Ford Model T

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File:1908 Ford Model T.jpg
1908 Ford Model T advertisement
File:Late model Ford Model T.jpg
Ford Model T used for giving tourist rides at Greenfield Village
1925 Ford “New Model” T Tudor Sedan
File:Ford model t suspension.triddle.jpg
The suspension components of a Ford Model T


For the blues musician, see T-Model Ford.

The Model T (colloquially known as the Tin Lizzie and the Flivver) was an automobile produced by Henry Ford's Ford Motor Company from 1908 through 1927. It is generally regarded as the first affordable automobile, the car which "put America on wheels"; this was due to some of Ford's innovations, including assembly line production instead of individual hand crafting, as well as the concept of paying the workers a wage concomitant with the cost of the car, so that they would provide a ready made market. The first production Model T was built on September 27, 1908 at the Piquette Plant in Detroit, Michigan. Cars built before 1919 are classed as veteran cars and later models vintage cars.

There were several cars produced or prototyped by Henry Ford from the founding of the company in 1903 until the Model T came along. Although he started at the Model A, there were not 19 production models; some were only prototypes. The production model immediately before the Model T was the Ford Model S [1], an upgraded version of the company's largest success to that point, the Model N. For some reason, the follow-on was the Model A and not the Model U.


The Ford Model T car was designed by Henry Ford, Childe Harolde Wills and two Hungarian emigrants named József Galamb and Jenő Farkas. The revolutionary Model T factory assembly line system was devised mostly by Charles E. Sorensen and Charles Lewis.Template:Fn

The Model T had a front-mounted, 177 in³ (2.9 L) 4 cylinder motor in a block producing 20 horsepower (15 kW) for a top speed of 45 mph (72 km/h). The engine had side valves and 3 main bearings. Recent accounts credit the default-configuration Model T with fuel economy on the order of 25 to 30 miles per gallon.

It was started by a hand crank in front which took more effort than most women could exert, and could kick back and break the operator's arm if he forgot to retard the spark and was foolish enough to push the crank downwards rather than pulling it up. The headlights were originally acetylene lamps made of brass, but eventually the car gained electric lights. The 10 gallon fuel tank was mounted to the frame beneath the front seat; one variant had the carburetor modified to run on ethyl alcohol, to be made at home by the self-reliant farmer.

Without an electric starting system to supply current for the ignition, a unique magneto system had to be used (which produced only a low voltage which had to be stepped up by a coil); in order to assure easier starting, however, a self-contained dry cell powered system could be manually switched in, then back to magneto for high speed operation. A virtue of this system was that it would still run if the batteries died, although starting with the crank became even more difficult on magneto. The resulting spark was routed to the proper spark plug by a timer mounted on top of the ignition, the ancestor of the modern distributor; ignition timing was adjusted manually by rotating this component via a lever mounted on the steering column. A certain amount of skill and experience was required to find the optimal choice of magneto or battery and the optimal timing for any speed and load. In keeping with the goal of ultimate reliability and simplicity, this system was retained even after the car became equipped with batteries for the lighting system.

Its transmission was a planetary gear type billed as "three speed", although by today's standards it would be considered a two speed, in that one speed was actually reverse. Ironically, one feature of the car would be considered relatively state of the art today; there was no clutch pedal. Shifting was accomplished by means of floor pedals with no clutching required (throttle control was maintained via a lever on the steering column). To disengage the drivetrain for stopping, the clutch was attached to the parking/emergency brake lever, so that pulling the lever back engaged the brake while disengaging the clutch. The oil bath clutch would sometimes retain enough oil to not completely disengage, particularly when cold, adding yet another hazard to attempting to start the car; that of getting run over while still holding the crank as the car lurched forward even though it was nominally in neutral. Reverse gear was engaged by a lever. Power reached the differential through a single universal joint attached to a torque tube which drove the rear axle; some models (typically trucks) could be equipped with an optional two speed rear axle shifted via a floor mounted lever. All gears were vanadium steel running in an oil bath.

Model T suspension employed a transversely mounted semi-elliptical spring for each of the front and rear axles, which were "live," i.e., not an independent suspension. The front axle was drop forged as a single piece of vanadium steel. Brakes of this model were mechanical, with foot operated expanding brakes inside the rear hubs, and the previously mentioned emergency/parking brake lever operating a band brake in the transmission, as well as the clutch.

Wheels were wooden "artillery wheels", while tires were pneumatic 30 inches in diameter, 3.5 inches wide in the rear, 3 inches in the front. Wheelbase was 100 inches; while standard tread width was 56 inches, 60 inch tread could be obtained on special order, "for Southern roads".

All these particulars Henry Ford maintained throughout the life of this model and even that of subsequent ones (though not the Lincolns) despite increasing obsolescence. There were few visible changes throughout the life of this model; early ones had a brass frame for the radiator and were open-bodied touring cars, the driver's side (left) of which had no door, merely a ripple in the metal in case the owner wanted to cut one out. Later, a solid roof with doors and windows were made available, and the radiator frame was steel. The basic frame was available to be modified by coachbuilders, who sold cheap bodies mail-order for owners to make it look nicer. Ford also developed many truck bodies for this chassis.

As can be seen, the Model T originally employed some advanced technology; e.g., its use of vanadium steel. Its durability was phenomenal, and so the car was once considered up-to-the-minute. But as time went on, its name became synonymous with the out-of-date.


Ford's Piquette plant could not keep up with demand for the Model T and only 11 cars were built there during the first full month of production. In 1910, after assembling nearly 12,000 Model T's, Henry Ford moved the company to the new Highland Park complex. The Model T was the first automobile mass produced on assembly lines with completely interchangeable parts, marketed to the middle class. Henry Ford is commonly reputed to have made the statement "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black." Actually, however, Model Ts in different colors were produced from 1908 to 1914, and then again from 1926 to 1927. However, to speed assembly, between 1915 and 1925 it was only available in one color, black, since black paint was the fastest drying. Black paint was also cheaper and more durable.

By 1914, the assembly process for the Model T had been so streamlined it took only 93 minutes to assemble a car. That year Ford produced more cars than all other automakers combined. The Model T was a great commercial success, and for years in the late 1910s and early 1920s it was estimated that more than half of all motorcars in existence in the world were Model T Fords. In fact, it was so successful that Ford did not purchase any advertising between 1917 and 1923; in total, more than 15 million Model Ts were manufactured, more than any other model of automobile for almost a century. This record has now been surpassed by the Volkswagen Beetle, and the Toyota Corolla and Ford F-Series nameplates have both sold more. The record is currently held by the Volkswagen Golf which sold over 21,000,000 units and is still in production today.

It was sold in the beginning at a price of $850 when competing cars often cost $2000-$3000. By the 1920s the price had fallen to $300 (about $3,300 in 2005 inflation-adjusted dollars) because of increasing efficiencies of assembly line technique and volume.

On May 27, 1927, Ford Motor Company stopped manufacturing Model T cars. However Model T motors continued to be produced until August 4, 1941. Almost 170,000 motors were built after car production ceased. Many Model T parts are still manufactured today, particularly fibreglass replicas of their distinctive bodies, which are popular for T-bucket style hot rods (as immortalized in the Jan and Dean surf music song, "Bucket T", which was later recorded by The Who).


Template:Fnb First hand account of Charles Sorensen from his autobiography, My Forty Years with Ford (1956)[2]

See also

External links

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