Three pedals, one handle, two levers and lots of practice: The ABCs of driving a T

You’re never too old to learn a new skill – or, as it turns out, an old one. Nearly 500 classic car enthusiasts have enrolled in a series of Ford Model T driving courses being offered this summer at the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Mich. That is 125 more students than participated last year.

Jay Follis, the museum’s marketing director, is thrilled by the response. Gilmore’s Model T driving program, the nation’s oldest, began more than a decade ago.

“Think of it as going back to driver’s training,” Follis said. “Old school, that is.”

Introduced by Henry Ford more than 100 years ago, the Model T is considered by many to be the most significant car in automotive history because it brought affordable ownership to the masses. According to the History Channel, the Model T “revolutionized transportation in America, changing the way Americans live, work and travel.” More than 15 million Model T vehicles were built from 1908-27, but most classic car enthusiasts have never driven one. That’s where the Gilmore program comes in.

Each class, which is about three hours long, teaches the history of the Model T and the Ford Motor Company before participants slide behind the wheel and learn the skills necessary to drive a Model T. While the cars may appear simplistic by today’s standards, they present a challenge to drivers of modern cars. A crank is required to start the car, which is controlled through the use of three pedals on the floor, a handle beside the seat, and two small levers on the steering wheel.

The Gilmore has a fleet of seven authentic 1914-26 Model T vehicles in various body styles. Instructors are all Model T owners who volunteer their time to support the museum and the program, some of whom drive as far as two hours each way. In addition, four instructors bring their own cars. Two volunteers maintain the fleet.

Each class member is given the opportunity to drive at least two different vehicles on the museum’s two miles of paved roadway.

“We’ve taught people as young as 14 and as old as 85, with several groups consisting of three generations,” Follis said. “We keep it fast paced, and everyone has a blast.”

The Gilmore Auto Museum, located about 20 minutes northeast of Kalamazoo, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The Model T program is supported by AAA, which is marking its 100th year in Michigan.

Classes began in May and will continue through the fall. Upcoming dates are June 29, July 16 and 31, Aug. 21, and Sept. 18 and 28. Cost is $105 per student ($95 for GAM members). After successfully completing a road test in a Model T, each student will be presented with a Certificate of Completion and souvenir booklet.

For more information visit GilmoreCarMuseum.org or call (269) 671-5089.