Model Ts were a natural for these conversions because of their sheer simplicity — and massive numbers on the road

Virgil D. White was a clever inventor who sold and serviced Model T Fords, becoming an authorized Ford dealer in West Ossipee, NH. By 1913, he had patented a snowmobile conversion kit for Model T Fords, which he sold for $400, and complete vehicles were sold for $750. 1923 seems to be the first year that he actively marketed the newlyinvented “snowmobile.” The first year, they sold only 75. Once people saw them in action, sales quickly jumped to as many as 2,500 per year. Typical snowmobile customers were doctors and rural mail carriers.

The 1923 Model T Ford Snowmobile offered here is one of 75 completed units sold in this first year of production. It was sold by the Authorized Ford Agency of George H. Chesley in Dover, NH. There is a die-cast plate mounted on this snowmobile’s dashboard that was put on when new. One of the White’s Garage advertising slogans was “MAKES THE SNOWTRAIL A BOULEVARD.”

This example is considered by both the Model T Ford and snowmobile experts to be the best preserved, most original example of its type. The paint, top and interior are believed to be original and untouched. The seat cushion shows wear, but the rest of the vehicle is remarkably well-preserved and extremely presentable. Both stock wheels (for dry roads and weather) as well as proper original skis and original metal tracks (for snow and ice) are being sold with it. Both the skis and the metal tracks show very little wear, leading us to believe that the vehicle has seen very little use. Included are an excellent pair of snow tracks and front skis.

The Magee Collection purchased this vehicle from the original owner’s family, still living in Franklin, NH, in the 1990s. It was last used in the snow several years ago but has recently been serviced and reportedly runs superbly. Although other firms also made snowmobile conversions for early Fords, the “White’s Garage” examples are generally believed to be of the highest quality.

SCM Analysis


Number Produced:1,831,128 (1923)
Original List Price:$265 (2-door roadster)
Tune Up Cost:$150
Chassis Number Location:None
Engine Number Location:Pad directly beneath the cylinder head, centered on the left side of the block
Club Info:Model T Ford Club of America

This car/snowmobile, Lot 115, sold for $27,500 at RM’s Hershey auction on October 6, 2011.

Okay, they gave this assignment to the scribe who lives in Minnesota; that’s almost a no-brainer. However, I will be so brazen to declare that Model Ts converted to winter use are far from being unique.

By 1923, Henry Ford’s ubiquitous Model T was a fixture on the highways, byways, trails and in our culture. Indeed, 1923 was the zenith of production, as no other manufacturer (let alone with one model) would build more than 1,831,128 cars in one year until the 1960s. By this time, not only had Model Ts filtered down as the most popular new car, but significant numbers were out there in the budding used-car market.

During the Model T era, snowmobile conversions were not unusual. While the Model T’s high ground clearance and narrow tires did work well for dealing with light snow, heavy snow — beyond axle deep — was a challenge. This was not at all helped by the tire industry, as mud and snow tires were still years away.

Various tinkerers and inventors came up with various themes on making the Model T better suited to dealing with snow. Everyone was trying to be the first to make the better mousetrap. However, the White was one of the best and more prolific of them.

Model Ts were a natural for these conversions because of their sheer simplicity — and massive numbers out on the road. Especially as the base car got older — and cheaper to buy — getting a used Model T and one of these snowmobile kits made for a relatively low-budget way to get out and about in the rural north.

While rural mail carriers tended to drive their Model T snowmobiles until they were used up, doctors tended to see far less use from theirs. As they tended to be wealthy enough to not only afford a car, but also have a Model T Snowmobile, it made more sense for them to just leave it as is during the summer, when they could use a more befitting conveyance, such as a Buick or a Nash.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Vladimir Lenin had a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, which was modified with skis up front for winter travel while he was in power during the budding years of the Soviet Union. This Rolls has been on display in Moscow for years. Never say never, but don’t expect that one to come up on the market (although the track record in modern Russia does give the impression that anything can be had for enough money).

What to do with it?

The do-anything nature of Model Ts, combined with the harsh impact of winter on cars, means that few of these conversions have survived into the 21st century. However, that doesn’t mean that every collector wants one — even Model T fans. It’s not at all the type of vehicle that you would take to a Friday night cruise-in, or even a local show or concours.

For all intents and purposes, if you bring it to show, it would stay on the trailer — especially if it has the skis on the front. Sure, you can play “stump the band” with it if you live in Florida or California (there are enough retired snowbirds in Arizona that this doesn’t work as well there), but that’s generally it.

Even up in the Great White North, a Model T is not the type of vehicle that modern collectors would like to use as intended in the winter circa 1923. With 88 years of technology since this car was built, most owners would not have a clue how to get a frigid Model T running. Most folks can’t even start one at room temperature, so if you think a Model T is usually ornery, try starting a frozen one.

However, once you get this car going, running it around a frozen lake at a vintage snowmobile meet or at winter festival will make you the talk of the town.

Perhaps the best market for this vehicle would be a museum — either a dedicated car museum or an oddduck or a local historical society museum in northern climes.

“And here, class, is a 1923 Ford, which was converted into a snowmobile that is just like the one that our county’s first mail carrier, Emil Rasmussen, used until 1938.”

I am well acquainted with a Ford Model A that had an Eskimobile snowmobile conversion since new (manufactured in Almena, WI, from 1924 to 1930), and all it has done is go from one museum-like collection to another — all the while not turning a wheel.

With that taken into account, the selling price is a home run for the consignor — although he or she may not fully realize this. This sale hit that $25k sweet spot that is usually the limit for well-to-do collectors who like man-cave toys or obscure, hard-to-run conversation pieces. Most historical societies can’t pony up that much for one car — unless someone buys it for them as an endowment (a definite possibility).

Otherwise, the only way that a good, original Model T will sell in this price range would be one with exceptional provenance or celebrity ownership. While this is a generally unrestored original with a period conversion on it, skis don’t play well on dry concrete. This was a very good selling price for the consignor — regardless of pre-auction estimates of $40k to $60k. And that’s no snow job.

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Auctions.)

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