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: https://bit.ly/2I9cuzs