“Are these cars fast?” asked a passing observer during the Fifth Annual International Speedsters Trials and Reunion, held in June 2011 at the Smith Collection Museum of American Speed in Lincoln, Nebraska.

It’s not an easy query to answer.

Powered by modified Ford Model T, A, and B four-cylinder engines, most of the 40-plus stripped-down speedsters at the reunion had top cruising speeds ranging from 35-70 mph and would have a tough time winning a modern freeway encounter. But strap yourself into (or onto) one of these primitive machines, and the open-air experience is sure to send a tingle down the spine of even the most jaded speed junkie.

Sponsored by Speedway Motors, and hosted by Smith Collection founders “Speedy” Bill and Joyce Smith, the Speedsters Reunion was a celebration of the earliest days of hot rodding—an era before the term “hot rod” even existed. Back in the ’teens, ’20s, and ’30s, thousands of young American lads scratched their performance itch by stripping a Model T or A down to its bare essentials, crafting a custom body, and hopping up the four-cylinder engine using parts from the burgeoning speed parts aftermarket. These speedsters were put to the test on dusty fairgrounds, racetracks, and county roads throughout the country, laying the groundwork for much of the racing and hot rodding we all enjoy today.

There’s nothing quite like the bark of a hopped-up four-cylinder Ford engine. Get dozens of them together and you’ve got an experience like no other. Their distinctive tone wafted across the countryside during the reunion’s 135-mile road tour, as Speedsters navigated a series of two-lane country roads around Lincoln. The tour began with a summer rain shower, but that didn’t deter this hearty, fun-loving bunch. They simply donned raincoats and goggles and let the rooster tails fly from their tall, skinny tires!

Staying true to the notion that these cars should be driven, reunion participants also competed in an old-fashioned hill climb, racing their machines from a standing start on a 530-foot-long inclined course. A few of them achieved speeds of 60 mph or more climbing the hill—an impressive feat for technology that’s nearly a century old.

Other activities included a show ’n’ shine in Lincoln’s renowned historic Haymarket district, and performance testing on a chassis dyno at a local business known simply as The Shop. Participants also had several opportunities to tour the Smith Collection Museum of American Speed, which houses hundreds of Model T and A racing engines, plus thousands of pieces of early speed equipment from pioneering companies like HAL, Miller, Roof, Craig-Hunt, Frontenac, Winfield, Rajo, and many others. The museum is also home to the Model T Ford Club of America Speedster and Racer Hall of Fame, which inducted seven new members and two new vehicles during the reunion’s closing banquet.

For an event that celebrates such primitive machines, the Speedsters Reunion is much more active than typical street rod events. Sure, the cars may not be particularly fast by modern standards, but they’re definitely a lot of fun. Want to join the action? Visit www.museumofamericanspeed.com for more information on upcoming reunions, activities, or tours of the Smith Collection Museum of American Speed.