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The Ford Model T

A major innovation brought about by Henry Ford was the assembly line. He realized that it would be much simpler, more practical, and quicker if , when assembling the vehicle, the workers could draw the various components from suitable containers placed beside the production line, rather than going to the various storerooms for them, which meant they had constantly to by moving from place to place. In this way he managed to reduce the assembly time from 12 hours to a car coming off the line every 40 seconds.

Background

The Ford Model T (colloquially known as the Tin Lizzie, Flivver, T‑Model Ford, or T) is an automobile that was produced by Henry Ford's Ford Motor Company from September 1908 to May 1927. It is generally regarded as the first affordable automobile, the car that opened travel to the common middle-class American; some of this was because of Ford's innovations, including assembly line production instead of individual hand crafting. The Ford Model T was named the world's most influential car of the 20th century in an international poll.

The Model T set 1908 as the historic year that the automobile became popular. The first production Model T was produced on August 12, 1908 and left the factory on September 27, 1908, at the Piquette Plant in Detroit, Michigan. On May 26, 1927, Henry Ford watched the 15 millionth Model T Ford roll off the assembly line at his factory in Highland Park, Michigan.

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 with the Model A, there were not 19 production models (A through T); some were only prototypes. The production model immediately before the Model T was the Model S, an upgraded version of the company's largest success to that point, the Model N. The follow-up was the Ford Model A and not the Model U. Company publicity said this was because the new car was such a departure from the old that Henry wanted to start all over again with the letter A. The Model T was the first automobile mass produced on moving assembly lines with completely interchangeable parts, marketed to the middle class. Henry Ford said of the vehicle:

"I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces."

 

Why the Model T was so important

 

Before the Model T, most cars cost lots of money. Only people with lots of money could afford them. Even Ford's cars before the Model T cost a lot of money. The model t went for around $980. A car built in 1903 called the Oldsmobile Curved Dash was very easy to buy, but was a very simple and slow car that was more like a buggy than a car.


The man who owned the company, Henry Ford, heard about meat being packed on an assembly line, which moved meat from worker to worker so that the meat could be cut up. No one had ever thought to use an assembly line to put cars together. Ford knew that if he built his cars on an assembly line instead of one at a time like other cars, he could make a car that anyone could afford and would be built like cars that cost more money. He also knew that he could pay his workers lots more money.


The Ford Model T car was designed by Henry Ford, Childe Harolde Wills and two Hungarian men named József Galamb and Eugene Farkas. The Model T had a 177 cubic inch (2.9 L) four-cylinder engine producing 20 horsepower (15 kW) for a top speed of 45 miles per hour (72 km/h). The engine had side valves and three main bearings. Fuel economy was 14 to 21 miles per gallon (6 to 9 km/l), an excellent number even today.

 

In the the Beginning

 

Ford began building the Model T in his Piquette factory on October 6, 1908 as a 1909 model. Workers from all over the world wanted to work for Ford because of the good pay. Workers could even save their money for a Model T of their own. The price of the Model T dropped over the years, making it even easier to buy.


Work began at one end of the assembly line, starting with an empty chassis. From there, the chassis moved slowly down the assembly line. Workers on the assembly line added parts to the chassis. Before long, a new Model T rolled off the other end of the line. Different body styles were available, even a truck, or Model TT. At first, the only color available was black. Black paint was used because it was cheaper than other paints and Ford was obsessed with increasing profit. As car paint got better over the years, Ford began offering other colors. The time it took a chassis to become a finished car was over twelve hours when the first Model T's were built. By the time the last Model T came off of the line, Ford had so many auto plants it was making one car every 40 seconds!


Even though the Model T sold for little money, Ford used the best materials he could buy to make his car. Most roads in the Model T's day were dirt, gravel or even mud. That meant the Model T had to be very strong, and it was. The wheels and tires were very tall and skinny so that they could sink into mud roads and not get stuck. It was also very simple.

