‘Like a Motorcycle on Four Wheels’

Rare Ford 1907 K and 1906 N Give a Century-Plus of Thrills

By Jeff Barnes

Without a windshield and doors on the car – and sitting high while cruising down a country road – 30 miles per hour seems amazingly fast. And you can’t help but feel anyone passing is staring right at you and wishing he was in your place.

It’s a thrill Rob Heyen never tires of in his 1907 Ford Model K. “It’s like a motorcycle on four wheels,” he said. The Milford farmer is generous in giving rides in both his car and his 1906 Ford Model N. He takes them to shows around the region, and friends and the occasional attendees get to go for a spin as he averages between 1,000 and 1,500 miles a year on both.

Many folks think Ford started with the Model T and built only that in the company’s early years, but these cars were among a series of models leading up to the iconic car. In fact, Heyen said, the cars represent extremes of what the Model T would be. “The N was the Model T light and the K was the Model T on steroids,” he said. “These two cars are the parents of the Model T.”

Heyen completely restored both of them from the frame up at the same time. “I had a couple of Model Ts in high school that I got running,” he said. “It was about 15 years ago I was whining to my wife Holly about wishing I had an old car.” Now he has five, including a Model T truck.

The Model K was Ford’s effort at a luxury touring car, but ultimately failed because competitors were too established and so much better. It has a six-cylinder, 405-ci engine, which was the least expensive six-cylinder of its day but still set a world endurance record in 1907. It was and is big with its 120-inch wheelbase and is tall.

“When I’m next to a four-wheel-drive pickup, I’m looking down at him,” Heyen said. About 900 Model Ks were built – 23 survive today and his is one of five that are still running.

A fifth-generation Nebraskan, Heyen is in the crop insurance business as well as farming. He found the Model K at one of his Illinois customers’ farms and – after four years of quibbling – bought it in December 2011.

“I immediately took it to its chassis,” he said. “Fortunately the mechanical didn’t need much work, but cosmetically it need to be completely redone.”

Heyen’s Model N might be even more special than the K. His is the third one off the assembly line, confirmed by the stamps on the engine and other parts. Even more fun, he has a photograph of the car from 1925 at a Ford dealership, with its likely owner standing next to it.

“The photo is from 1925,” Heyen said, “but I don’t know where it went from then to 1947.” That year it went to a small mom-and-pop museum back east and he bought it from them when they were forced to sell out.

The N was kind of the Mustang of its day, given its size and speed. “It was the most inexpensive four-cylinder car available at about $500,” Heyen said. “you couldn’t touch anything else with the same horsepower.”

It has 15 horses, which is a pittance by today’s standards but more than enough a century ago. “It’s pretty peppy when it’s firing on all cylinders,” he said. “Henry Ford’s cars were always light with good horsepower.”

(Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, July 27, 2013)

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