The World’s Fastest, Most Versatile Model T
There was something about the exhaust note that just didn’t sound right, like a giant exhaust leak had opened up under boost. Mike Warren’s Mad Max– esque, A/BFCC 1927 Ford Model T had finally made a full-throttle pass at ECTA’s first-ever Arkansas 1-Mile Challenge with the wild-card Blytheville weather allowing a sliver of time between 15- to 20-mph gusts of wind, but it was clear that the car wasn’t gaining speed at the expected rate.
This would be the time for most to freak out a little, maybe drop a few colorful words of frustration, but Mike is ever patient with his “Warren Special,” expressing his concern for the engine with simple curiosity. We suppose his stoic calmness comes from his high-pressure day job running industrial boilers.
“The boiler I’m running now is 10 stories tall, a big boy,” he says. “Boiling water is not a very glamorous job. You’re hidden in a little room surrounded by computers and screens, but it pays well—it pays the racing bills.”
Mike has been a longtime HRM reader, but was starting to get a new racing itch as time went on. “We got kind of burnt out on bracket races years ago, so we decided on land-speed racing,” Mike admits. “And dumb me, I first went to Bonneville, looked at all the cars, and I thought, I’ve always wanted to do a chopped-top T. While we were out there, they were filming The World’s Fastest Indian, where Burt Munro on his Indian ended up going 200 mph, and I was hooked. So I started thinking about what the world’s fastest Model T would do.” He got a taste of the salt in his other 1933 coupe, but the runs proved to be a moment of reckoning for them. “I made four passes, and every time something happened, and I’d have to lift—it kept me puckered up!” The slick surface was a handful, especially with the crosswinds, but it was the 184.3-mph gateway drug he needed to build his dream LSR machine.
The 120-inch-wheelbase chassis was born from behind
Mike’s garage door, featuring 2x4-inch box rails and a complete 15/8 OD, 0.134-wall mild steel cage. RideTech’s Shockwave airbagged coilovers suspend the T, with the front using a 1937 Ford
“My Uncle David, when I was 12, he put me in a 1954 Ford with a cammed-up, 312ci motor, three-speed manual with the 4.11 gears welded up, and he put me in that car to drive my first hot rod. I guess I’ve been hooked on hot rods and going fast since. I guess it’s in my blood, I don’t know what else to do.”
— Mike Warren straight axle, while a 9-inch out of a 1970 Ford pickup was built by Ford8and9Inch Rears.com with a 2.47:1 ring-and-pinion and a helical Moser Wavetrac differential—a limited-slip was used instead of a typical spool given the street miles Mike runs in the T. The front end was also updated with a rear-steering rack-and-pinion unit, getting rid of the typical drag-link nightmare and all of its bad habits.
The body was basically thrown away by a Model T club, deeming the moon-like surface texture of the pockmarked steel too far gone to restore, with some of the craters left behind by decades of surface rust big enough to charge rent in. This was zero concern for Mike, so about the only work the original body received was a wedge-cut, 10-inch chop. With a foam roller, no less, Mike then painted the body with a gold hammertone finish before friend Scoot Malone drizzled on the T’s old-school scallops and lettering by hand.
“We were not aerodynamic—with a flat windshield and no aero elements.
Sure enough, until I put that wood splitter between the Studebaker President headlights, at 180 mph it would sit up on a cushion of air,” Mike recalls, reliving the moment in his tone of voice. “After we added the splitter, it stayed down on the track.” As you might imagine, the Tin Lizzie isn’t exactly a low-drag design, and the car suffered with horrendous lift before what looks like someone’s garden fence was sacrificed in the name of downforce.
Originally a boat-racing powerplant, Mike’s 454 was hogged out to 482 ci before taking a partial block fill to reinforce the cylinder walls. A Scat crank launches Wiseco pistons up in the bore, thanks to a mystery set of performance rods, and the combo is built around an 8.4:1 compression ratio. Skip White Performance in Kingsport, Tennessee, handled all of the machining work before installing a Lunati Dual-Pattern bumpstick spec’d at 255/263 degrees of duration with 0.680 lift. Mike pulled a set of Brodix Race-Rite oval-port heads off the shelf and stuffed them with Harland Sharp rockers to actuate the 2.25/1.88-inch valves.