 

Ford in Australia

 

On March 31, 1925, Ford announced that Geelong, was to be the Australian headquarters. The first Australian-built Ford was a Model T that came off an improvised production line in a disused Geelong woolstore in June 1925, while work started on a factory in the nearby suburb of Norlane. In 1928 the factory switched to the Model A and was followed by the Ford V8 in 1932.

In 1934 the company released the world's first coupe utility. The inventor was Ford engineer Lewis Bandt. During the Depression, banks would not extend credit to farmers to purchase passenger cars- in the belief they were unnecessary luxuries. However, they would lend money for the purchase of "working" vehicles. The coupe utility fulfilled the need of farmers to have a workhorse which could also be used "to take the wife to church on Sunday and to the market on Monday".

In 1956 the company bought a large tract of land in the northern Melbourne suburb of Broadmeadows, and in July 1961 announced that the new Melbourne factory would become the company headquarters.

 

Characteristics

 

The Ford Model T car was designed by Childe Harold Wills and two Hungarian immigrants, Joseph A. Galamb and Eugene Farkas. Henry Love, C. J. Smith, Gus Degner and Peter E. Martin were also part of the team. Production of the Model T began in the third quarter of 1908. Collectors today sometimes classify Model Ts by build years and refer to these as "model years", thus labeling the first Model Ts as 1909 models. This is a retroactive classification scheme; the concept of model years as we conceive it today did not exist at the time. The nominal model designation was "Model T", although design revisions did occur during the car's two decades of production.

 

Engine and means of starting

The Model T had a 177-cubic-inch (2.9 L) front-mounted inline four-cylinder en bloc engine (that is, all four cylinders in one block, as common now, rather than in individual castings, as common then) producing 20 hp (15 kW) for a top speed of 40–45 mph (64–72 km/h). The Model T four-cylinder side valve engine was first in the world with a detachable head, making service like valve jobs easier. According to Ford Motor Company, the Model T had fuel economy on the order of 13–21 mpg-US (16–25 mpg-imp; 18–11 L/100 km). The engine was capable of running on petrol, kerosene, or ethanol, although the decreasing cost of petrol and the later introduction of Prohibition made ethanol an impractical fuel.

A flywheel magneto was an electrical generator that produced the high voltage necessary to produce a spark to initiate combustion. This voltage was distributed by the timer (analogous to a distributor in a modern vehicle) to one of the four trembler coils, one for each cylinder. The coil created a high voltage current, directly connected to the spark plug in the cylinder. Ignition timing was adjusted manually by using the spark advance lever mounted on the steering column which rotated the timer. A battery could be used for starting current: at hand-cranking speed, the magneto did not always produce sufficient current (a starting battery was not standard equipment until sometime in 1926, though all T's had a bat position on the coil box switch). A certain amount of skill and experience was required to find the optimal timing for any speed and load. When electric headlights were introduced in 1915, the magneto was upgraded to supply power for the lights and horn. In keeping with the goal of ultimate reliability and simplicity, the trembler coil and magneto ignition system was retained even after the car became equipped with a generator and battery for electric starting and lighting. Most cars sold after 1919 were equipped with electric starting, which was engaged by a small round button on the floor.

Before starting a Model T with the hand crank, the spark had to be manually retarded or the engine might "kick back". The crank handle was cupped in the palm, rather than grabbed with the thumb under the top of the handle, so that if the engine did kick back, the rapid reverse motion of the crank would throw the hand away from the handle, rather than violently twisting the wrist or breaking the thumb. Most Model T Fords had the choke operated by a wire emerging from the bottom of the radiator where it could be operated with the left hand. This was used to prime the engine while cranking the engine slowly then starting the engine with the left hand with a rapid pull of the crank handle. The car only had to be cranked half a turn for it to successfully start. This "quick start" is because of the engine's small displacement and low compression.

