By the (Lit­tle) Books

Bill Jagenow’s Pe­riod-Re­spect­ful Model T


Bill Jagenow’s ’27 Ford Model T road­ster

If you were an early Gen X teen in So­Cal learn­ing to drive at the onset of the ’80s, it was all about air-cooled Volk­swa­gens and the first wave of the dreaded mini-trucks (of which I was tem­po­rar­ily guilty of par­tak­ing with my way-too-low ’75 Dat­sun with ham­mered-on Porsche 356 hub­caps—but other than that, it was all Bugs and Kombi buses). And un­less you were born into a gear­head fam­ily, hot rods in gen­eral were few and far be­tween—with the ex­cep­tion of ran­dom hand-me-down mus­cle cars some of the long-hairs drove, that is.

As the Rea­gan era started wind­ing down, how­ever, the car scene be­gan to change—the VWs and minis were still a main­stay, but hot rods soon filled the hori­zon. In­stead of div­ing deep into school loan debt, I dove head­first into cus­toms and lowrid­ers as I at­tempted to learn com­puter graph­ics on the job (since I couldn’t be both­ered to learn in col­lege). Fur­ther south in San Diego, a Michi­gan trans­plant by the name of Bill Jagenow, who had been serv­ing a tour with the U.S. Navy

Se­abees (con­struc­tion bat­tal­ion), was wit­ness­ing the same au­to­mo­tive cul­tural re-up­ris­ing, as it were, and like my­self and so many other twen­tysome­thing born-again gear­heads, be­came fully im­mersed in the scene. At­tend­ing the Cruisin’ Na­tion­als up in Paso Robles and even the Pomona and Big 3 swap­meets ex­posed him to what the lo­cal car clubs (from The Dea­cons to the one for which I be­longed, the Lonely Kings) had go­ing on, which even fur­ther fu­eled his pas­sion.

Dur­ing that time spent liv­ing in So­Cal, Bill picked up a ’49 Ford sedan that was not only his daily driver, but his means in which to get back to Detroit once his Naval tour had ended—and he still owns the car to this very day. But to­ward the end of the ’90s, he’d got­ten the hot rod itch and was de­ter­mined to build him­self a road­ster. With a com­plete Model A chas­sis and var­i­ous early Ford parts al­ready on hand, the build be­came of­fi­cial in 1998 af­ter Bill pur­chased a ’27 tur­tle deck T-body (mi­nus doors and deck) from a gen­tle­man (Jim Rose) who he says used to make runs to the Dako­tas with his fa­ther back in the day in search of old Ford tin—this was from one of their hauls.

Over the years that fol­lowed, Bill searched out and gath­ered the parts he needed in or­der to build the road­ster just as he’d pic­tured it in his head. Through friends and ac­quain­tances (who later be­came friends), such as the late Pon­cho Ren­don (who drove the Detroit Tiger ’72 Monza Funny Car for Tom Prock and An­gelo Gi­ampetroni), Rudy Ruedis­ueli, and col­lec­tor Larry Smith, the hard-to-find stuff be­gan to ma­te­ri­al­ize—from the req­ui­site and rust-free doors to the un­in­tended but very es­sen­tial ’39 Ze­phyr wheels. And speak­ing of in­ad­ver­tent, the ’49 Merc Flat­head orig­i­nally des­tined to go in the Shoe­box, well, it not only req­ui­si­tioned for the road­ster, it also pro­vided be­hind-the-scenes port­ing and re­liev­ing in­sight via Mo­tor City Flat­head’s Mark Kirby, whom Bill watched in­tently as the Merc block was ma­chined prior to his as­sem­bling him­self. (At the time, Bill was able to link up with Tony Baron—when he had re-launched his fa­ther Frank’s line of speed equip­ment— while in L.A. for work; al­ready run­ning Baron Rac­ing heads, he ended up with a Baron-Tat­ters­field 4x2 in­take as a re­sult.) Part of the un­in­tended parts ac­qui­si­tions in­cluded the trans­mis­sion out of the same car the wheels

came off, which Bill eas­ily put into ser­vice by us­ing a ’49-’53 Ford truck bell­hous­ing. Hav­ing chan­neled and mounted the body, the main el­e­ments of the project were all in place—now it was down to all the lit­tle de­tails … the easy stuff that’s of­ten the hard­est to ac­com­plish.

In­spired as many have been by the time­less Frank Mack T road­ster, it wasn’t un­til Bill ac­tu­ally got a chance to see the car up close in per­son on dis­play at the 50th Detroit Au­torama back in 2002. Along with the impressions left by the worn leather in­te­rior and other no­table de­tails, it was the head­lights—the E&J Type 20s—that burned un­for­get­table im­ages in his brain. The man­u­fac­turer, Ed­mund & Jones Cor­po­ra­tion, was based in Detroit, so it was only nat­u­ral that a pair of these sought-af­ter, egg-shaped gems get fit­ted on the ’27. But Bill went a step fur­ther, re­search­ing the com­pany as best he could, and with the help of Steve Fris­bee was able to get in touch with Mike Jones, grand­son of found­ing part­ner Wil­liam T. Jones. Along with in­for­ma­tion no Wiki site could ever pro­vide, Jones sent Bill an artist’s aerial ren­di­tion of the orig­i­nal man­u­fac­tur­ing plant—which still stands to this day—and of course Bill has been on the premises nu­mer­ous times with his prop­erly lit road­ster.

Just a few years later Bill had the ’27 T up and run­ning, con­tin­u­ally tin­ker­ing with and up­dat­ing things along the way. By 2008, he and his part­ner in crime, Au­tumn, made their first of two trips to Bon­neville with the road­ster, each pro­vid­ing mem­o­ries from the Salt Flats they will never for­get. Come 2012, how­ever, hear­ing his car de­scribed as a rat rod be­came old, to the point where

Bill made the de­ci­sion to tear it down and, for only the sec­ond time in its 90-year life, throw some paint on the old Model T body. In the process (which oc­curred at his new place of work, his own shop, Broth­ers Cus­tom Au­to­mo­tive), some needed changes were made, some steel parts up­graded to stain­less, a new ex­haust sys­tem fab­ri­cated, and so on, but for the most part, the road­ster re­mained just as it was 14 years ear­lier when he first fired the Merc Flatty: “just shiny,” as he put it. But the story doesn’t end there, un­for­tu­nately.

Not long af­ter Bill had re­done the road­ster, he and Au­tumn were in a not-so-mi­nor ac­ci­dent that left all three out of com­mis­sion. The re­al­ity of it may have put the av­er­age per­son in the un­em­ploy­ment line as a re­sult, but de­spite be­ing con­sid­ered a to­tal loss, there was ab­so­lutely no way Bill was go­ing to let this be the end of the story for the road­ster—nor the shop, which he lit­er­ally ran from his hos­pi­tal bed im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the crash. Once the two were mended, with time and sheer de­ter­mi­na­tion, Bill re­built the ’27 just the way it was, the only dif­fer­ences be­ing a “no-change” Hal­i­brand cen­ter­sec­tion and, thanks to Dan Baker, a new Alu­m­i­craft stain­less ’32 grille in­sert.

Bill still drives the road­ster to this day ev­ery chance he gets—and it should go with­out say­ing that it, along with the Shoe­box, will re­main his for as long as he re­mains with us.

For the dig­i­tal ex­pe­ri­ence:

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