Ask most people to name a vintage car, and the answer will invariably be “The Model T”. With over 15 million being manufactured in the USA, South Africa, Canada and Australia, it is widely regarded not only as the car that “put the nation on wheels”, but the car that put the world on wheels.
Known colloquially as the Tin Lizzie, the Model T would enjoy a long production run lasting nearly 20 years. It was both durable and cheap to run and maintain, if not a little utilitarian in design and creature comforts, but most importantly it was affordable.
The first Model T was produced on September 27th, 1908 at the Piquette Plant in Detoit, Michigan. Even though the name Model T was used for almost twenty years, it was much improved both visually and mechanically over the years.
There were a wide variety of body-styles on offer, however as the open touring and roadsters were cheaper to produce, these made up the greater part of sales and were therefore manufactured in the greatest numbers.
The innovative production techniques introduced by Henry Ford, with the moving assembly line (and above award employee conditions) allowed the Model T to be sold during the early 1920’s for a mere $300 – compared to upwards of $2000 for most other automobiles then on sale.
Ford had found many ways to cut costs and offer the least-expensive product. He instructed his suppliers how to assemble the wood crates that were used to ship him parts. The crates were then dismantled and used within the bodies of the car. The scrapes were made into charcoal and sold under the name 'Kingsford'.
The idea for creating a “moving assembly line” was certainly not new, it being used for many years by the meat packing industry. But applying the same methodology to the manufacture of the automobile came about when one William C. Klan visited an abattoir in Chicago, Klan in-turn proposing the idea to Peter Martin.
A team was assembled and perfected through trial and error, the assembly line finally going into operation in 1914 – leading Ford to produce more vehicles that year than all other manufacturers combined. Most know the saying derived from the Model T, that you can have any color you like, as long as it is black. The reason Henry Ford chose black was that it was the fastest drying color. From 1917 to 1923 Ford did not do any advertising, with 9 out of 10 cars being Fords, none was necessary.
The Model T was designed by Henry Ford, Childe Harold Wills, Joseph A. Galamb and Eugene Farkas. It was powered by a front mounted longitudinal inline 177ci four-cylinder engine which powered the rear wheels.
Developing 20 horsepower, it was capable of propelling the Model T to around 45 mph. There were three main bearings and side valves, a ten gallon fuel tank (mounted underneath the front seat), the engine being started by a hand crank located at the front of the vehicle.
A 'three speed' planetary gear type transmission was used, it being derived from the earlier Model K, and had 2 forward and one reverse gear. The 3-speed unit was actually two-speeds forward plus one reverse. With no clutch pedal, shifting was handled by floor pedals that did not require a clutch.
Also located on the floor was a third pedal which operated the reverse gear. The throttle was controlled by a lever on the steering column.
Neutral was located by the parking brake lever. The other foot pedal applied a band around a drum in the transmission. The parking brake lever operated the band brakes on the outside of the rear brake drums. When the hand lever was pulled back, the brake was engaged and the drive gears were disengaged.
Wooden 'artillery wheels' were standard until 1926 when they were replaced with steel wire wheels. The suspension was a transversely mounted semi-elliptical spring for both the front and rear axle. Brass was used throughout the earlier vehicles for items such as horns, radiators, and headlights. Headlights were acetylene lamps but later switched to electric lights.
Sales peaked in 1924 with over 2 million automobiles leaving the assembly line. By this time, many of Ford's competitors had switched to the same principles that had made the Model T such a success.
And the competition went one step further, able to attract new buyers by offering greater individuality, larger engines and more features. Popular options included windshield wipers, anti-theft locks and light dimmers.
Chevrolet vehicles had three forward gears while the Model T still used only two. Also, since the Model T's were so durable, they were still in functioning order. The more practical simply decided that they did not need a new vehicle as the Tin Lizzie was still running so well, or for those who grew tired of the old girl, they invariably chose a different manufacturer who offered a car with more creature comfort.
The result was unprecedented depreciation, Model T’s being sold for next-to-nothing. Sales began to dip in 1925 and dramatically in 1926, with production finally coming to an end in 1927.