The car's 10 US gal (38 l; 8 imp gal) fuel tank was mounted to the frame beneath the front seat; one variant had the carburetor (a Holley Model G) modified to run on ethyl alcohol, to be made at home by the self-reliant farmer. Because Ford relied on gravity to feed fuel to the carburetor rather than a fuel pump, a Model T could not climb a steep hill when the fuel level was low. The immediate solution was to climb steep hills in reverse. In 1926, the fuel tank was moved forward to under the cowl on most models.

Early on, the engine blocks were to be produced by the Lakeside Foundry on St. Jean in Detroit. Ford cancelled the deal before many were produced.

The first few hundred Model Ts had a water pump, but it was eliminated early in production. Ford opted for a cheaper and more reliable thermo-syphon system. Hot water, being less dense, would rise to the top of the engine and up into the top of the radiator, descending to the bottom as it cooled, and back into the engine. This was the direction of water flow in most cars which did have water pumps, until the introduction of crossflow radiator designs. Many types of water pumps were available as aftermarket accessories.

Transmission and drive train

The Model T was a rear-wheel drive vehicle. Its transmission was a planetary gear type billed as "three speed". In today's terms it would be considered a two-speed, because one of the three speeds was reverse.

The Model T's transmission was controlled with three foot pedals and a lever that was mounted to the road side of the driver's seat. The throttle was controlled with a lever on the steering wheel. The left pedal was used to engage the gear. With the handbrake in either the mid position or fully forward and the pedal pressed and held forward the car entered low gear. When held in an intermediate position the car was in neutral, a state that could also be achieved by pulling the floor-mounted lever to an upright position. If the lever was pushed forward and the driver took his foot off the left pedal, the Model T entered high gear, but only when the handbrake lever was fully forward. The car could thus cruise without the driver having to press any of the pedals. There was no separate clutch pedal.

The middle pedal was used to engage reverse gear, and the right pedal operated the transmission brake. The floor lever also controlled the parking brake, which was activated by pulling the lever all the way back. This doubled as an emergency brake.

Although it was uncommon, the drive bands could fall out of adjustment, allowing the car to creep, particularly when cold, adding another hazard to attempting to start the car: a person cranking the engine could be forced backward while still holding the crank as the car crept forward, although it was nominally in neutral. As the car utilized a wet clutch, this condition could also occur in cold weather, where the thickened oil prevents the clutch discs from slipping freely. Power reached the differential through a single universal joint attached to a torque tube which drove the rear axle; some models (typically trucks, but available for cars as well) could be equipped with an optional two-speed Ruckstell rear axle shifted by a floor-mounted lever which provided an underdrive gear for easier hill climbing. All gears were vanadium steel running in an oil bath.

Suspension and wheels

Model T suspension employed a transversely mounted semi-elliptical spring for each of the front and rear axles, which was a solid beam axle, not an independent suspension, which still allowed a great deal of wheel movement to cope with the dirt roads of the time.

The front axle was drop forged as a single piece of vanadium steel. Ford twisted many axles eight times and sent them to dealers to be put on display to demonstrate its superiority. The Model T did not have a modern service brake. The right foot pedal applied a band around a drum in the transmission, thus stopping the rear wheels from turning. The previously mentioned parking brake lever operated band brakes on the outside of the rear brake drums.

Wheels were wooden artillery wheels, with steel welded-spoke wheels available in 1926 and 1927.

Tires were pneumatic clincher type, 30 in (76 cm) in diameter, 3.5 in (8.9 cm) wide in the rear, 3 in (7.5 cm) wide in the front. Clinchers needed much higher pressure than today's tires, typically 60 psi (410 kPa), to prevent them from leaving the rim at speed. Horseshoe nails on the roads, together with the high pressure, made flat tires a common problem.

