1924 Ford TT From Belgium

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Many an outfit were built on the famous Ford Model-T cab and chassis but few of them would have won prizes for their looks. In contrast to the early creations for the wealthy, motorhomes based on the 'T' tended to be built to a price, like the Tin Lizzie itself, and function mattered more than frills. However, this pioneer creation on the Ford TT, the one-tonner, is something of an exception which does win points for style. It is preserved at 'Autoworld', the superb motor museum in the Palais Mondial at the Parc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels and where, at one of the shows before 1912, the magnificent Belgian motorhome which was featured in MHM Vol. 1, No.4 made its debut.

The Ford TT had almost three times the payload of the Model-T car/van chassis and a wheelbase lengthened by two feet to 10ft 4in. It was well suited to carry a motorhome body and had more powerful brakes to cater for the extra weight. The 2.9-litre, 4-cylinder side-valve engine, however, produced no more power than in the car - just 20 or 22 bhp (depending on compression ratio) at 1800 rpm and max. torque of 80 lb.f.ft. at 850 rpm. With gearing lowered to give just half the mph per 1000 rpm of the car, the standard Ton Truck was no speedster. Racing the engine by cruising at over 15 mph, users were cautioned, was likely to lead to overheating! Vehicles running at well under the permitted gross weight of the TT could be equipped with the higher 'Express' gearing. Did this Belgian outfit quality? If so, it might have managed a steady twenty.

The coachbuilt body of this smart motorhome looks to have been constructed more to the standards of the cars of the twenties than to those of the commercials. Thanks to the gentlest of curves to the side panels it does not have a slab-sided appearance and the cab area benefits from neatly fitting doors with wind-down windows The curved roof is crowned by a clerestory, or Mollicroft section typical of the period, although the covering of roofing felt looks out of place. Canvas waterproofed by several coats of paint was the usual roof finish for caravans pre-1940 and this is one detail of the restoration to museum standard which does not fully reflect the original specification of this oldtimer.

A rear porch has featured on several between-the-wars motorhomes and that on the Autoworld example comes equipped with tip-up seats. The spindle-turned balusters to the porch handrail and the floral artwork on the body might be in imitation of the decoration on gypsy caravans - or could it be a nostalgic touch of Art Nouveau when Art Deco was in the ascendant? Up front, the opening windscreen is another distinctive feature of this Belgian beauty. An opening 'screen was the norm on both cars and commercials before windscreen wipers and demisters had become routine fitments but this one takes an unusual and complicated form. Was its shape intended to shed rain more effectively than from a flat screen?

In the cab the motorhome has permanent seating for three with a double seat to the right of the driver. However, the driving position in the 'T' is quite close to centre and a folding seat is accommodated on the left, making four-in-a-row feasible. It may have been possible to pack in the people but the cab is otherwise remarkable for its stark emptiness. Henry Ford's workhorse lacked not only wipers but a speedometer was not standard and the 'fuel gauge' was a dipstick. Still to come in the motoring world were such conveniences and comforts as indicators, heating and ventilation systems and, of course, the radio. An ammeter graced the dash of the Model-T car by 1924 for it had acquired an electric starter, battery and generator but the TT had none of these. The engine was still fired up by swinging a starting handle and the headlights drew their power from the magneto (oil lamps served as side- and tail lights).

Below the bare dashboard of the TT, our photograph shows three footpedals and a handbrake lever. Where is the gearlever, you may wonder if not familiar with the workings of the Model-T? Gear selection with the 2-speed epicyclic Ford gearbox was by pedals. The pedal on the left has both gear and clutch functions: fully depressed it selects low gear, halfway is neutral with clutch disengaged, fully up it selects high. The handbrake also works the clutch system - brake on is clutch disengaged - whilst the centre pedal is pressed down for reverse. The pedal on the right is the footbrake, which works on the transmission (a brake on the propshaft) not on the wheels. Certainly the Ford 'T' was different to drive compared with vehicles with a conventional clutch/gearbox arrangement but not necessarily more difficult when with the latter one had to master the niceties of double-declutching because the 'box had no synchromesh.

The caravan area of the Belgian motorhome is set out simply and to accommodated two. On the right is a seatbox which can be enlarged by the addition of the tabletops to create a double bed. The tables are provided with robust tubular legs; the long set for normal dining use and the short set for the bed construction. As our photograph shows, the rear table on its short legs can also be used for an alternative L-seating arrangement. It is a pity that restoration of the interior has not extended to providing upholstery, the interior looks a little naked without cushions and curtains. And tabletops are another detail which appears out-of-period - if you're familiar with the German Reimo motor caravan furniture you'll probably recognise the restrained multi-colour dot patterned laminate used for both tables and worktops.

Storage was a strong point of the layout with the kitchen unit providing three good double-door cupboards and four drawers. In addition there is an overcab locker plus a number of exterior, underfloor compartments. The kitchen has a good working area at the forward end, a lower centre section where a cooker would have stood and with a hood and flue above to carry away heat, steam and cooking smells, while at the rear there is an inset sink. Missing compared with the modern layout which might occupy similar space is a wardrobe and a toilet cubicle, although the 'inside' toilet was not in favour in the pioneering era. Despite manufacturers' claims that their chemical closets were both odourless and germfree these accessories were regularly banished to a toilet tent.

Autoworld's Ford TT motorhome is one of the rare survivors from pioneering days and rarer still in being on public display. Pay her a visit if you are in Brussels and enjoy, too, the fine collection of vehicles beneath the magnificent arched roof of the Palais Modial. There are grand horsedrawn carriages, turn-of-the-century horseless carriages, the magnificent motors of the rich and famous from the twenties and thirties, 'peoples' cars, bubble cars, motor cycles and more - over 300 vehicles in total. Sited to the east of the city centre, there is plenty of parking space adjacent to the museum (free!) and room for the largest of motorhomes. Autoworld is open from 10.00 to 18.00 from 1st April to 30th September and closes an hour earlier other months; it is closed on Christmas day and New Years Day. Entry cost 150 BF.

Note: Article published in Motorhome Monthly, Britain's former number one motorhome magazine, by Chris Burlace, now an author at Motorhome and Campervan Magazine.

Did You Know?

The word "coach" derives from the Hungarian town of Kocs, where, in 15th century, a comparatively smooth-riding, horse-drawn vehicle was designed. The carriage was slung between the axles on leather straps, and the front wheels were smaller than the rear ones to make steering easier.

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