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While it may be his best known vehicle, the Model T was not Henry Ford’s first. The Ford Motor Company was not even his first company. After being ousted from the Henry Ford Company, his first automotive venture that would later become Cadillac, he set about forming a second company. On June 16, 1903, primarily with the help of investor Alexander Malcomson, and eleven others, (including the Dodge brothers, who later would build vehicles under the umbrella of their Dodge Brothers Company which was an established parts supplier) the Ford Motor Company incorporated in Dearborn, Michigan. The Model T was not the Ford Motor Company’s first successful offering. The Ford Model A sold for the first time on July 23, 1903. Though strapped for cash by the time of its introduction, the company posted a $37,000 profit by October 1st of the same year. Between the founding of the company and the introduction of its Model T, Ford produced the models B, C, F, K, N, R, and S, in addition to the A. The Model T was introduced on October 1, 1908 replacing the company’s previous entry level offering, the Model S. Unlike previous Ford models, the T would be made with mass-production, interchangeable parts, and value engineering in mind.
Despite the Model T being designed for low price and accessibility, the vehicle was cleverly engineered. Structural parts like the frame and axles were made from an advanced high strength-low vanadium steel alloy which Ford had observed used in a crashed French race car in 1905. This steel and the T’s lightweight construction allowed it to weigh in at just 1,200 pounds in its lightest configuration. The car featured rugged suspension designed to tackle the primitive roads of the time, and an adequate 177 ci (2.9 liter) 20 bhp I4 multifuel (capable of running on gasoline, kerosene, or ethanol) engine allowed good performance both on and off-road and good handling characteristics. The two-speed transmission was of planetary type and thus was in constant mesh, meaning that harsh shifting and clashing of gears was not an issue, unlike in typical sliding-gear transmissions. Mechanical processes were simplified as much as possible, additional parts being viewed by Henry Ford as unnecessary failure points. The car had no water pump, instead relying on the thermosiphon system (hot water rising to the top of the motor and into the radiator, cold coming out the bottom and into the engine), and a magneto which was integrated into flywheel. According to Henry Ford’s autobiography, he told his management that “Any customer can have a car painted any color as long as it is black”. Early cars were available multiple colors, with the black paint only policy coming into effect from 1914- 1926. The reasons behind this were not that black paint was the only color that could dry fast enough to keep up with production (though “Japan black” paint was used on some parts of the car because it could be baked to accelerate its curing process), but that it was inexpensive, durable, and produced a pleasing finish.
This particular car is a 1920 Ford Model T runabout. The runabout was the least expensive complete car available from Ford at $550 ($7,169 in 2018), though this car with electric lights, starter, and demountable wheels would have sold for $650 ($8,473). Changes for 1920 included revised seat frames, electric lights for cars optioned with a starter, and updates to the frame, gas tank, and axles.
- Ford Motor Company was Henry Ford’s 2nd company
- Rugged construction, light weight, and adequate power allowed for good on and off-road performance
- 15,007,034 units produced over a 19 year production run