I recently photographed this 1915 Ford Model T Touring Car with Alex Eyseen at Camp North End here in Charlotte, North Carolina. Queen City locals l know if you go to Camp North End on any given day, you’ll see area photographers roaming around and shooting on the old picturesque property. For that reason, the location may seem like an obvious place to shoot a historic car, but that’s not why we chose it.
Many folks don’t realize the building was originally constructed in 1924 to accommodate Henry Ford's showroom and assembly line for the Model T. While Alex’s car wasn’t manufactured here in Charlotte, the connection between these two pieces of history is undeniable.
“It was surreal to see the car in such an iconic place,” Alex said after seeing his car underneath the same roof that covered the Ford factory nearly a hundred years ago.
With that little backstory, we dive into the car.
As I learned about the vehicle that day, one of my first questions had to address the color. That’s because most self-described car lovers are able to recite the famous quote from Henry Ford, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”
So, it’s true that this car, like all ’15 models, rolled out of the factory completely black. But, it was re-painted white in the 50s by Alex’s father, Tim Eyssen, who owned the car before him.
Aside from color, everything on the car is original except for normal maintenance items. The car was built during the last year of the “brass” era for the Model T. Fords had brass radiators, headlight bezels, and other accessories until 1916 when they phased out the material. Despite all that shine, technology was primitive. For instance, there’s no electric starter, which requires drivers to hand-crank the engine. Although common back in the day, the hand-crank procedure is semi risky and infamous for breaking an arm or two. The car was also built with no fuel pump (all gravity fed), distributor, or fuel gauge — just a little different from today’s automobiles.
Tim Eyssen originally bought the car from J.D. Tubbs, a farmer from Anson, Texas, in 1954. But, the sale did not come easily. Other enthusiasts were also trying to buy the car from the farmer, so Tim had some competition. After two years of trying, he finally convinced Mr. Tubbs to sell the car to him. What did he do to stand out from the other buyers and clinch the sale? He forked out a whopping $280 and promised never to sell the car.
A man of his word, Tim never sold the car. Although it did spend a stint at his parent's house underneath a carport in Abilene while he finished up college. The following year, Tim spent weekends and holidays disassembling and restoring the old car, which had four decades of wear and tear at the time. As it turns out, college-aged Tim was organized enough to keep track of that restoration, which means that Alex has the original receipts all these years later.
“The convertible top was replaced for $75 and $100 for the upholstery,” he said as he shared the story of the restoration.
Alex is a Charlotte resident and current owner of the Model T. So, how did Alex get the car if his dad promised not to sell it? It was given to him of course. Last year, Tim gifted the, now family heirloom, to Alex after 65 years of ownership.
However, that doesn’t mean that Tim lost interest. Once President of the Model T Ford Club of America, the 85-year-old is currently working on restoring a 1921 Ford Model T and remains active in the Model T community. He’s also the proud owner of a small fleet of Model Ts himself. So where did Tim get this love of Model Ts, and why was he so keen on spending two years trying to buy one as a young man in the 1950s?
It was like his daddy’s car.
W.H. Eyssen, Alex’s late grandfather, owned a similar 1915 Model T, which made enough of an impression on young Tim that he’s basically been around them ever since. He kept the family ties strong, too. As a young father, Tim traveled all over in that Model T with Alex in tow. Alex recalls his favorite memories are of his dad and that car during summer vacations, car shows and various parades as a child.
“The car has been all over Texas, not to mention farther west including the Grand Canyon, Zion National Forest, and Pueblo, Colorado to name a few,” he said. A true ‘touring’ car, it has been to dozens of Model T events over the last 60+ years of Eyssen ownership.
Nowadays, like his dad, Alex actively spends a lot of time traveling in the car with his 12-year-old son, Luke. The car’s driven around Charlotte weekly, and there are even plans to do a long-distance trip soon.
“Future plans include period camping trips using my collection of vintage camping and cooking equipment, a longer distance ‘reliability’ tour, and hopefully various Cars & Coffee and similar events,” he said.
Regardless of where they go next, it’s safe to say that the Eyssen men are bonded by the shared passion for this car and its connection to the family. Alex’s son, Luke, was even there while we shot photos of the iconic car that day in the historic building at Camp North End. His knowledge of the Model T and ability to drive the car as we repositioned it for photos was impressive considering his age. And, although we never talked about it, if the last 65 years are any indication, I have a pretty good idea who the next owner of the Model T will be.If you want a chance to see this Model T in person, Alex is planning to bring it to The Congregation Show on October 24, 2020. I think the Model T will fit right in with the other hot rods and motorcycles underneath the same roof it was photographed in and the same roof Ford built the icon.