Model T (colloquially known as the Tin Lizzie, Leaping Lena,
or flivver) is an automobile produced by
Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company from
October 1, 1908, to May 26, 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
efficient fabrication, including assembly line production instead of
individual hand crafting.
Model T was named the most influential car of the 20th
century in the 1999
Car of the Century
Car of the Century competition, ahead of the BMC
Mini, Citroën DS, and Volkswagen Type 1. Ford's
Model T was
successful not only because it provided inexpensive transportation on
a massive scale, but also because the car signified innovation for the
rising middle class and became a powerful symbol of America's age of
modernization. With 16.5 million sold it stands eighth on the top
ten list of most sold cars of all time as of 2012[update].
Although automobiles had already existed for decades, they were still
mostly scarce, expensive, and unreliable at the Model T's introduction
in 1908. Positioned as reliable, easily maintained, mass-market
transportation, it was a runaway success. In a matter of days after
the release, 15,000 orders were placed. The first production Model
T was produced on August 12, 1908 and left the factory on
September 27, 1908, at the
Ford Piquette Avenue Plant
Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit,
Michigan. On May 26, 1927,
Henry Ford watched the
Model T Ford roll off the assembly line at his
factory in Highland Park, Michigan.
Several cars were conceived by
Henry Ford from the founding of the
company in 1903 before the
Model T was introduced. 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 (rather than any Model U). The 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.
Model T was Ford's first automobile mass-produced on moving
assembly lines with completely interchangeable parts, marketed to the
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.
Although credit for the development of the assembly line belongs to
Ransom E. Olds
Ransom E. Olds with the first mass-produced automobile, the Oldsmobile
Curved Dash, beginning in 1901, the tremendous advancements in the
efficiency of the system over the life of the
Model T can be credited
almost entirely to the vision of Ford and his engineers.
1.2 Transmission and drive train
1.2.1 Transmission bands and linings
1.3 Suspension and wheels
1.6 Diverse applications
2.1 Mass production
2.2 Price and production
2.4 First global car
3 Advertising and marketing
4 Car clubs
5 In popular media
7 See also
10 External links
Model T advertisement
Model T was designed by Childe Harold Wills, and 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 understood 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.
Main article: Ford
Model T engine
Model T engine
Model T had a front-mounted 177-cubic-inch (2.9 L) inline
four-cylinder engine, producing 20 hp (15 kW), for a top
speed of 40–45 mph (64–72 km/h). 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
gasoline, kerosene, or ethanol, although the decreasing cost
of gasoline and the later introduction of Prohibition made ethanol an
impractical fuel for most users. The engines of the first 2,447 units
were cooled with water pumps; the engines of unit 2,448 and onward,
with a few exceptions prior to around unit 2,500, were cooled by
The ignition system used in the
Model T was an unusual one, with a
low-voltage magneto incorporated in the flywheel, supplying
alternating current to trembler coils to drive the spark plugs. This
was closer to that used for stationary gas engines than the expensive
high-voltage ignition magnetos that were used on some other cars. This
ignition also made the
Model T more flexible as to the quality or type
of fuel it used. The system did not need a starting battery, since
proper hand-cranking would generate enough current for starting.
Electric lighting powered by the magneto was adopted in 1915,
replacing acetylene and oil lamps, but electric starting was not
offered until 1919.
Model T engine was produced for replacement needs, as well as
stationary and marine applications until 1941, well after production
Model T had ended. It was also utilized in the drivetrain of
Fordson tractor, which was produced in the US until 1928, and in
Ireland until 1964.
Transmission and drive train
The three pedal controls of the Model T
View from driver's seat, 1920 Model T
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
The Model T's transmission was controlled with three foot pedals and a
lever 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 transmission. With the floor lever 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. If the left pedal was released, the
Model T entered
high gear, but only when the lever was fully forward – in any other
position, the pedal would only move up as far as the central neutral
position. This allowed the car to be held in neutral while the driver
cranked the engine by hand. The car could thus cruise without the
driver having to press any of the pedals.
