Mention the term “antique car” and the vehicle that most often pops into mind is the Model T Ford, one of the most influential automobiles of all time. With a degree of certainty, it could be said that the cornerstone for our automotive obsessed culture and supportive infrastructure is the lowly Model T, the most loved, most cursed, most maligned, most misunderstood automobile in history.
As far as being an antique, oddly enough this is pretty much what the car was even when it was knew, especially those built between 1915 and the cessation of production in 1927. However, this was not always the case. Nor was the Model T the first Ford.
There were a number of models – the A, B, C, F, K, N, R, and S – produced before the introduction of the Model T in October of 1908. However, the T best represented Henry Ford’s vision of what the automobile should be – a vehicle that was inexpensive, but not “cheap,” a car for the multitudes.
The Model T made its debut in an era of great optimism, a time when it seemed the wonders of technology were about to solve all of the problems that had plagued man since the dawn of time. By 1920, the Model T was an icon recognized throughout the world that had spawned a massive cottage industry of after market parts. Two years later sales surpassed one million annually, and as a result, Ford dominated the American auto industry.
When initially introduced in the fall of 1908 a plethora of technological advancements and state of the art components, even though its price tag of $850 placed it at the bottom of the low price field, put the Model T at the forefront of automobile development. The introductory Model T also represented revolutionary construction and production methods that would soon become industry standards. Perhaps the most notable of these would be the casting of the engine block in one piece and a removable head, a tremendous advancement over the then current practice of casting the cylinders in pairs and bolting them to the crankcase.
Initially the evolution of the Model T came with such rapidity that few of the first 2500 produced were exactly alike. In fact, after April of 1909 when a great deal of the overall design was finalized and standardization of most components enabled stable production for several years these earlier models required a separate parts and repair manual.
The engine for these first generation models featured an integral water pump driven from the timing gear and a fan that was mounted on an extension of the water pump shaft. An ingenious system of internal splash oiling utilizing the flywheel as well as the one-piece engine pan that extended to include the transmission was a vast improvement over the external oilers with separate reservoirs that had been the norm. Incorporating a magneto into the engine design eliminated the need for external batteries.
After car number 2500, the engine block was redesigned with a water jacket at the front and elimination of the water pump. So that a pulley for the fan belt could be utilized the crankshaft was extended.
On most of the first one thousand or so models, the planetary type transmission and brakes were operated with two pedals and two hand operated levers. The left pedal controlled high and low gear; pushed to the floor was low, release it and you were in high. The right pedal applied the transmission brake that acted on the drive shaft for stopping under normal operating conditions.
The two levers were located to the drivers left. The outer lever operated the brakes on the rear wheel and served as a parking brake. The inner lever when pulled back released the high-speed clutch putting the forward gears into neutral via a roller and cam arrangement and engaged the reverse band.
Somewhere around unit 850, some models were produced with a third pedal between the first two for reverse thus replacing the lever system. This became standard at about unit 1000. In addition, the brake lever was modified to serve as a release for the high-speed clutch as it was pulled back slightly. Pulling it back further kept the car in neutral and applied the brakes on the rear wheels.
Beginning with the 1909 models, a three pedal conversion kit ($15) for the early cars was made available through authorized dealers. Low production numbers and the passing of almost a full century have made the two pedal version of the Model T quite rare. Today these first series Model T’s are an almost entirely forgotten chapter in automotive history.
Almost as obscure today is the wide array of aftermarket parts available to buyers who wanted to personalize their T, to make it more modern or to adapt it to a wide array of applications.
With the Forma Tractor kit offered by the Knickerbocker Motors Company of New York City, for $178, in 1919 a Ford Runabout could be converted into a tractor in just fifteen minutes, according to advertisement. Promotion for this intriguing adaptation also noted, “…it will not only permit the farmer to handle his cultivation problems with great economy and dispatch, but is so adapted to his Ford that it can be attached or detached within less than thirty minutes, and therefore will not deprive him of the use of his car as a pleasure vehicle…”
In the same year, the Tractor-Train Company of Los Angeles offered the Moore Auxiliary Transmission for all “Ford Cars or Trucks.” “Don’t accept substitutes insist upon a Moore Auxiliary Transmission.” “All Moore Equipped Fords Have 4 Forward/2 Reverse Speeds” to “Double Your Original Power.” In addition, this company also offered “The Moore Service Brake for Ford Cars.”
Gray & Davis of Boston offered a “Starter that spins the Ford engine in zero weather.” The Laurel Motors Corporation of Anderson, Indiana, manufactured a conversion kit to transform the lowly Ford into a masterpiece of mechanical prowess with overhead valves and dual overhead cams.
The A.H. Fox Gun Company, “Makers of the Finest Gun in the World,” also manufactured a Fox Proof Lock designed exclusively for Fords, a “Rigid-Noiseless-Thief Proof” carrier for 2 tires and a reserve gasoline tank that “Warns You Before Running out of Gasoline”. Supplying after market parts for Fords became such a big business for this company an entire division was established to manufacture “Fox-Proof Ford necessities.”
The Spartan simplicity of the Model T presented the owner with almost unlimited possibilities in regards to modification. To meet this need hundreds of companies produced a dizzying variety of products from four-wheel drive conversion kits to odometers, from oil gauges to starters.
The first generation Model T and the wide diversity of products devised to take full advantage of this amazing little cars adaptability are now an almost forgotten chapter. However, with the recent resurgence of interest in antique automobiles, this obscurity may be short lived and soon we may again see four wheel drive Model T Fords at the tractor pull.
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