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Surprise 1929 Model T Restoration?

My dad has kept his father’s 1929 Ford Model T but never got around to restoring it. I’m interested to learn who may be able to do this in Michigan and what this may cost (approx range), as I would love to be able to do this for him… on the sly, of course. Thanks!

I’m sure there are excellent restorers in MI. Check Hemmings Motor News, this is a classic car magazine.

Be prepared for a shock when you receive an estimate. A good restoration is a very time consuming task even for a very simple car like a Model T. It will likely be more than the car will be worth when complete. Hemmings shows cars advertised for $9000 to $19,000 for a “mint” condition fully restored car. You may be better off to buy one already restored and sell the '29.

While @Mustangman’s right, the cost of restoration is HIGH, you may not want to. The history of the car (in your family from your grandfather’s time) is important, so it depends a lot what the condition is. As they say, “a car is original only once”. Please describe it for us.

Of course, the sentimental value may outweigh the cost of restoration. Figure that you’d get back about $0.50 on each $1.00 of restoration costs.

The other thing to do is join your local antique car club, along with Model T forums. Those are extremely popular cars, lots of owners, you can buy just about any part you want, and folks will have dealt with many of the restorers in your area. You also might find some books on them, I bet there’s a fair amount of work you could do yourself, if so inclined.

Thank you for the comments! I’m prepared for something around $5-10k but hoping it could be done toward the lower end. My dad has memories of that car so I couldn’t just buy another. It has the name of their restaurant (1947-1975) on it as well. My brother is the successful one, but I still have a chance to be the favorite.

Either the model or the year is wrong. Model T’s were made from 1909 through 1927. From 1928 thru 1931 Ford made Model A’s.

@Franko2 - you’re right. @Squidbreath, one easy way to tell the difference is if it has a filler cap in front of the windshield it’s an “A”.

Here’s an A:

If the car is very straight, rust free, and doesn’t need a lot of major repairs such as an engine rebuild and replacement of a large number of accessories and so on you might get what’s called a minor restoration for 5 to 10 grand. Maybe.

Otherwise, expect to pay a lot more than that.

If the car is pretty straight as it sits and considering the lineage of it I would advise doing just enough to get it running and driveable. Leave it as a near unmolested survivor. A rolling piece of history is often worth more and appreciated more by car afficionados than a car restored to as new or better.
Once restored, that piece of history is lost forever.

“Either the model or the year is wrong. Model T’s were made from 1909 through 1927. From 1928 thru 1931 Ford made Model A’s.”

For some reason, many folks will refer to any old, pre-1930ish Ford as a “Model T”.

In addition to the tip that was given regarding the placement of the filler cap, another way to determine the model regards the transmission. The Model A had a “conventional” floor shift, while the earlier Model T had no shift lever for the transmission, as its planetary transmission was controlled by the use of floor pedals.

The T effectively had two speed ranges that could be selected with the placement of the pedals, while the A had a 3-speed manual shift transmission.

I agree with @ok4450, and of course @Franko2 How close is it to being a driveable car? Is there a way you can post a picture of the car?

I have owned a Model T and four Model As, one of which I still have. Have YOU ever ridden in the car, at least enough to remember whether it had a conventional gearshift and clutch? The Model T did not. It shifted with a lever to the left side of the driver, and three pedals on the floor. That’s an easy way to tell what you have without seeing a pic.

Where in MI are you? Maybe I can point you to a good shop.

My only comment other than the cost issue, is to make sure you and your dad are on the same page and not do it on the sly. Some people would be very upset if original parts and paint were replaced.

Given that it has the restaurant name on the side it’s probably not original. But it certainly has emotional value.

You really can’t do a vehicle restoration on the sly. Unless you go on one of those TV shows such as Overhaul where they restore/customize a vehicle in a week.

Restoring a vehicle takes months. So before the vehicle is restored, the person you’re restoring the vehicle for will realize the vehicle is gone because it’s off being restored.


There is a middle ground here, often called a “sympathetic restoration”. Such a restoration brings the car up to operating condition mechanically but leaves the cosmetics as-is. It’s a lot less expensive than a total restoration, and might be just what your dad would enjoy.