A $400 pair of eBay GT45 turbos atop homemade log manifolds shove boost through a blow-through Holley built by Horsepower Innovations for Mother Nature’s racing fuel, E85. This low-budget, big-brute combo churns out more than 1,100 hp and 1,000 lb-ft of torque, making
200-mph sprints fairly easy considering the flying-barn aerodynamics. “Sure enough, the first time we drove the thing, we rolled into it in High gear at 55 mph, and about half a second later, those turbos spooled up and it about scared the pee out of me,” Mike says. “This thing was awesome!” Mike also pulled a Turbo
400 from the back of the garage, which is backed by a 4,000-rpm-stall PTC converter and actuated by a reverse-pattern Hurst Quarter Stick inside the cockpit.
It was at the ECTA’s former Ohio Mile in Wilmington, where Mike and his codriver, Justin Brand, knocked through the 200-mph barrier to claim the World’s Fastest Model T. Mike had churned a 202.7, and at the final Ohio Mile event, Justin walked up to his 205.9-mph record, before melting the top of piston four.
Mike tells us, “Keith Turk, one time at the ECTA, gave us a little talk at the start. He said, ‘Congratulations, guys, you are the ones who got up off the couch and got the job done, and you’re here racing. And there’s thousands of other guys sitting on the couch right now going, ‘I think I can build a 200-mph car!’”
More than just the venerable street miles, getting invited to the Coast Cruizers by Jimbo during Panama City’s Emerald Coast Cruizin, Mike’s T has also wreaked havoc at dirt drags and burnout contests. “In 2017, we found a little 250foot dirt dragstrip about 30 minutes from my house. So I said, I guess we’ll need a
set of those Super-Scooper tires. We cut up two plastic buckets to fit around the air filters to block dirt. We made five to six passes, kicking dirt way up in the air. The first time I made a pass there, it was like an 80-foot shutdown before a barbed-wire fence! We got to a stop, but then the wave of dirt from the rooster tail just came in through the roof. It was fun, but we did hurt the motor.” It had been spun a little harder than expected, but a few valvetrain parts were worth the price of admission.
But still, none of that was preventing a wastegate from belching out the necessary exhaust pressure to spin up the turbo’s compressor last April, leaving returning driver Justin, along with co-driver Brian Action (who was hunting for his fourth 200-mph club), with 180-mph runs that didn’t work out as expected. During June’s meet, the second at Arkansas, the engine mysteriously hydro-locked during a run, despite happily ticking on days after the event. But, hey, that’s racing.
With Blytheville’s new puzzle for ECTA’s standing-mile racers, Mike will be back in the fall to finally get that clean pass he’s been hoping for. More importantly, the persistence in racing is necessary to find the joy in the machine. For Mike, he’s already accomplished his 200-mph goal—at this point, he’s chasing the dragon.
However, looking back at that 200mph hat, Mike tells us, “It’s an overwhelming sensation, just thinking about it still gets me. It’s the first time I went over 200 mph—in a car I actually built—I just thought, I finally made it! If I don’t do anything else in life, I’ve succeeded. It’s truly how I felt. It’s like the first time I drove out on the salt. The emotion of just being there where Craig Breedlove and Burt Munro and all of them had raced. When you do something like that, it’s a sense of accomplishment that you don’t get from anybody else. There’s no accolades, it’s just you—and it’s just pretty dang cool.”
[ Low-buck high-performance is the name of the game here, with a conventional 454 being bored like a West Texas oil well for 482 cubes. No EFI, no intercooler, no nonsense. [ Mike Warren and Justin Brand’s hard-earned records from ECTA, plus you can see into the craters of the sheetmetal.
[ Wood is Mother Nature’s racing composite, in our book. Front lift was a major issue without this little air dam. [ And that budget is no more apparent in the 71mm turbochargers, which came off eBay for $400 for the pair. Say what you will, but cheap boost for the masses has made stuff like land-speed racing much more accessible. [ It’s all business inside the “Warren Special,” but everything is still accessible. Mike once accidentally wrapped his arm restraint around the Hurst Quarter Stick shifter, knocking it down a gear during the run—you can imagine that woke him up a little! [ The T rolls out onto Blytheville’s ex–Air Force base for its first full-throttle passes of the weekend, but a malfunctioning boost control setup stuck the passenger-side wastegate wide open.