An Automotive Time Capsule In Okinawa

After surviving the sweltering morning heat of a late summer Cars and Coffee event on the sub-tropical island of Okinawa, the only thing on my mind was jumping in the crystal clear waters to cool off.

However, a Speedhunter’s job is never done, and when Oki’s Finest founder Eric Thiergood told me about a private car collection a few minutes’ drive away that we could visit, I knew I was going to have to put the beach on hold.

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Filing out of the carpark, we proceeded to follow the collection owner’s sweet-sounding Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale down the road to a nondescript commercial building. What awaited within is something I could have never foreseen. But then again, Okinawa is a Japanese island, and if there’s one thing this country has taught me it’s to always expect the unexpected.

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Not one, but four Ford Model Ts were parked up inside the private museum, surrounded by an assortment of artefacts from a similar era.

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The owner of all these relics from the past, a retired US military member, was happy to show me around the cars while pointing out some of their intricacies. The Model T, as produced by Ford between 1908 and 1927, is regarded as the world’s first affordable automobile. It was a highly adaptable machine too; with the removal or addition of a handful of bolts the car could be used a sedan-type coach for the family one minute, and then as a farm vehicle the next.

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They were also one of the first automobiles to be modified by owners for improved performance. During the Prohibition era, where the United States government imposed a ban on all alcohol sales, the Model T became a favorite among ‘bootleggers’ who would run supplies of moonshine under the cover of darkness. To ensure the cars were capable of evading high speed pursuit – we’re talking 45mph+ here – tuning tweaks were made to the 2.9-liter four-cylinder engine’s intake and carburetor to boost output from 20hp up to just over 25hp.

With an assortment of levers and pedals, operating the Model T was a complicated procedure by modern standards. The two forward gears of the 3-speed transmission were selectable by a single pull lever, with pedals used to engage neutral, reverse gear and the transmission brake system. The throttle, meanwhile, was controlled by a lever attached to the steering wheel.

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There was a lot to look at around the place, including a large collection of US and Japanese license plates. Who remembers when gas was under 11 cents a gallon?

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The owner was also able to get his hands on an original linotype printing plate for a Model T newspaper advertisement. Yes, $285 US is all it took to buy a brand new T in its most stripped-down form.

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The final car we looked at before being on our way was the Model T that’s used most often on the road in Okinawa. I’m told its a Cars and Coffee regular too; I can only imagine seeing this thing parked up in between a Supra and a GT-R!

Visiting this little collection was an unexpected way to finish up a day of Speedhunting, but often these sort of days are the ones you end up enjoying the most. All I have to do now is work up the courage to get behind the wheel of one of these vintage Fords on my next trip down to Okinawa.

Ron Celestine
Instagram: celestinephotography

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11 comments

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1

A model T in Okinawa? Well shit!

2

And not just 1, 4 of them haha.

3

So simple, yet so beautiful.

4

Found a US inflation calculator online. If it's accurate:

$0.11 in1908 equals approximately $2.79 today (found another, .gov, source confirming 1913 to 2017 is $2.76)
$285 in 1908 equals approximately $7241.51 today (.gov source says 1913 money is $7140.09 today)

Very cool find, though. Reminds me of the dad's Mustang in Tokyo Drift, haha.

5

And what are those Fords worth today?

-Alex

6

285 dollars is equal to $4,044.68 is 1928

if we go back to 1913 its 7k

so 1908 would be about 10k in todays money or basically the worlds first first fiesta.

7

I was thinking the same thing. Inflation ate the $$ like Pac-Man!

8

Yeah the dollars been devalued since like 1948.

9

Indeed. But still, compare a brand new car, which is something completely new in inovations, something never ever seen before, going for $4000, with today's new cars for which if you want a decent one, you have to cash out at least $15,000. Still a difference, as in economy, seeing such things differently. I believe the main difference in production than and now is that back than the main goal was to help others, give them improvement so they would achieve more. While today, main goal is to make something what would sell better just to earn money, and that's also main thing in competition amongst companies, to outsell others more than to provide costumers with quality, that's just a sidequest.

Sorry for long comment, had to get it out. :-D

10

Not really, the Model T was a lot more basic and less durable than modern cars. Things like the packing crates that parts were shipped to the factory in were recycled as the floor of the car. The point is not that Henry Ford was ingenious in cutting costs, but that the car had a wooden floor which would rot and need to be replaced. Let alone the lack of windows/roof etc, and anything that wasn't required for the car to move in the case of the $285 "loss leader".

The Model T was profitable enough to make Henry Ford one of the richest men in the world in the 1920s and fund things like his museum. Of course the aim of providing a quality product is an important part of making money in more than the short term.

11

What interests me more, is how did the serviceman end up retiring in Okinawa and decide to build up his collection.

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