Free Starts

Here’s how I start a cold Model T.

  1. Open the mixture 1/4 turn. Pull the throttle down 1/2 way. Retard the spark lever all the way to the top.
  2. With the key off pull the crank up 1/4 turn while holding the choke on three times. Release the choke and pull one more 1/4 turn up. All four cylinders are charged.
  3. Turn on the key to “Bat”. The car will start 90 % of the time with no further cranking.

Here’s the video:

Do you have a video of a free start?

I have actually experienced a free start with a distributor. I was hand cranking for a man, I primed the cylinders and then he turned on ign. I looked up and said hey mind retarding the spark for me! He did, and it was just the right sport to open the points and fire. I have to imagine it was a one in a million chance! Free starts are one of the many reasons to restore the ignition system to spec, I wish I made that decision. I could always just get another model t, yup that’s probably the best option :smiley: more than one model t :smiling_imp:

My TT has never had a free start when cold, but when warmed up it is normal. I have had as many as 5 in a row! I was trying to demonstrate a start using the crank, but when I would turn the key on she would start! After five attempts of turning her off and having her start after turning the key on, she finally stopped with the free starts. Then, quarter turn and she started with the crank. I do not expect free starts, but they do not surprise me when she is warmed up!

My cars start very quick but haven’t had a free start yet. I will keep trying. :smiley:

I feel that free starts are a result of where the pistons are when the engine is turned off. If your car has an engine that tends to stop at a point where one piston is ready to fire and the coil will fire when you turn on the key, you will be likely to get free starts. How do you get your engine to stop at that point? It seems that one could put a mark on their timer indcating where the engine needs to be in rotation in order to fire, use the crank to turn the engine to that point, and then get a free start by simply turning the key.

Putting my free start foray in baseball terms, here goes.

First try – a swing and a miss.

A day or so later – another mighty swing and another miss.

Another day or so later – foul tip.

An hour or so later – another foul tip.

3 days later at 6 o’clock tonight – deep fly ball to right field. Deep. Curving foul.

Semi-seriously, I’m getting closer to finding the “sweet spot” on the spark adjustment; 2 strikes down and 3 outs to go. And in any event I’m closer to routine freebie starts than ever before.

My truck used to free start all the time on the pre-rebuild engine and
the tired old stand-in mill I had in it while doing the rebuild. I am guessing
a tight engine is much less likely to free start than a loose old dog ? I
have yet to get a free start in several months of operation, where I was
getting them quite by accident before … just turn the key on and away
it went !

Do old threads go away?

I’m a frayed knot.

It’s been awhile since I tried but i finally got my first on purpose free start. I had to tweak Auto Inn’s instructions a tad, so now let’s see if the freebie start can be duplicated practically at will. Stay tuned.

Interesting “free start” story. I remember reading Clessie Cummins’ autobiography, in which he credits a free start with saving Cummins Engine Company. As a kid, he applied for a job driving a local banker’s old-maid sister. He said the banker laughed when he met the applicant, and commented something like: “You aren’t big enough to crank-start a Locomobile!” Clessie needed the job and swore he could do it, so the banker agreed to let him try, and promised him the job if he could (thinking of course that there was no way he would crank it).
Turns out a neighbor had showed Clessie once how to prepare an engine and then make a try for a “free start”. He tried it for his big demonstration, and it worked. The banker was amazed but did give him the job.
Clessie made friends with that old maid sister while driving her around, and later on, when he went into business, he was being financed by that bank and banker. At least once the banker decided to give up on Cummins Engine Company, but that old maid sister owned half the bank and she made the bank continue to finance them.
It pays to have friends in high places, and it pays to know how to go for a free start!

I know this is an older post, but is still useful. I do have a question though Royce. When you say “cold”, do you mean hasn’t been run recently, or cold temperature wise? Do you richen it 1/4 turn only if below a certain temperature?

I found that the rebuilt Holley G carb in the 1915 runabout that I restored is prone to flooding if I prime it more than maybe two quarter turns, above 70 degrees or so, it tends to flood. As a result, I tend to only prime it maybe once or twice and then have to crank it a couple of times. It often free starts when warm and runs great otherwise.



Cold = Model T didn’t run in the past 12 hours. Outside air temperature doesn’t seem to make any difference.

I pull the throttle lever down half way, and leave the spark lever fully advanced. Using the priming wire, I give it three quarter turns. I then throw the switch to battery, and then retard the spark. I get a free start almost every time. I then put the switch on mag.

I failed to mention, I leave my carburetor adjustment alone.


By “cold” I mean has not run in a week or two and the garage temperature is cold, maybe 30 degrees or so. I have had “free” starts much colder, around 0 degrees one day at a parade near Cincinnati in heavy snow.

I have two '13 T’s, and they both free start the same. The first thing I do is bring the crank up to where I can feel it coming up on compression, then I give it three quarter pulls with the priming wire out. The spark rod is fully advanced, and the throttle is half way down. I then throw the switch to battery, and retard the spark. It starts almost every time.

Seems like this was posted somewhere else recently! I do mine just like Royce except for two things. I leave the spark advanced, and I don’t richen the gas mixture at all. When done priming, I throw the switch to battery and retard the spark and it starts most every time when cold.

I haven’t attempted to create a free start, but will in the future. I have had a couple of free starts in just prepping the car to hand crank start (engine slightly warm) and obviously got thing in the correct position because when I’ve turned the switch to BAT it started…much to my surprise, then childish giddiness and dance thereafter. :crazy_face:

I’m still waiting to get my first free start with the ignition set to magneto! :wink:

I think you are going to have a long wait.