His left arm might not move as fast as a blinking tail light, but Roland Donovan of Lamoine can clearly signal his intentions to other drivers.
After all, his car lacks turns signals, a heater, windshield wipers, and even seat belts — and he loves driving it and displaying it, as he did at the Wheels on the Waterfront car show held Sept. 8 in Bangor.
Donovan owns a 1923 Ford Model T that on summer weekends he drives to car shows or to places like the Owls Head Transportation Museum or the Seal Cove Auto Museum. He purchased the antique from “my old high school teacher” in fall 2008.
Prior to acquiring the 1923 Model T, Donovan “had several model Ts out in front of my house, but nothing that was running.” He “restored the body” of the 1923 Ford, which he “built back to a Bonnie chassis.
“I had the engine redone by George King out in Connecticut. He owns Connecticut Antique Engine LLC. He specializes in these old engines,” Donovan said.
Featuring the Model T’s classic black paint scheme, the 1923 Ford has a beautiful wood body that Donovan crafted. With that body, the Ford falls somewhere between a car and a truck in function; “technically it would be a ‘rat-rod’ because of the homemade body on it,” Donovan said.
Many admirers circled the Model T during the Bangor car show, and Donovan kept busy answering questions about his vehicle. He learned the hard way how to drive it; “you always wear gloves cause you need a real good grip on that steering wheel,” he said. “You’ve always got to be on your guard when you’re driving this car.
“This car was made for dirt roads,” Donovan explained. “You have to drive it like it’s a Model T; if you take a turn too fast, it will ‘cat walk’ on you” and occasionally bust wooden wheel spokes.
With no wipers, the Model T “can be interesting to drive in the rain,” he said. The windshield comes in two sections, upper and lower, and “in the old days, you’d tilt your windshield and wear goggles,” Donovan pointed out. When tilted away from the driver, the windshield drains rain water away from the passenger compartment.
Donovan extends his left arm and hand to signal his intentions when he’s driving the Model T. “You hope [that] people see what you’re signaling and understand what you mean,” he said. Such hand signals are still taught in Maine driver-education classes.
The Model T has brake lights, including a lantern mounted behind the driver and another light mounted above the rear license plate. “I’ve had some of the old fellas correct me on it,” Donovan said, referring to a few parts on the Model T.
Tapping the lantern set behind the driver, he explained that “they tell me this came off a train. But it works!”
Donovan’s Model T has an optional starter button. Magnets in the transmission generate electricity for the vehicle’s limited power systems, and if he had to, Donovan can crank start the Ford.
“The engine was designed to run on kerosene, methane, or diesel,” he said. “The gas sold back then was called ‘petrol’; it wasn’t refined as well as it is today.
“If you were a farmer and you had a big chicken coop and could come up with methane [from chicken poop], you could run this car on that,” Donovan said.
The four-cylinder, 22½-horsepower engine “gets about 20 miles per gallon, approximately,” he said. Legally too slow to be driven on the interstate, the 1923 Model T can travel on state highways, and just about every summer weekend Donovan takes the vehicle some place.
“Just this year alone, I’ve put approximately 3,000 miles on it,” he said. “I’m at the [auto] museums quite a bit. There is more interest there. This car is an attention-getter.”