Did you know that the Ford Model T doesn’t have a gas pedal? Or that if you needed to drive yours up a steep hill, that you had to back up it?
Henry Ford’s idea was to put everyone in an automobile, offering affordable transportation for all. The Model T was his answer. You could plow your fields with it during the week and drive it to church on Sunday. Mr Ford sold a lot of them between 1908 and 1927: over 15 million.
While traveling through Southwest Florida, we were getting hungry. With all the rapid growth in the area, nearly every brand of fast food lined the streets. A burger sounded good, but we wanted something unique.
A quick search online brought up Ford’s Garage at the other end of the Miromar Outlets in Estero, where we’d stopped to buy some shoes. I wasn’t expecting anything special, but we were hungry and it was nearby. I’ve read that shopping malls are struggling because of online shopping. No one told the people shopping at Miromar Outlets. The stores were busy. The parking lot was packed.
Ford’s Garage was in the far back corner of the mall. After spotting the familiar Blue Ford Oval, we scored a parking space close enough to see two vintage Fords in front of the building.
At 1 PM, the place was nearly full. As we were taken to our table, the car guy in me was impressed. Our napkins were grease rags bound by hose clamps. The decor included gas pumps out front, and vintage gasoline and automotive signs inside. Antique tools and an old tire rack also hung from the walls.
Above the bar sat a black 1926 or ’27 Model T sedan. Along the back wall, the beer taps were mounted in a wall covered in copper pennies. All the employees were decked out in two-toned “Ford’s Garage” garage shirts like a mechanic might wear.
The menu offered much more than burgers. While checking out the items on the walls, I was checking out the food on everyone’s table. It all looked good.
Sandy ordered her “custom built” burger without a bun, so she missed out on their Ford-branded buns. Our meals were delivered with a small flag identifying that our burgers were both customized.
While we were eating, I had a great view of the Model T over the bar. Driving a Ford Model T was nothing like driving a modern vehicle. The hand throttle is located on the steering column, opposite from the “spark advance” lever. There are three pedals on the floor: the gear selector, reverse, and brake. There is no gearshift lever. Switching between low, high, and reverse is done with your feet.
The Model T was not equipped with a fuel pump. Gas was gravity fed from the tank below the seat. If a hill was too steep, the gas would stop running to the carburetor because it would be above the gas tank. So when you reached a steep hill, you had to turn the car around and back it up.
I didn’t learn all this from the Internet. My dad actually owns a 1923 Model T Roadster, and his shop walls are covered with many of the same old tools hanging on the Ford’s Garage walls. Years ago, when I took my father to look at this vehicle, he and the seller hopped in, fired it up, and disappeared. Nothing sounds like a Model T puttering away, the simple little inline four with its 20 horsepower.
After 20 minutes they hadn’t returned and I was getting concerned. Just as I was about to start my search and rescue, I heard the quiet rattle of the old motor. They pulled back into the driveway.
With a big smile on his face, Dad told the fellow that “we’d take it.” As we drove back home to get the required paperwork, I asked Dad when the last time that he had driven a Model T. He thought for a minute, and said “I think it was right after I got out of high school.” As unique as they are to drive, I guess once you learn how you never forget!
Ford’s Garage is the first-ever restaurant to ever be officially licensed by the Ford Motor Company. With its 1920’s service station theme, it’s the perfect setting for hanging around with your car buddies (or your wife, who grew up with vintage Fords) while enjoying a delicious meal.
They started with three locations in Florida – Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and Estero – and have since expanded to Brandon, Clearwater, Lakeland, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Wesley Chapel. There is now one in Orlando, so I see a road trip with Dad coming up. And of course, no surprise, there is also one in Dearborn, Michigan.
Don’t forget to check out their restrooms. I’m thinking that some of the less mechanically inclined will take a moment to figure out how to use the sink.
Visit the Ford’s Garage website to learn more.