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The Class of ’25, Part Three: Meet Tilly

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Santa brought the writer a 1923 Ford touring car body, which has been dubbed “Tilly,” thanks to the original plan to use a pair of Tillotson down-draft carburetors on the engine. The Tillotsons are no longer in the picture, but the name stuck. Image by Clayton Paddison.

As you can see above, shortly after my last update, a major milestone was hit. After no doubt growing weary from my constant hand-wringing about ever finding a body to use, my clubmates surprised me yet again by digging up a touring car for my “Class of ’25” project. The sharp-eyed will note that the body isn’t a 1925, though, it’s a 1923—the only year in the United States that Ford married the low radiator introduced in 1917 with the one-man top and slanted windshield that characterized 1923-’25 production.

The writer has a weakness for period aftermarket parts, including a NOS Peerless honeycomb radiator and corresponding shell. Photo by Clayton Paddison.

Starting with a 1923 body is no problem, as the 1925 frame (once the base of a sandblasting table) and engine don’t care and will bolt up just the same. It also allows me to use a period aftermarket Peerless honeycomb radiator (said to be NOS left over from 1928) and shell. The biggest change, however, is likely not the switch to the 1923 body, but the decision to use fenders and running boards.

Compare the current vision with the earlier version—fenders, hood, and top will all lend a more civilized air to Tilly. Art by Clayton Paddison.

My visit to Monterey, California, this summer for Monterey Car Week, gave me considerably more exposure to Full Classics than I’m used to. One car in particular, a Cadillac-bodied Duesenberg Model A, struck my fancy and made me realize that perhaps I was being a bit narrow-minded when it came to my insistence on running fenderless. At the very least, fenders are another place to store things for longer trips, and they’re undeniably classy.

The 1923 Duesenberg Model A Sport Phaeton at RM Sotheby’s Monterey auction that kicked off this change of direction. Photo by Darin Schnabel, courtesy RM Sotheby’s.

When I started telling people about the switch to fenders, some were incredulous (namely my fellow Barnstormers) and some (namely my wife) were thrilled. As I’ve revised my plan and started showing people examples of the look I’m after, which is heavily influenced by the roadsters of Vernon “Gabby” Garrison and Bob Estes, everyone has come around to appreciate the potential. My buddy Clayton is particularly approving of the increased use of nickel plating that will come along with the fuller bodywork.

NOS “one-man” top spotted at Hershey and begging to be adapted to Tilly. More period aftermarket goodness. Image by the author.

Along with the fenders will come a top and side curtains. I spotted an NOS aftermarket top assembly at Hershey and got contact information from the seller. I’m a sucker for period aftermarket stuff, even if it’s not a speed part. Better yet, the tan top material is a dead ringer for the top and side curtains I’ve been envisioning. I also popped into the LeBaron Bonney tent at Hershey and started trying to sweet talk them into producing me an upholstery kit for a T that resembles the brown leatherette in a 1928 Ford Model A.

The 1917 to ’25 Ford headlamp is a bulb-and-reflector unit that often suffers from decayed silvering on the reflector and a filament orientation that is rotated 90 degrees from the original design. Image by the author.

So far, this has been much talk and little progress, unfortunately. But that should change soon. I’ve got a pair of well-used headlamps in my possession now, and I want to start on what will hopefully be the first of many “Gow-To” articles you will see here. The bulb-and-reflector technology of the 1920s and ’30s isn’t quite on par with modern headlamps and, worse yet, 70 years of sealed-beam use has actually eroded some of the quality that did exist before 1940.

I’m planning to restore one of these headlamps to something approximating period technology and then see if re-silvering the reflector or replacing it with polished aluminum, along with adapting a modern halogen bulb, makes a significant difference in the quality of illumination. Stay tuned!