Big Sky Country's gentle terrain, lightly traveled roads are ideal for annual three-day Model T cross-country race.

Model Ts never die

-they just race around Montana By Natalie Levy

If you've ever owned a Model T, you'll be happy to learn that many of the legendary autos are thriving out West. And they aren't just museum pieces on exhibit: The vintage vehicles are raced, on open highways, during an annual cross-country run in Montana's Big Sky Country.

The event draws a cross-section of "T" fanciers: Ranchers, telephone linemen, salesmen, engineers, physicians and shop-keepers, ranging in age from the early 20s to the late 70s, come from both ends of the continent. Most antique car buffs treat their treasures as though they were Dresden china. Not so these Model T racers. They stoutly maintain that Henry Ford built his jalopies to trundle over uncertain roads and be absolutely reliable.

Montana's three-day race is scheduled for late June/early July, to take advantage of vacation time yet have the relics across the finish line before heavier holiday traffic begins. The route varies, but is always a loop of some 500 miles. The old wire-and wooden-spoked wheels have rolled through Bozeman, Livingston, Harlowtown, Dillon, Nevada, White Sulphur Springs, Roundup and Laurel, where townsfolk cheer the contestants and arrange fuel stops, coffee breaks, overnight facilities, and

picnics beside the Yellowstone, Musselshell and Sweetgrass Rivers.

To qualify, one needs only a Model T and a small entry fee. Autos are inspected before and after the race by experts armed with a checklist of permitted and forbidden technical exotica.

The race requires alertness and concentration to handle the evenly matched machines. It may take a mile to pull alongside a competitor, let alone pass him. Sometimes spunky "Ts" ride three and four abreast fighting for the lead. When ordinary traffic approaches from the opposite direction on two-lane roads, a challenger must often drop back, sacrificing a hard-won piece of road; on the other hand, sportsmanship requires that one "T" being fairly passed by another yield in the face of oncoming traffic, allowing the challenger to move in ahead.

Special tactics can squeeze out extra speed-but overall strategy is tortoise-and-hare: Controlled, conservative driving combined with top-flight maintenance usually means a winner; sudden surges can lead to breakdowns.

When it was new in the '20s, a Model T's top speed was 42 miles an hour. Thanks to superb tuning-and a few propitious Montana grades-top speed in the race has been 57 miles an hour, with brief wide-open bursts

hitting 60. Le Mans it may not be, but that's pretty good sprinting for a temperamental car almost half a century old!

Families, friends and spectators follow the race in modern vehicles. There's much dressing up in dusters and veils, and the entire long weekend is replete with simple but bountiful food, singing, dancing and fellowship. Best of all for the "T" fans, there's gossip about crankshafts, manifolds and ring gears-and traded investigations under hoods.

Every contestant gets a plaque. There are trophies for the first three finishers, mementos for the next seven and awards for winning legs. Even mechanical failure has its consolation: There's a prize for the earliest collapse. -

Everyone who has taken part in Montana's cross-country race swears nothing in the auto world compares with it. The nation's fourth largest state in area is 44th in population; its fewer than

3/4 -million people are scattered over vast open spaces that still smell fresh, are unravaged and exude hospitality. Roads are good and lightly traveled; the Big Sky Country's prairies and hills are an ideal course for the crotchety old cars.

What a delightful way to recapture an all-American Fourth-tooling along in a Model T, enjoying old-fashioned pastoral picnics en route! If you haven't a "T" to race, you're equally welcome to watch-and join the fun.

For more information, write Montana Cross-Country Association, Box 89, Ledger, Mont. 59456.