Balloon tires became available in 1925. They were 21 × 4.5 in (53 × 11 cm) all around. Balloon tires were closer in design to today's tires, with steel wires reinforcing the tire bead, making lower pressure possible – typically 35 psi (240 kPa) – giving a softer ride. The old nomenclature for tire size changed from measuring the outer diameter to measuring the rim diameter so 21 in (530 mm) (rim diameter) × 4.5 in (110 mm) (tire width) wheels has about the same outer diameter as 30 in (76 cm) clincher tires. All tires in this time period used an inner tube to hold the pressurized air; "tubeless" tires were not generally in use until much later.

Wheelbase was 99 inches (250 cm); while standard tread width was 56 in (142 cm), 60 in (152 cm) tread could be obtained on special order, "for Southern roads".

Design changes

Up until 1916, 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.)

Cylinder Head Changes

 

Date of Change Factory Number Change
12-11-08 T401BR Adopted
12-29-08 T401BR Changed screw hole from 25/64 to 29/64"
03-23-09 T401BR Added for use after 1st 250 cars
12-06-20 T401BR Obsolete - "all stock scrapped in June"
02-01-09 T401C Adopted (Thermo-syphon)
02-14-10 T401C Removed spotting boss from rear end
03-14-11 T401C Increased compression space by 3/32"
07-22-11 T401C Added spotting boss to rear end
04-16-12 T401C Added "Made in U.S.A."
06-10-12 T401C Added bosses between combustion chamber and water jacket for 1/8" pipe taps on left side of head.
11-26-12 T401C Removed 1/8" pipe taps for priming. Bosses remain.
07-17-14 T401C Added 3/32 to bottom of head, increases all top to bottom dimensions and lowers compression.
05-17-17 T401C Redesigned — High Head — Changes ASAP, Use Up Old Stock.
08-15-17 T401C Added 3/4" cored hole between chambers 2 & 3.
02-23-18 T401C Changed rear locating boss from 5/8" square to 1/2"
09-25-18 T401C Reduced height of combustion chamber 1/16"
01-12-20 T401C Removed rear locating boss
05-18-26 T401C Reduced height of combustion chamber 3/32"
06-22-26 T401C Increased height of combustion chamber 3/32".
10-20-26 T401C Specified paint with M-124

Colors

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.

Diverse applications in a world not

yet widely paved, motorized, or electrified

When the Model T was designed and introduced, the infrastructure of the world was quite different from today's. Pavement was a rarity except for sidewalks and a few big-city streets. (The sense of the term "pavement" as equivalent with "sidewalk" comes from that era, when streets and roads were generally dirt (mud during rainy periods) and sidewalks were a paved way to walk down them without getting dirty. In fact, this was a motive for segregating foot traffic from carriage traffic long before the speed of automobiles provided another motive.) Agriculture was the occupation of many people. Power tools were scarce outside factories, as were any power sources to run them; electrification, like pavement, was found usually only in larger towns and cities. Rural electrification and motorized mechanization were embryonic in North America and Europe, and nonexistent elsewhere.

Henry Ford oversaw the requirements and design of the Model T based on the realities of that world. Consequently, the Model T was (intentionally) almost as much a tractor and stationary engine as it was an automobile, that is, a vehicle dedicated solely to road use. It has always been well regarded for its all-terrain abilities and ruggedness. It could travel a rocky, muddy farm lane, ford a shallow stream, climb a steep hill, and be parked on the other side to have one of its wheels removed and a pulley fastened to the hub for a flat belt to drive a bucksaw, thresher, silo blower, conveyor for filling corn cribs or haylofts, baler, water pump (for wells, mines, or swampy farm fields), electrical generator, and countless other applications. One unique application of the Model T was shown in the October 1922 issue of Fordson Farmer magazine. It showed a minister who had transformed his Model T in to a mobile church, complete with small organ.

