Neil Tuckett’s passion for the Model T began in 1978 when his great uncle, John Brazil, asked him to accompany him on the London to Brighton commercial run.
John, who was a butcher in the Amersham area, taught Neil to drive his Model T Ford van, which was usually used for transporting sausages and pies to London.
Neil enjoyed driving and carried out the mechanical repairs that the van needed following the race. And so began a lifetime hobby and successful business.
See also: Potato vodka proves diversification hit
Tuckett Brothers, which trades in Model T vehicles and parts and complete mechanical and bodywork restorations, was started in 1989 to support the farm when the recession hit.
“I already repaired the odd one, we were self-employed and did anything, but the business properly began in the late 1980s, early 1990s when we were hit by the recession,” he says.
Neil lives with wife Mary on the family farm in North Marston, Buckinghamshire. The 250 acres is made up of arable, and grass on which they graze their 200 ewes or make hay and silage to sell.
Mary used to run the farm with her father, but Neil and Mary took it on in 1987 and bought it in 1995. Mary now runs the farm and Neil rents the buildings from her so that it puts money back into the farm business.
“Mary’s the farmer, I’m just the boy,” says Neil, who describes his job as “rust farming”.
The Model T
Neil, who trained as an agricultural engineer at Rycote College in Oxfordshire, trades in Model Ts as well as parts, and does full restorations and repairs. All with the help of four part-time workers.
Whenever a vehicle comes into the workshop, Neil must consider the scale of work needed to get the best price for the Model T when it leaves him.
Some vehicles aren’t worth restoring from a commercial point of view but could make a nice project for an enthusiast, so sometimes Neil will sell the vehicle and all the parts for someone else to take on the restoration.
One of the vehicles on the ramp when we visited needed some mechanical repairs but was what Neil calls “an oily rag car” and didn’t need cosmetic work.
“The seats are in perfect condition and the paint is a little pitted in places, but it gives it character and is as valuable as it is now as it would be with new paint,” he said.
On the other ramp sat a deconstructed Model T racer that Neil has been commissioned to restore – a project that Neil estimates will take about 200 workshop hours. “It’s all simple, Meccano kit,” says Neil, modestly, although it looks like a rather more complicated process to the untrained eye.
About 15m Model Ts were built between 1908 and 1927. Many of the 300,000 Model T Fords built in the UK were exported to Europe and millions were built in the US and Canada.
Produced by Henry Ford’s Ford Motor Company, the Model T was the first car for the masses. In the early 1920s, you would pay about £125 for a Model T, which was roughly the equivalent to the average annual wage.
There is no such thing as a standard Model T according to Neil, who explains that they were produced with a wide variety of bodies and some were produced without bodies at all so that the local coachbuilders could complete them.
“Henry Ford would simply produce some which were just four wheels, seats and a steering wheel,” says Neil. “But he did soon realise he probably had to include the lights and the windscreen in order to appeal to the mass market.”
Neil sources Model Ts from all over the world. Every six weeks he has a container come over from the USA.
“They’re easier to get from America because they don’t scrap stuff like we do. We scrapped a lot of stuff after the wars, but they didn’t,” he says. One of the more unusual origins of a Model T he has worked on was Sudan in North Africa.
“I’m basically recycling metal and it’s actually much greener than producing a car from scratch. There is no reason that any Model T shouldn’t still be on the road.”
The engines are no longer built, but about 80% of parts you can buy new and most parts are interchangeable. A purist may want all original parts, which is possible, but can take considerably more time and money.
A 1919 engine would cost about £50, for example, but a 1910 engine could be up to £5,000. “I like using original stuff, but it does run out, of course.”
Beyond the day job
Neil has contributed to two books about the Model T Ford. The original plan was to produce one, but there was too much to fit in – and Neil says he thinks he has enough material for one more yet.
The books were co-produced with other members of the Model T club, which has about 450 members in the UK. Neil was on the committee for 30 years, but has since retired and now just helps when needed and partakes in the tours.
Other media work includes the bright lights of a television set. The original Model T van has been used several times, with a canvas over the top, as an ambulance.
Its latest appearance was in BBC’s Crimson Fields. And in 2000, Top Gear visited the farm to compare car of the year, the Toyota Yaris, with the car of the century, the Model T.
When asked to describe what driving a Model T feels like, Neil reply is: “Different”. They have a “top speed” of 45mph, but Neil says: “At 30 you’re cruising, 40 you’re rattling and at 45, you’re going downhill with the wind behind you.”
That doesn’t apply to the Golden Ford, however, which is made entirely from brass. Neil bought it in the 1980s after it was found in pieces, literally, in the cellar of a house in Ludlow, Shropshire.
He got it swiftly back to full health and it now holds the record speed of 70.38mph for the Vintage Hot Rod Association races at Pendine Sands.
It is the same as all other models in chassis structure, but it has an overhead valve engine that doubles its horsepower.
Of all the vehicles that have passed through the workshop and those that have never left, one has a special place is Neil’s heart. Called “Rusty”, Neil bought the car in 1997.
“I remember it vividly. It was on for £800 and I paid £3,999. Everybody cheered when the bidding finished.
“I had it on the road in 24 hours. In theory, it shouldn’t be working as well as it is. It should probably have a leak in the radiator, but it’s fine and I’ve done thousands and thousands of miles in it”.