Best of luck finding a shop that’ll take this on.

First, if this car is fairly intact and most of the original parts are still on it or around it, then this is a valuable car. How valuable depends on what model it is and what kind of shape it is in as it sits.

My brothers found an old Model A Ford years back. The 1st order of business was dealing with the hornets nests. There were several and they were angry buggers. This Model A was kept in a old farmer’s barn that neither the barn or the car had been used for many, many years. Eventually the barn was to be torn down and the car was dragged out of it. Since it was “inside” the barn in the finger lakes area of New York State there was rust on stuff, but the car was surprising complete.

Next step was draining fluids and refilling with fresh gas, oil, water, etc. Then getting the motor to turn was the goal. This car still had a hand crank and an electric starter. Plugs were pulled, a squirt of oil in each cylinder and with some effort initially the motor could be turned. New spark plugs were bought and with some work we were able to get “spark” at each plug by turning the motor over (still with the crank) before installing the new plugs.

Put the plugs in and put some fuel directly down the carburetor and still used the hand crank to see if it could run. A few backfires showed some promise. This car had a magneto with a gizmo to adjust timing on the steering wheel. Without a clue where it should be set, getting it running was a significant trial and error and troubleshooting experience. In a day or so it was running and a day or so later it was running really nice and we were making trips around the back country roads. Once running the car was really valuable and was sold to someone and I’m sure it was worthy of a full restoration if someone had the money and time to do it.

Logistics of doing a restoration project as a “surprise” just don’t make much sense. The car will “trucked” out of where ever it is sitting now. You can take a series of pictures showing the car as it sits and that can help someone plan how to move it and start the restoration process. Getting it running might be enough to make the car much more valuable and determine how much different levels of restoration might cost.

I’m with the others that say if this car has that much sentimental value to it, a “running, no cosmetic” resoration might be in order. In fact, these days in the hot rod world, old signeage on the side of vihicles is highly prized, and there are methods that will preserve the sign, yet keep that old “patina” look. I’d look into getting the mechanicals up to snuff, make the interior “presentable” (Decent upholstry, new gauges and swithes if needed, etc.) and keep the outside “patina” intact by “sealing” the original paint (After a good cleaning) with some sort of clearcoat.

Model T or A, a total resoration to “like new” will cost a LOT more than 5 to 10 grand.

There’s also the risk of a shop bleeding the process out for years and absorbing more and more of the restoration money from the person having it done; only for the car owner to end up with a gutted car, closed shop and no forwarding address, or a lot of good original parts missing and resold at a premium while replacing them with reproductions.

With any shop involved, I’d recommend a background check and make sure they’ve been around for a while.
To reiterate, if the car is halfway straight you would be best served by doing as little as possible.

“if the car is halfway straight you would be best served by doing as little as possible.”


Each month, in Hemmings Classic Car magazine, they feature a “Driveable Dream”.
Whether it is a 1950 Lincoln, or a 1930 Reo, or even a really, really old car from the Brass Age, the most amazing things about these cars is that they are fully functional, even if they don’t look like they just came from a showroom.

These cars have had just enough mechanical work done on them in order to render them safe and reliable, and the owners simply ignore a bit of surface rust here and there, as well as paint that might be faded and flawed. Some of them spread blankets on the seats, rather than spend big bucks on having the old upholstery redone professionally.

In almost every case, the owners of these driveable dreams report that they put anywhere from 1k to 5k miles per year on their cars, and–as in the case of the 1950 Lincoln–some are even used for business purposes. (The Lincoln owner uses it for road service calls in upstate NY. Imagine being stranded in your modern econobox when the timing belt snaps, and being towed back to a rural gas station by a bruised-looking Lincoln that is over 60 years old!)

While I’m sure that others will differ with me, I believe that these 60-100 year old Driveable Dreams are much closer to “real” cars than the impeccably restored ones that are rarely driven, except for driving from a trailer to a classic car show’s display area.

The owners all report that they are much more comfortable with being able to park these cars almost anywhere without the fear of damage that they would feel if they had spent $20k or more on a restoration.