The first 800 units were sent in reverse with a lever; all units after
that were sent in reverse with a pedal between the clutch and brake
pedals. The middle pedal was used to engage reverse gear when the
car was in neutral. The right pedal operated the transmission brake
– there were no brakes on the wheels. 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, when 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.
Transmission bands and linings
Two main types of band lining material were used:
Cotton – Cotton woven linings were the original type fitted and
specified by Ford. Generally, the cotton lining is "kinder" to the
drum surface, with damage to the drum caused only by the retaining
rivets scoring the drum surface. Although this in itself did not pose
a problem, a dragging band resulting from improper adjustment caused
overheating transmission and engine, diminished power, and – in
the case of cotton linings – rapid destruction of the band
Wood – Wooden linings were originally offered as a "longer life"
accessory part during the life of the Model T. They were a single
piece of steam bent wood and metal wire, fitted to the normal Model T
transmission band. These bands give a very different feel to the
pedals, with much more of a "bite" feel. The sensation is of a
definite "grip" of the drum and seemed to noticeably increase the
feel, in particular of the brake drum.
Suspension and wheels
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The suspension components of a Ford Model T: The coil-spring device is
an aftermarket accessory, the "Hassler shock absorber".
Model T suspension employed a transversely mounted semi-elliptical
spring for each of the front and rear beam axles which 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 through eight full rotations (2880 degrees)
and sent them to dealers to be put on display to demonstrate its
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 acting on the inside of the
rear brake drums, which were an integral part of the rear wheel hubs.
Optional brakes that acted on the outside of the brake drums were
available from aftermarket suppliers.
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
(7.6 cm) 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 in
× 4.5 in (53 cm × 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 100 inches (254 cm) and standard tread width
was 56 in (142 cm); 60 in (152 cm) tread could be obtained
on special order, "for Southern roads", identical to the pre-Civil War
track gauge for many railroads in the former Confederacy.
By 1918, half of all the cars in the US were Model Ts. However, it was
a monolithic bloc; Ford wrote in his autobiography that in 1909 he
told his management team 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 1913, the Model
T was not available in black but rather only gray, green, blue,
and red. Green was available for the touring cars, town cars, coupes,
and Landaulets. Gray 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. Only in 1914 was the "any color so
long as it is black" policy 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 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
1910 Model T, photographed in Salt Lake City
1925 Ford "New Model" T Tudor Sedan
Although Ford classified the
Model T with a single letter designation
throughout its entire life and made no distinction by model years,
enough significant changes to the body were made over the production
life that the car may be classified into several style categories.
Among the most immediately visible and identifiable changes were in
the hood and cowl areas, although many other modifications were made
to the vehicle.
1909–1914 – Characterized by a nearly straight, five-sided hood,
with a flat top containing a center hinge and two side sloping
sections containing the folding hinges. The firewall was flat from the
windshield down with no distinct cowl.
1915–1916 – The hood design was nearly the same five-sided design
with the only obvious change being the addition of louvers to the
vertical sides. A significant change to the cowl area occurred with
the windshield relocated significantly behind the firewall and joined
with a compound-contoured cowl panel.
1917–1923 – The hood design was changed to a tapered design with a
curved top. The folding hinges were now located at the joint between
the flat sides and the curved top. This is sometime referred to as the
"low hood" to distinguish if from the later hoods. The back edge of
the hood now met the front edge of the cowl panel so that no part of
the flat firewall was visible outside of the hood. This design was
used the longest and during the highest production years, accounting
for about half of the total number of Model Ts built.
1923–1925 – This change was made during the 1923 calendar year, so
models built earlier in the year have the older design, while later
vehicles have the newer design. The taper of the hood was increased
and the rear section at the firewall is about an inch taller and
several inches wider than the previous design. While this is a
relatively minor change, the parts between the third and fourth
generations are not interchangeable.
1926–1927 – This design change made the greatest difference in the
appearance of the car. The hood was again enlarged, with the cowl
panel no longer a compound curve and blended much more with the line
of the hood. The distance between the firewall and the windshield was
also increased significantly. This style is sometimes referred to as
the "high hood".