During this era, entire automobiles (including thousands of Model Ts) were even hacked apart by their industrious owners and reconfigured into custom machinery permanently dedicated to a purpose, such as homemade tractors, ice saws, or many others. Dozens of aftermarket companies sold prefab kits to facilitate the T's conversion from car to tractor. In a world mostly without mechanized cultivators, Model Ts filled a vacuum. Row-crop tractors such as the Farmall did not become widespread until the 1930s. Like many popular car engines of the era, the Model T engine was also used on home-built aircraft (such as the Pietenpol Sky Scout) and motorboats.

Also, many Model Ts were converted into vehicles which could travel across heavy snows with kits on the rear wheels and skis where the front wheels were located. They were popular for rural mail delivery for a time. The common name for these conversions of cars and small trucks was Snowflyers. These vehicles were extremely popular in the northern reaches of Canada where factories were set up to produce them.

Production

Mass production

The knowledge and skills needed by a factory worker were reduced to 84 areas. When introduced, the T used the building methods typical at the time, assembly by hand, and production was small. 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. More and more machines were used to reduce the complexity within the 84 defined areas. In 1910, after assembling nearly 12,000 Model Ts, Henry Ford moved the company to the new Highland Park complex.

As a result, Ford's cars came off the line in three-minute intervals, much faster than previous methods, reducing production time by a factor of eight (requiring 12.5 hours before, 93 minutes afterwards), while using less manpower. 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 by the time Henry made his 10 millionth car, 50 percent of all cars in the world were Fords. It was so successful that Ford did not purchase any advertising between 1917 and 1923; more than 15 million Model Ts were manufactured, reaching a rate of 9,000 to 10,000 cars a day in 1925, or 2 million annually, more than any other model of its day, at a price of just $240. Model T production was finally surpassed by the Volkswagen Beetle on February 17, 1972.

Henry Ford's ideological approach to Model T design was one of getting it right and then keeping it the same; he believed the Model T was all the car a person would, or could, ever need. As other companies offered comfort and styling advantages, at competitive prices, the Model T lost market share. Design changes were not as few as the public perceived, but the idea of an unchanging model was kept intact. Eventually, on May 26, 1927, Ford Motor Company ceased production and began the changeovers required to produce the Model A.

Model T engines continued to be produced until August 4, 1941. Almost 170,000 were built after car production stopped, as replacement engines were required to service already produced vehicles. Racers and enthusiasts, forerunners of modern hot rodders, used the Model T's block to build popular and cheap racing engines, including Cragar, Navarro, and famously the Frontenacs ("Fronty Fords") of the Chevrolet brothers, among many others.

The Model T employed some advanced technology, for example, its use of vanadium steel alloy. Its durability was phenomenal, and many Model Ts and their parts remain in running order nearly a century later. Although Henry Ford resisted some kinds of change, he always championed the advancement of materials engineering, and often mechanical engineering and industrial engineering.

In 2002, Ford built a final batch of six Model Ts as part of their 2003 centenary celebrations. These cars were assembled from remaining new components and other parts produced from the original drawings. The last of the six was used for publicity purposes in the UK.

Although Ford no longer manufacture parts for the Model T, many parts are still manufactured through private companies as replicas to service the thousands of Model T's still in operation today.

Price

The standard 4-seat open tourer of 1909 cost $850 (equivalent to $20,709 today), when competing cars often cost $2,000–$3,000 (equivalent to $48,726–$73,089 today); in 1913, the price dropped to $550 (equivalent to $12,181 today), and $440 in 1915 (equivalent to $9,521 today). Sales were 69,762 in 1911; 170,211 in 1912; 202,667 in 1913; 308,162 in 1914; and 501,462 in 1915. In 1914, an assembly line worker could buy a Model T with four months' pay.

By the 1920s, the price had fallen to $290 (equivalent to $3,289 today) because of increasing efficiencies of assembly line technique and volume. Henry employed vertical integration of the industries needed to create his cars.

Recycling

Henry Ford used wood scraps from the production of Model T's to create charcoal. Originally named Ford Charcoal the name was changed to Kingsford Charcoal after Ford's relative E. G. Kingsford brokered the selection of the new charcoal plant site.

