Miles and miles in a Model T hotrod
Curt Zimmerman's 1923 T-bucket wouldn't be many motorists' first choice to take on a road trip, yet it's just what the enthusiast loves piloting on long-distance drives.
In the nearly 2½ decades he's owned the vehicle, he's racked up more than 103,000 miles traveling to 25 states behind its steering wheel.
He first came across the car in 1986, seeing a local ad for its sale in Crystal Lake. "My wife was the one who saw it first," laughs Curt, who lives in Cary. "She said, 'Honey, it's the kind of car you like.' "
While the T was mostly built by its original owner in Rockford over a number of years, Curt has made many of his own modifications.
"Other than the body and paint, everything else is different," Curt said. One of the biggest changes occurred in 2000 when Curt installed a Chrysler 392-cubic-inch Hemi V-8. The engine originally powered a 1957 New Yorker but had made its way to Minnesota and into a tractor puller. All that heavy competition had taken its toll, so Curt had it fully rebuilt while adding high-compression pistons and additional performance parts. "It'll cruise nice and easy and idle along, or you can really put your foot into it," he said. "It has great road manners."
The car lacked a rear deck, but Curt rolled up his sleeves and tackled the project head on. He built one out of oak stair-tread risers he purchased from his local hardware store.
"I'm not a woodworker and this was my first time using a router and chop saw," explains Curt, who is quite pleased with the final product.
Perched on the rear deck is a 15.5-gallon gas tank made from a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer keg. Curt purchased it from a New England winery. "When it arrived in the mail, you could shake it and still hear (beer) sloshing around," he chuckled.
Once the T was ready for the road, Curt got it out on the open highway and he hasn't slowed since. He's motored all over, regularly driving to National T-Bucket Alliance meets. Some of his favorite trips have been to the Tail of the Dragon, a twisty stretch through Tennessee and North Carolina in the Great Smoky Mountains; along the Cherohala Skyway, which winds through the Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee; and to Branson, Missouri.
Because the car is a replica and made during the 1980s (rather than an authentic 1923 Ford Model T hot rod), Curt has no qualms about its heavy use. "I joke it's not a real car and while it looks old, it's not an antique," explains the enthusiast. "The only value is how much fun you have with it."
He's surely getting his money's worth and his intense passion has been contagious. His daughter, Emily, grew up with the T and loves it, too.
"When she was a baby, I had her strapped next to me in a car seat," Curt said. "She's now grown, a college senior and sports a tattoo of it on her back."
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