Design changes

Early Ts had a brass radiator and headlights. The horn and numerous small parts were also brass. Many of the early cars were open-bodied touring cars and runabouts, these being cheaper to make than closed cars. Prior to the 1911 model year (when front doors were added to the touring model), US – made open cars did not have an opening door for the driver. Later models included closed cars (introduced in 1915), sedans, coupes and trucks. The chassis was available so trucks could be built to suit. Ford also developed some truck bodies for this chassis, designated the Model TT. The headlights were originally acetylene lamps made of brass (commonly using Prest-O-Lite tanks), but eventually the car gained electric lights after 1910, initially powered from the magneto until the electrical system was upgraded to a battery, generator and starter motor, when lighting power was switched to the battery source.

The Model T production system, the epitome of Fordism, is famous for representing the rigidity of early mass production systems that were wildly successful at achieving efficiency but that could accommodate changes in product design only with great difficulty and resistance. The story is more complicated; there were few major, publicly visible changes throughout the life of the model, but there were many smaller changes. Most were driven by design for manufacturability considerations, but styling and new features also played more of a role than commonly realized. In fact, one of the problems for the company regarding design changes was the T’s reputation for not changing and being “already correct”, which Henry Ford enjoyed and which was a selling point for many customers, which made it risky to admit any changes actually were happening. (The idea of simply refining a design without making radical visible changes would resurface, and score even greater production success, with the VW Type 1.)


By 1918, half of all the cars in the US were Model T’s. However it was a monolithic bloc; Ford wrote in his autobiography that he told his management team in 1909 that in the future…

“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black”.

However, in the first years of production from 1908 to 1914, the Model T was not available in black but rather only grey, green, blue, and red. Green was available for the touring cars, town cars, coupes, and Landaulets. Grey was only available for the town cars, and red only for the touring cars. By 1912, all cars were being painted midnight blue with black fenders. It was only in 1914 that the “any color as long as it is black” policy was finally implemented. It is often stated that Ford suggested the use of black from 1914 to 1926 due to the cheap cost and durability of black paint. During the lifetime production of the Model T, over 30 different types of black paint were used on various parts of the car. These were formulated to satisfy the different means of applying the paint to the various parts, and had distinct drying times, depending on the part, paint, and method of drying.