The styling on the last "generation" was a preview for the following
Model A, but the two models are visually quite different, as the body
on the A was much wider and had curved doors as opposed to the flat
doors on the T.
Model T homemade tractor pulling a plow
Pullford auto-to-tractor conversion advertisement, 1918
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 and sidewalks were a paved
way to walk along them.) Agriculture was the occupation of many
people. Power tools were scarce outside factories, as were power
sources for them; electrification, like pavement, was found usually
only in larger towns.
Rural electrification and motorized
mechanization were embryonic in some regions and nonexistent in most.
Henry Ford oversaw the requirements and design of the
Model T based on
contemporary realities. Consequently, the
Model T was (intentionally)
almost as much a tractor and portable engine as it was an automobile.
It has always been well regarded for its all-terrain abilities and
ruggedness. It could travel a rocky, muddy farm lane, cross 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, electrical generator, and
many 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 into a mobile church,
complete with small organ.
During this era, entire automobiles (including thousands of Model Ts)
were even hacked apart by their owners and reconfigured into custom
machinery permanently dedicated to a purpose, such as homemade
tractors and ice saws. Dozens of aftermarket companies sold prefab
kits to facilitate the T's conversion from car to tractor. The
Model T had been around for a decade before the
Fordson tractor became
available (1917–18), and many Ts had been converted for field use.
(For example, Harry Ferguson, later famous for his hitches and
tractors, worked on Eros
Model T tractor conversions before he worked
with Fordsons and others.) During the next decade,
Model T tractor
conversion kits were harder to sell, as the
Fordson and then the
Farmall (1924), as well as other light and affordable tractors, served
the farm market. But during the Depression (1930s),
Model T tractor
conversion kits had a resurgence, because by then used Model Ts and
junkyard parts for them were plentiful and cheap.
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
An armored-car variant (called the FT-B) was developed in Poland in
1920 due to the high demand during the
Polish-Soviet war in 1920.
Many Model Ts were converted into vehicles which could travel across
heavy snows with kits on the rear wheels (sometimes with an extra pair
of rear-mounted wheels and two sets of continuous track to mount on
the now-tandemed rear wheels, essentially making it a half-track) and
skis replacing the front wheels. 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
A number of companies built Model T–based railcars. In The Great
Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux mentions a rail journey in India on such
a railcar. The New Zealand Railways Department's RM class included a
Ford assembly line, 1913
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. The Ford Piquette
Avenue 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 from 12.5
hours before to 93 minutes by 1914, while using less manpower. In
1914, 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, half of all cars in the world were Fords. It was so
successful Ford did not purchase any advertising between 1917 and
1923; instead, the
Model T became so famous, people considered it a
norm. More than 15 million Model Ts were manufactured in all,
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 $260. Total
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
Ford Motor Company ceased US
production and began the changeovers required to produce
the Model A. Some of the other
Model T factories in the world
continued a short while.
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.
Model T employed some advanced technology, for example, its use of
vanadium steel alloy. Its durability was phenomenal, and some Model Ts
and their parts are in running order over 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 manufactures parts for the Model T, many parts
are still manufactured through private companies as replicas to
service the thousands of Model Ts still in operation today.
On May 26, 1927,
Henry Ford and his son Edsel, drove the 15-millionth
Model T out of the factory. This marked the famous automobile's
official last day of production at the main factory.
Price and production
The moving assembly line system, which started on October 7, 1913,
allowed Ford to sell his cars at a price lower than his
competitors. As he continued to fine-tune the system, Ford was
able to keep reducing costs significantly. As volume increased, he
was able to also lower the prices due to fixed costs being spread over
a larger number of vehicles. Other factors affected the price such as
material costs and design changes.
In current equivalent dollars, the cost of the Runabout, started at
$22,471 in 1909 and bottomed out at $3,628 in 1925.
The figures below are US production numbers compiled by R.E. Houston,
Ford Production Department, August 3, 1927. The figures between 1909
and 1920 are for Ford's fiscal year. From 1909 to 1913, the fiscal
year was from October 1 to September 30 the following calendar year
with the year number being the year in which it ended. For the 1914
fiscal year, the year was October 1, 1913, through July 31, 1914.
