Monday, June 16, 2008

Model T Ford

The Ford Motor Company was incorporated on this day, June 16, in the year 1903. In celebration of this, we feature this photograph of the Model T. Ford . . . the car that put America on Wheels.
Prior to the Model T, cars were very expensive, and few could afford them. Henry Ford thought that everyone should have a car, so he revolutionized automobile manufacturing by introducing the assembly line, and other techniques that allowed for the affordable manufacture of quality cars. A Model T could be purchased for $300, putting it within the budget of most people. There were no options, and few choices. Henry Ford once said, "You can have any color car you want, as long as it is black."
The Model T was a really interesting car. For many years, the gas tank was under the front seat. Filling up with gas meant that everyone had to get out of the car, and the seat had to be taken out, in order to get to the gas tank. The car did not have a fuel pump. If you tried to drive up a steep hill, the car would be tilted to the point that the gas tank was below the carburetor, and the gas would not flow to the engine, and the engine would die. There was a solution though . . . you could go up steep hills backwards (in reverse), which would keep the gas tank above the carburetor.
Another interesting thing about the car is that it had to be crank started. It is true that later versions of the Model T had a battery and starter, but battery technology was not very good back then, so even in these later models, most people still had to use the crank to start the car. The crank was connected to the engine by a ratchet mechanism. When you turned the crank, it turned the engine. When the engine started, the ratchet would disengage the crank. The only problem was that if the car happened to backfire (which was common) while the person was cranking the car, the engine would violently spin the crank backwards, usually breaking the operators wrist and arm in at least three places. There was a very specific way you could hold the crank to ensure that if you did get a backfire, the crank would pull out of your hand, instead of twisting your arm around. The key was to NOT wrap your thumb around the crank handle.
The Model T was operated by 3 foot pedals. The one on the right was the brake. The brake technology was very poor in these cars, so the brake pedal was just about useless in most cases. The middle pedal put the car in reverse. In other words, engaging the middle foot pedal made the car drive in reverse. People would use the reverse pedal as the brake . . . slightly engaging the reverse pedal would act as a brake. The pedal on the left made the car move forward. Pressing it all the way in put the car in 1st gear. Pressing the pedal half way in was neutral, allowing you to bring the car to a stop. If the pedal was not engaged, the car was in high gear. (The model T had two forward gears, high and low).
The accelerator was a lever on the steering wheel, coming out to the right. The steering wheel had a second lever, coming out to the left, which was the spark advance. To control the speed of the car, you had to coordinate the position of the accelerator and the spark advance in tandem.
The car had no side windows, but did have a front windshield. The windshield wiper had to be moved back and forth by hand via a lever inside the car. (You really needed three hands to effectively drive a Model T in the rain, as your hands were needed for the accelerator, spark advance, steering, and the windshield wiper)
For all these interesting quirks, it still amazes me how many similarities there are with modern cars. While cars have gotten sleeker and fancier, most of the basic systems are very simmilar.


  1. oh m'gosh, how old are you to know so much about this old car. Or, do you own a manual. The blog was good stuff, nice read.
    By the way, every day my 3 year old kid wants me to read the story of you putting your pony in the kitchen. I can't just tell her the story, I have to read it. Then she always ends up with, 'why he do that?'

  2. CL,
    I am not that old (born 1961). . . I actually had a Model T, and so learned about it from having and driving it.

    As far as why I let the pony in the house . . . It was such a sweet little horse, and she really wanted in the house. I never imagined she would have such an episode as she did.

  3. I'm enjoying your photo of the day since finding this site a few days ago. The Model T was introduced in late 1908 at a price of $825 for the runabout and $850 for the more popular touring car. The 'T' was to decline in price over the years as Henry learned how to save costs resulting in a low of $260 for the runabout in 1925. The last Model T was 1927.

    I once had to back my 1922 Model T up a steep hill as the gas tank was getting low but I knew about backing and tried it when the car stalled. It worked just great but I don't think the traffic coming up the hill quite understood why I was facing the wrong way.

    The Model T was not the first "cheap" or mass produced car; that was probably the 1901 Curved Dash Oldsmobile at $650. Of course, the Model T was a better, larger car with more room and advanced features plus a low, for that time, price.

    A few other early cars were somewhat mass produced such as the 1903-08 single cylinder Cadillac starting around $750 as well as the small REO and Maxwell autos. But the Model T did have them beat when it came to quality and durability.

  4. I don't drive and I actually find cars very dull.

    That said, I loved this post. You did a great job of making it really fascinating. Thanks!

  5. That's an awesome photograph! It's amazing how far we've come in the span of a century. Sadly, the fuel efficiency of an average Ford model today is lower than the old clunker in the photograph! Tell me how that makes sense!

  6. Just found your Model T picture while looking for a match for an old car in a photo taken by my grandfather. I know he had a 1903 Cadillac and both a Model A and Model T Ford but I don't remember the years of the Fords. Your stories of driving the Model T are familiar. I heard them all from my grandfather and father. Neat trip down memory lane for me.


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