Rare is the perfect union of form and function.
It is unlikely that Henry Ford knew his team had achieved design immortality with the Model T, but it lives on long after they have left the scene.
Inexpensive, easy to work on, reliable, durable freedom in a bug-eyed, no-nonsense package.
"Check engine" light? Not on this car.
Never miss a local story.
I see more Model Ts from my grandfather’s day than I do Vegas, Pacers and Pintos from my youth.
The classics live forever.
On June 17, 1972, Telegram-Tribune reporter Elliot Curry told the story of a man who loved the car so much he made parts. (Several typographic errors were cleaned up in this transcription.)
Model T — alive and well on a back road
Henry Ford quit making Model T cars in 1927.
But the Model T is not dead in San Luis Obispo County.
Hidden away in the San Bernardo Creek Valley near Morro Bay is a machine shop still turning out parts for the car that created the age of the automobile.
The partners in this unusual enterprise are Howard Caccia, member of a pioneer North Coast family, and his son-in-law, Fred Lessi.
The primary products of the San Bernardo shop are Model T fenders and hoods. They make about 500 fenders a year and 400 hoods.
This strange business began in 1956 when Caccia, who was operating a garage in Morro Bay, needed some fenders for a Model T which he was restoring. He didn’t know where to get them so he made a set. A friend noticed how authentic they were and asked for a set for himself.
Word passed from one antique car fancier to another and then from one dealer to another until the T works on San Bernardo Creek had a nationwide market. The fenders go mostly to the wholesale trade. In 1915 Ford fenders sold for $3 each. Today they retail at anywhere from $40 to $60 each.
Caccia said there are about half a dozen other shops in the same business but not all turn out “authentic parts. Some are fiberglass copies.
From 1909 to 1927 Ford turned out approximately 16,000,000 Model T cars. Seven different fender designs were used. Caccia has patterns for all of them and can turn out a shiny black fender for any year needed.
Each fender or hood is a hand-tooled job, Lessi making most of the fenders and Caccia most of the hoods. Fenders for many antique cars can be produced at the plant if the original is sent in for a pattern.
One that he cannot reproduce is the Model A Ford, although he gets hundreds of requests. His shop is not equipped to make the rounded fender which were stock on the Model A. Caccia said there are about 30,000 Model T Fords still in existence. He ownes seven of them. His prize is a 1909 Model T touring car. It took him 12 years to get a woman in Lompoc to sell it to him, but it was well worth the wait.
His other models include 1911, 1915, 1912 and 1923. The 1923 model has an engine that was used in a racing car driven by Fred Lewelling at the old South Street auto racing track in San Luis Obispo in 1923.
One of his models is a little more than four wheels and a chassis, but that is all Model T fans need for a start. Caccia points out that today a person can “create” a Model T Ford by accumulating parts, both new and old, from scattered sources. It’s a slow and expensive process, but it can be done.
There is a theory among auto owners today that fenders are not as tough as they used to be — that they dent easily.
“Not really,” says Caccia. The glory of the Model T fender was the ease with which it could be removed and repaired. If a loose fender became annoying, it could be tightened up with haywire.
In 1959 the Ford Motor Company celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Model T, during which there was a re-enactment of the first automobile assembly line in Detroit. The fenders used in the motion picture of the event were supplied by Caccia.
He sometimes wonders how long a business based on the Model T can continue, but he isn’t worrying. There’s always the morning mail and another batch of orders.