Starting in August 1914, and through the end of the
Model T era, the
fiscal year was August 1 through July 31. Beginning with January 1920,
the figures are for the calendar year.
Touring car was $850.
Fiscal year was only 10 months long due to change in end date from
September 30 to July 31
Production for fiscal year 1920, (August 1, 1919 through July 31,
1920). Price was $550 in March but dropped by September
Production for balance of calendar year, August 1 through December 31.
Total '1920' production (17 months) = 1,404,493
Price was $370 in June but dropped by September
Touring car was $290
Production ended before mid-year to allow retooling for the Model A
Overall a total of 14,689,525 were produced.
Henry Ford used wood scraps from the production of Model Ts to make
charcoal briquettes. Originally named Ford Charcoal, the name was
changed to Kingsford Charcoal after the Iron Mountain Ford Plant
closed in 1951 and the Kingsford Chemical Company was formed and
continued the wood distillation process. E. G. Kingsford, Ford's
cousin by marriage, brokered the selection of the new sawmill and wood
distillation plant site. Lumber for production of the
Model T came
from the same location, built in 1920 called the Iron Mountain Ford
which incorporated a sawmill where lumber from Ford purchased land in
the Upper Peninsula of
Michigan was cut and dried. Scrap wood was
distilled at the Iron Mountain plant for its wood chemicals, with the
end by product being lump charcoal. This lump charcoal was modified
and pressed into briquettes and mass marketed by Ford
First global car
The first Ford assembly plant in La Boca, Buenos Aires, c. 1921
A 1923 Ford T in Canada
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, as well as
several locations throughout the US. Ford made use of the
knock-down kit concept almost from the beginning of the company as
freight and production costs from
Detroit had Ford assembling vehicles
in major metropolitan centers of the US.
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.[page needed]
Advertising and marketing
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. A large part of the success of Ford's
Model T stems from the innovative strategy which introduced a large
network of sales hubs making it easy to purchase the car. 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 around 100 percent gains on the previous year.
Model T stakebed
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
Model T Ford Club of America and the
combined clubs of Australia. With many chapters of clubs around 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
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
Jan and Dean surf music song "Bucket T", which was
later recorded by The Who). In 1949, more than twenty
years after the end of production, 200,000 Model Ts were registered in
the United States. In 2008, it was estimated that about 50,000 to
60,000 Ford Model Ts remain roadworthy.
In popular media
Model T was the car of choice for comedy duo
Stan Laurel and
Oliver Hardy. It was used in most of their short and feature films.
In 1966, Belgian comic book authors
Maurice Tillieux and Francis
created the comic adventures of a character named Marc Lebut and his
The phrase to "go the way of the Tin Lizzie" is a colloquialism
referring to the decline and elimination of a popular product, habit,
belief, or behavior as a now outdated historical relic which has been
replaced by something new.
In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World,
Henry Ford is regarded as a
messianic figure, Christian crosses have been truncated to Ts, and
vehicles are called "flivvers" (from a slang reference to the Model
T). Moreover, the calendar is converted to an A.F. ("After Ford")
system, wherein the calendar begins (AF 1) with the introduction of
Model T (AD 1908).
Model T chronology
1909 Touring – Second-oldest Ford
Model T still in existence
1915 Runabout – Note curved cowl panel
1917 Runabout – Note new curved hood matches cowl panel
1922 flatbed truck
Model T Depot Hack
1923 Runabout (early '23 model)
1924 Touring – Note higher hood and slightly shorter cowl panel –
late '23 models were similar
1926 Runabout – Note higher hood and longer cowl panel
1927 Touring – Last Ford
Model T built at Highland Park Ford Plant
1928 Ford Model A Tudor Sedan – Shown for comparison, note wider
body and curved doors
New Zealand RM class (
Model T Ford) – a 1925 experimental railcar
based on a
Model T powertrain
Piper J-3 Cub, the 1930s/40s American light aircraft that developed a
similar degree of ubiquity in general aviation circles to the Model T
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