How to Drive a Ford Model T in Plain English (Summary)
Ford made the Model T easy to drive compared to today’s cars since the people he sold his cars to did not know how to drive anything other than a horse. It is not like driving a modern car, even though there are three pedals on the floor like a modern manual transmission car. A Model T has a steering wheel that works the same way as in cars of today, but almost everything else is different.
The first Model T’s did not even have a starter like a modern car. This is the powerful electric motor in a car that turns the engine to make it run when it is turned off. The engine on the Model T was started with a hand crank on the front of the car. A wire loop near the radiator worked the choke on the carburetor to give the engine extra fuel to help start it when it was cold. This could be dangerous if a person was not careful. If the levers that controlled the engine were not set the right way, especially the spark control, the engine could backfire, or spin the wrong way. Many people got broken arms this way.
Doctors even had a special name for this kind of break: the “Ford Fracture.” Many Model T owners added electric starters to their cars and it was not long before Ford started doing the same. A Model T is in high gear by default, so if the Parking/Clutch lever was not engaged, the car had a tendency to run over the operator when started.
To make a modern car go or accelerate once the engine is running, a person steps on a pedal on the floor to engage the transmission into low gear. To make a Model T accelerate, move two levers near the steering wheel. The lever on the right was the throttle (or engine speed), and the lever on the left adjusted the time that the spark plugs fired. These levers needed to be set properly before the engine could be started.
The three pedals on the floor of the Model T were for the brake on the right, reverse in the middle to make the Model T go backwards, and a pedal on the left to shift the gears from low to high speed. A lever on the floor worked the brakes as well as the clutch. Pulling the lever toward the driver would set the parking brake and help keep the car from moving while parked. When the lever was placed in the middle, the transmission would be in neutral.
Once the engine is running, the driver now has to make the Model T move on its own. Step on the pedal all the way to the left, move the throttle lever to “give it the gas” and gently move the floor lever forward. This is low gear, the powerful gear used to get the Model T moving. Once it’s moving, move the right lever up, let the left pedal come all the way up, and give it more gas to shift into high. To make the car go faster still, move the throttle lever as well as the spark advance lever. Stepping on the left pedal only halfway puts the car in neutral, the same as the lever. This helps the Model T come to a stop without causing the engine to stop as well.
The brakes on a Model T work the rear wheels by the use of brake bands inside the transmission. Modern cars have brakes on all four wheels. No brakes are on the front of a Model T.
More than fifteen million (15,000,000) Model T cars were built. It was not until 1971 that the record was broken by the Volkswagen. Today, the record for the most cars built is held by the Toyota Corolla.
The Model T was nicknamed the “Tin Lizzie” and “Flivver” by the people who drove it. A new car took the place of the Model T in 1928, the Ford Model A.
New South Wales, Australia