First global car

The Ford Model T was the first automobile built by various countries simultaneously since they were being produced in Walkerville, Canada and in Trafford Park, Greater Manchester, England starting in 1911 and were later assembled in Germany, Argentina, France, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Brazil, Mexico, and Japan. Ford made use of the knock-down kit concept almost from the beginning of the company.

The Aeroford was an English automobile manufactured in Bayswater, London, from 1920 to 1925. It was a Model T with distinct hood and grille to make it appear to be a totally different design, what later would have been called badge engineering. The Aeroford sold from £288 in 1920, dropping to £168-214 by 1925. It was available as a two-seater, four-seater, or coupé.

Advertising, marketing, an packaging

Ford created a massive publicity machine in Detroit to ensure every newspaper carried stories and advertisements about the new product. Ford's network of local dealers made the car ubiquitous in virtually every city in North America. As independent dealers, the franchises grew rich and publicized not just the Ford but the very concept of automobiling; local motor clubs sprang up to help new drivers and to explore the countryside. Ford was always eager to sell to farmers, who looked on the vehicle as a commercial device to help their business. Sales skyrocketed – several years posted 100% gains on the previous year.
Sales passed 250,000 in 1914. By 1916, as the price dropped to $360 for the basic touring car, sales reached 472,000.

Car clubs

Cars built before 1919 are classed as veteran cars and later models as vintage cars. Today, four main clubs exist to support the preservation and restoration of these cars: The Model T Ford Club International, the Model T Ford Club of America and the combined clubs of Australia.

With many chapters of clubs around the world, the Model T Ford Club of Victoria has a membership with a considerable number of uniquely Australian cars. (Australia produced its own car bodies and therefore many differences occurred between the Australian bodied tourers and the US/Canadian cars). In the UK, the Model T Ford Register of Great Britain celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010.

Many steel Model T parts are still manufactured today, and even fiberglass replicas of their distinctive bodies are produced, 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).

In 2008, there was an around Australia trip organised by various members of the NSW portion of the Combined model T clubs of Australia. Along the trip the members of the club met the likes of Malcolm Douglas and others. The trip lasted just over 6 months, all of this time the members ate, drank and slept in their cars that they had modified for the trip. They left Sydney on 20th, April and made it all the way to Echuca in Victoria for the 100 year anniversary of the Model T Ford. People come from all over Australia, New Zealand and America for the trip to one major city in Australia that is held every 3 years, they stayed for a week in Echuca and participated in various activities organised by the Victoria club and eventually moved on to go home and see their families back in Sydney on the 9th, October 2008.

In The Music Man by Meredith Wilson Model T's are blamed for changes in society and the life of travelling salesmen. "Why it's the Model T Ford made the trouble, made the people/ Want to go, want to git, want to git, want to git up and go/ Seven, eight, nine, ten, twelve, fourteen, twenty-two, twenty-three miles to the county seat/ Yes Sir Yes Sir/ Who's gonna patronize a little bitty two-by-four kind of store any more?"

The End of the Model T's Reign

On June 4, 1924, the ten millionth Model T Ford left the Highland Park factory, which would remain the main facility for T production. While the flivver outsold its nearest competitor by a six-to-one margin that year, its unbridled run was nearing an unforeseen conclusion. After years of conceding the low end of the market to Ford, another automaker was setting its sights on that very sector.

At the beginning of the decade, General Motors was an awkward conglomerate of car companies and parts suppliers, managed more for the sake of its whipsaw stock-price than for efficiencies in auto making. In the middle of the decade, though, a revitalized GM, under the brilliant leadership of Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., began to offer inexpensive Chevrolets with amenities that the Model T lacked. Instead of the sturdy but antiquated planetary transmission, it had a smooth three-speed. The market began to shift; price and value ceased to be paramount factors. Styling and excitement suddenly counted to the customer. Even though the Model T cost a mere $290 in the mid-twenties, dealers clamored for a new Ford that would strike the fancy of the more demanding and sophisticated consumers.

