With a little help from Dad


Olivia was 13 when she restored a 1915 Ford Model T as her first car

Olivia Memmelaar’s fifth grade teacher didn’t believe her when she claimed to have won a 1915 Ford Model T. This was no pure game of chance, either. Several months earlier, the then 11-year-old had entered an essay contest to win a Model T Ford chassis and drivetrain. Sponsored by antique sheet metal supplier Rootlieb, Inc., the prize would go to the contestant with the best story about why he or she wanted the car; it was limited to entrants up to age 18.

But why would a pre-teen girl want a car built 90 years before her birth? The answer is simple: Olivia grew up around a father and grandfather who were always restoring a car from 1915 or earlier, so it was natural for her to inherit the interest.

In addition to the essay, Olivia created a presentation with photos showing her at various old car tours and events she had attended with her family. When the large package arrived at Rootlieb HQ, owner Tom Rootlieb thought, “There’s the winner.” Going through her submission confirmed his hunch.

Following the 2013 AACA Fall National meet at Hershey, Rootlieb delivered the Model T to the Memmelaar’s New Jersey home. Olivia proudly steered as her grandfather towed it to the family garage. After Rootlieb left, Olivia and her dad John cleaned the carburetor, rigged a temporary fuel tank and adjusted the transmission bands. Roughly three hours after he had dropped off the car, Rootlieb’s phone rang. “Listen to this,” said a very excited Olivia. Then she let him hear the Model T run for the first time in years.

Work on the T started right away. The engine was sent out, but Olivia did almost all other work. John, a professional toolmaker, used the equipment at work for any machining. Olivia removed the cab and bed and a family friend found an original roadster body in Canada.

With a two-year time frame, John helped Olivia by putting Post-It notes on small sub-assemblies that she could do every night. He explained that doing a little bit each day was a lesson he learned from his father. John also trial-fitted most parts, and then arranged them much like an exploded-view drawing, leaving the final assembly for Olivia. Under the guidance of a painter at John’s work, Olivia sprayed the entire car in the company’s paint booth. The painter said she was better than her dad, who readily agrees.

After many weekends and evenings, the Model T was done in time for Hershey 2015, where the now 13-year-old Olivia happily showed her car as her proud parents watched. Olivia looks forward to “driving her old Ford to school and around town,” once she has her driver’s license. When asked about plans to ever sell the Ford, she replied, “I’ll probably get other cars, but I’d like to keep my first forever.”

  • 1
  • /
  • 3


Share Leave comment
Read next Up next: Racing with the past