Learn How to Drive a Model T at the Gilmore Car Museum

A woman and girl riding in a Model T car
Riding in a Model T | Photo Courtesy of Midwest Living/Andrew Maguire

Share This

Learning to Drive a Model T

“You might not believe it, but I’m older than this car!” laughed Jim Brand, as we bumped along the roads at the Gilmore Car Museum. He’s right — I never would’ve guessed it. Jim, 88 of Canadian Lakes, Mich., seemed much more youthful than your typical grandpa, but his car looked ancient. It was a gray box on wheels. It had three pedals! Your hand made the car go faster/slower by moving a piece of metal that awkwardly stuck out from the steering wheel. And the emergency brake/clutch release impaled the car floor and hit my knee. I might as well have been driving a spaceship.

Jim was among a few volunteers to bring his 1926 Ford or Model T Ford to Gilmore Car Museum to help teach the “new drivers” at the Gilmore Car Museum’s Model T Driving School. Tucked away in picturesque Hickory Corners (about 20 miles from Kalamazoo, Mich.), the museum offers Model T driving classes once a month May through September. Plus, the museum’s marketing director, Jay Follis, gives the group a fantastic tour. People come from around the globe for this experience of stepping back in time.

I walked onto the museum’s grounds to see a variety of Model Ts neatly parked in a row — some were privately owned and others were borrowed from the exhibit floor. After a driving introduction, Jay told our group to “pick one and hop in!”

Cruising Through History

I quickly steered clear of the crank-start car – figuring that I’d stall then rip off my arm trying to get it to restart. And I opted out of the windowless versions. (Hey, it was raining!) So, I took to the luxury of Jim’s fully-enclosed, electric-start Model T, which even featured a bicycle speedometer. Talk about souped-up.

As Jim sweetly walked me through everything, I was 16 again.“I had three (Model Ts) in high school – lots of kids did,” Jim said, while effortlessly directing me on which of the foreign gadgets to push or pull. “They were $15 to $30 back then – and $30 was a very high price. People were glad to get rid of them!”

Today, Jim said Model Ts run a nice sticker price of around $11,000. “I enjoyed it so much in my first childhood that when I got into my second childhood, I bought another one,” Jim laughed. On the museum’s “driving range,” I stalled the car only a couple of times (and I was proud of that). But my driving partner, Dale Smith, 42 of Delton, turned out to be a pro Model T driver. Not surprising – Fords are in his blood.

“My grandfather used to own a Ford dealership down the road,” Dale said. “My grandfather was going to Detroit to become a doctor, and on the train ride, he read a paper about the Model T. He became friends with Henry Ford, and Henry gave him a Ford Franchise in 1922.”

At the Model T driving school, you truly step back in time. Exhibits come alive as Jay tells stories about the cars and the people who owned them. And on the driving range, you get to cruise in a piece of history while talking to the people who have a connection with and love for yesteryear. Not to mention, you’ll truly gain an appreciation for today’s cars.

Rules of the School

If you'd like to learn to drive a Model T at the Gilmore Car Museum, here's some helpful information to get you started. Students must be 16 or older and have a valid driver’s license. It costs $105 for both museum members and non-members. This course will teach the skills required to drive any of the 15 million Ford Model Ts built between 1908 and 1927 including:

  • Use of spark and throttle control levers
  • Coordination of hand and foot controls
  • Proper shifting techniques
  • Stopping the vehicle
  • Correct use of the Neutral / Brake lever
  • Reversing the vehicle
  • And, of course, touring the Gilmore Car Museum collection

Each student has the opportunity to drive two Model Ts. After your successful Road Test in an Authentic Model T, the museum will present you with a certificate of completion. Register online.

About the Author: Kayla Kiley loves wrapping up in the unparalleled beauty of Michigan summers. Neither a true country girl (she took last place in a cow-milking contest) nor a real city girl (she's from a small town in northern Michigan), Kayla is content being a Pure Michigan girl. While she loves to travel and explore the world around her, the Mitten is where her heart resides. Kayla is the Digital & Communications Manager for Discover Kalamazoo.