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Driver's antique fits him to a T

By most standards, Charley Greacen's first experience with his car wouldn't seem particularly auspicious.

He bought the car in Largo, and the drive home to South Tampa, with the pedal to the metal most of the way, took three hours. When he got home, the guy he bought it from called to make sure Greacen had managed to arrive safely.

"I suppose it wasn't the most promising beginning," Greacen said.

But that was 13 years ago, and the car Greacen bought, a 1925 Model T, is still going strong. Or at least still going.

It has become a familiar sight around South Tampa. Greacen doesn't take the Model T too far from home _ Ybor City is about as far as he'll venture _ but Greacen's neighbors get a kick out of seeing it chugging down the street.

"It makes people happy," he said. "They cheer, they clap, they holler."

Greacen bought the Model T largely because of a general fondness for old stuff.

"In my bachelor days I had a Model A," he said, "and I wanted something that was a little more impractical. I basically fell in love with the Model T the first time I saw a Laurel and Hardy movie."

So when he saw a Model T advertised for sale, he figured he'd check it out.

"This guy in Largo had several Model T's and he was getting rid of some," Greacen said. "He took me to a parking lot and he gave me a lesson in how to drive a Model T."

For the modern motorist, driving the Model T takes some getting used to.

The three pedals aren't the clutch, brake and accelerator. The left one is the gear shift, the middle one puts the car into reverse, and the right one is the brake.

The Model T obviously wasn't designed for the interstate. In fact it probably tops out at 30 or 35 mph. Hard to tell, because such modern appurtenances as speedometers aren't part of the Model T experience.

But whatever the top speed may be, Greacen figured the Howard Frankland Bridge wasn't the safest road home.

"I got out a map and devised this zigzag route through Pinellas Park and over the Gandy Bridge," he said. "When I made it over the hump in that bridge, I figured I was home free."

Even though the car is more than three-quarters of a century old, parts are fairly easy to come by. Unlike the cars of today, the Model T stayed basically the same year after year, from 1909 until 1927. Even when improvements came along, they were designed so Model T owners could fit them onto their older cars.

"The bottom line is that Henry Ford made about 15-million of these cars, and a lot of them are still around," Greacen said.

New replacement parts are also available. He recently bought new tires _ tube tires that are pretty much specific to the Model T _ that were manufactured in Vietnam.

"Even the T is now part of the global economy," Greacen said.

And even though Greacen's car, a relatively recent Model T, is essentially the same as the older ones, there are some updated features.

"It's basically 1908 technology," he said. "But it does have electric lights, instead of the old gas lights, and an electric starter."

Though he bought the car for fun, he has actually found a practical application for it. Greacen is a freelance artist and illustrator who, among other things, contributes cartoons to the City Times section of the St. Petersburg Times. He painted his company's name on the car and has gotten a job or two through conversations that started over the car.

Mostly, though, the Model T is just a kick, especially for someone who appreciates older, simpler things.

"It's not like a new car that's a living room on wheels," he said. "You're out in the open. You see things. You feel every little bump in the road, especially with these wooden wheels. The whole frame sort of twists and turns. It's a cool ride."

Charley Greacen satisfied his Laurel and Hardy inspired love for the Model T with a vintage 1925 that he bought 13 years ago. The nearly 80-year-old car can still be seen cruising along South Tampa's streets. "It makes people happy," he said.