But Henry Ford refused even to consider replacing his beloved Model T. Once, while he was away on vacation, employees built an updated Model T and surprised him with it on his return. Ford responded by kicking in the windshield and stomping on the roof. "We got the message," one of the employees said later, "As far as he was concerned, the Model T was god and we were to put away false images." Only one person persisted in warning him of the impending crisis: his son, Edsel, who had been installed as president of the Ford Motor Company during the dividend trial and its aftermath in 1919. It was the first of many arguments that Edsel would lose, as the once adoring relationship between the two deteriorated into distrust and disrespect on Henry's part and woeful disillusionment on Edsel's.

The Chevrolet continued to take sales from the dour Model T. By 1926, T sales had plummeted, and the realities of the marketplace finally convinced Henry Ford that the end was at hand.

On May 25, 1927, Ford abruptly announced the end of production for the Model T, and soon after closed the Highland Park factory for six months. The shutdown was not for retooling: there was no new model in the works. In history's worst case of product planning, Henry sent the workers home so that he could start to design his next model. Fortunately, Edsel had been quietly marshalling sketches from the company's designers, and he was ready and able to work with his father on producing plans for the new car, called the Model A. It was a success from its launch in December 1927, and placed the company on sound footing again. By the time it went into production, the River Rouge had become the main Ford manufacturing facility.

When the last Model T rolled off the assembly line, it was not the end of an era, it was still the very dawn of the one that the little car had inaugurated. Cars -- more than half of them Model Ts -- pervaded American culture. They jammed the streets of the great eastern cities and roamed newly laid roads in southern California. Adapted to haul everything from mail to machine guns to coffins to schoolchildren, automobiles represented an opportunity for change in practically everything. They also became a crucial factor in recasting a growing economy. Henry Ford had created a car for the multitudes and that car had created the basis of the car culture embraced by every subsequent generation.

The Ford Motor Company, having survived its own crisis in the twenties, was one of only forty-four U.S. automakers left in 1929, out of the hundreds that had entered the fray since the beginning of the century. That year, Ford, General Motors, and the newly formed Chrysler Corporation -- known then and now as the Big Three -- accounted for 80 percent of the market.

Henry Ford died on April 7, 1947, at the age of eighty-three, having outlived the Model T by nearly twenty years. A century has passed since he took the first car he built for a ride. The world remains in large part the one set into motion by Henry Ford: a world in which cars are for everyone. As Will Rogers said, "It will take a hundred years to tell whether he helped us or hurt us, but he certainly didn't leave us where he found us."

Model T Fast Facts

 

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The Model T was introduced on Oct. 1, 1908. It had a 20-horsepower, four-cylinder engine, reached a top speed of about 45 miles per hour, got about 13 to 21 miles per gallon of gasoline and weighed 1,200 pounds. It was the ninth of Henry Ford's production cars.

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More than 15,000,000 Model T's were built and sold. A modest ceremony on May 26, 1927, marked the formal end of Model T production.

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The first models were produced at a factory on Piquette Avenue in Detroit. Beginning in 1910, Model T's were built at a new Highland Park (Michigan) plant.

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Henry Ford's initiation of mass production of vehicles on the moving assembly line led to lower car prices and the $5 workday.

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The car was introduced with a price tag of $850. The Model T later sold for as little as $260, without extras, because of production savings Henry Ford passed on to customers.

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Henry Ford called the Model T "the universal car," a low-cost, reliable vehicle that could be maintained easily and could successfully travel the poor roads of the era.

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The Model T came in nine body styles, all on the same chassis.

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"Lizzie" was one of the most popular of the dozens of nicknames for the Model T.

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In 1914, Ford, with 13,000 employees, produced about 300,000 cars while 299 other companies with 66,350 employees produced about 280,000 vehicles.