age of 20, he perfected a four-wheel-drive conversion kit for the Model T. What better rig than the T? It was light, readily available, solid, and simple.

The kit consisted of a front axle (converted from a standard Model T rear), a revised front spring, a transfer case, a front driveshaft, and some miscellaneous pieces. The first kits used a single-speed, chain-driven transfer case with an in-out lever for the front output. The later conversion incorporated a Warford auxiliary transmission, which was a two- or three-speed box, and had full-time four-wheel drive with a lockable center differential. The two-speed unit had an underdrive, to aid the T's rip-snorting 20 horsepower engine on rough terrain, and a 1:1 ratio for flat ground. In the three-speed Warford, an Overdrive was added and the later engines almost had the power to handle it.

With four-wheel drive, the Model T became the Jeep of the era. No kidding. In fact, it was the earliest embodiment of the Jeep concept of a light, compact, and nimble all-wheel-drive vehicle. The conversion was good enough that Ford wanted to purchase the design outright. Livingood countered by asking for an exclusive marketing arrangement to sell the kits through Ford dealerships as an authorized accessory. Ford refused, leaving Livingood to struggle on his own. Interestingly, the idea Jesse proposed is exactly what Marmon-Herrington did just a few years later with its own 4x4 conversions for Fords.

Livingood continued making and perfecting four-wheel-drive kits for various Ford cars, and some Chevys also, well into the 1930s. He even designed and built a line of four-wheel-drive trucks under the Livingood Motor Truck Company nameplate, though that company never got far off the ground. Though the elder Livingood passed on in 1961, his success as a tinkerer inspired son Jesse R. to resurrect the Model T conversions when he retired in the 1980s. He continues to build the kits, largely using his dad's old tooling, and sells a few per year.


Vehicle model 1915 Ford Model T Speedster with Livingood four-wheel-drive conversion
Owner Jesse Livingood, Graysville, Pennsylvania
Type Four-cylinder inline L-head
Displacement (ci) 176.7
Compression ratio 3.98:1
Mfg.'s power rating @ rpm (hp) 20 @ 1600
Mfg.'s torque rating @ rpm (lb-ft) 83 lb-ft @ 900
Transmission Two-speed planetary
Transfer case Chain-driven, full-time
Range box Two-speed Warford (or three-speed)
Axle ratio 3.60:1
Wheels (in.) Wood-spoke
Tires 30x3.5
Weight (lbs.) 1,500 (full-bodied units heavier)