Noel E. Bullock in his Model T that coined the term "Tin Lizzie"
Henry Ford sold his Model T from 1908 until 1927.
Many also may know the Model T by its nickname, the “Tin Lizzie.” But how did the Model T get its nickname? In the early 1900s, car dealers would try to create publicity for their new automobiles by hosting car races.
In 1922, a championship race was held in Pikes Peak, Colorado. Entered as one of the contestants was Noel Bullock and his Model T, named “Old Liz.”
Since Old Liz looked the worse for wear (it was unpainted and lacked a hood), many spectators compared Old Liz to a tin can. By the start of the race, the car had the new nickname of “Tin Lizzie.” To everyone’s surprise, Tin Lizzie won the race. Having beaten even the most expensive other cars available at the time, Tin Lizzie proved both the durability and speed of the Model T. The surprise win of Tin Lizzie was reported in newspapers across the country, leading to the use of the nickname “Tin Lizzie” for all Model T cars. ~Jennifer Rosenberg
Noel E. Bullock of North Platte, Nebraska, began building his racer in 1916 from a junked Model T truck frame, radiator and hood. Bullock won 74 dirt track races in Nebraska with “Old Liz,” but was unknown in big-time racing. To prepare for the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, he purchased a Rajo motor block for $50.00 and four new Firestone cord tires mounted on Dayton wire wheels “because I knew I couldn’t get anywhere in auto racing unless the wheels stood up. The wheels and tires cost me more than the rest of the machine.
The ambitious 22-year-old Bullock drove “Old Liz” 250 miles to Colorado Springs. At the posh Broadmoor Hotel where racing enthusiasts and drivers gathered, an onlooker said “Maybe in its own class but a ‘Tin Lizzie’ has no chance against the power of a Packard or a Mercer.
A Ford writer reported that underdog Bullock drove “the wildest and most reckless race in the history of the Pikes Peak climb…. On one curve a rear wheel skidded over the edge…but luckily his right wheel held the ground and pulled him out.” Averaging 38 miles per hour the home-built Model T clocked 19:50:9 for the best time of the day to win the Penrose Trophy and $500.00.
Four days after the Peak victory, Bullock broke the state half-mile record at a race in Longmont, Colorado. The now famous “Old Liz” was displayed at Denver area Western Auto Stores. But Bullock was barred from the 1923 Pikes Peak Hill Climb because he and King Rhiley (1921 PPHC winner) competed in a dirt track race not sanctioned by the American Automobile Association.
Bullock never raced on the Peak again, and a Model T never won another Pikes Peak Hill Climb. After 150 auto racing victories Bullock turned to aviation and tragically died in a plane crash in 1934.