All You Need To Know About The Ford Model T - America’s First Mass-produced Automobile
The Ford Model T is the first mass-produced automobile in history, and here’s everything you need to know about this American iconby Dim Angelov, on LISTEN 14:49
While not the first American automobile, the Ford Model T is the first mass-produced American automobile. The Model T Ford was the creation of industrialist and businessman, Henry Ford, who also founded Ford Motor Company, in 1903, and this is everything you need to know about it.
Ford’s first automobile
The Ford Model T was Ford Motor Company’s first car. The T entered production on October 1st, 1907 – just four years after Ford Motor Company was founded by businessman and industrialist, Henry Ford.
The first mass-produced automobile
The Ford Model T design evolved in a short span, giving way to over 20 different iterations of the model, but it was the production process that really made the T stand out. The production process evolved over the years and on October 7th, 1913, the first Model T moving assembly line saw operation, at Highland Park Ford Plant.
The production process of the Model T evolved to a point where 2.1 million units were produced per year. Over its 19-year production cycle, more than 15.0 million units of the Model T Ford were built. Henry Ford aimed to make the production process as quick as possible to achieve the milestone.
The Ford Model T was only available in black
The production process was so focused on efficiency and uniformity, that even the paint method was optimized for speed. From here comes the famous saying, by Henry Ford, “you can have any color as long as it’s black”.
Only one other car would match the Ford Model T’s production numbers
The Ford Model T’s production run of over 15 million units was the mass-production record for a very long time. It was broken by only one other car – the Volkswagen Beetle – of which over 21 million cars were made. However, it took VW significantly longer to achieve these figures as the original Beetle was produced from 1938 to 2003 – a 65-year production run versus the Model T’s 19-year production run. This means that the Ford Model T still holds the record for the most-produced model per year.
Only one engine option
Henry Ford’s Model T was offered with only one engine option, in all its 19 years of production. The Model T Ford came with a front-mounted, 2.9-liter (177 cubic-inch) inline-four engine that produced 20 horsepower and 83 pound-feet of torque (113 Nm). This made for a specific output of a whopping 7 horsepower per liter. The Model T engine sent power to the rear axle through a two-speed planetary transmission, which was actually listed as being a “three-speed”.
However, this included the reverse gear ratio, which isn’t counted nowadays. This allowed the Ford Model T to reach a top speed of 42 to 45 mph (68 - 72.4 km/h), depending on the version. The T was also capable of blasting down the quarter-mile in 25.3 seconds. In terms of fuel economy, Ford said the Model T can achieve 13 to 21 MPG (18 - 11L/100 km).
The first 2,447 Model T Fords featured engines with a mechanical water pump for cooling. Ater unit 2,500 all models changed to a thermosiphon action, which doesn’t require a mechanical pump. The 2.9-liter engine could run on gasoline, ethanol, and kerosene. Ford went the inexpensive route for the ignition system too. It utilized a low-voltage magneto, incorporated into the Flywheel, which supplied alternating current to trembling coils, which in turn, operate the spark plugs.
Notoriously tricky to drive
Compared to a modern car, the Model T Ford almost looks like it requires a higher degree of engineering in order to be successfully operated. The controls are a mix of levers and pedals spread out whenever there was space. Starting the T involved checking the fuel level with a dipstick since it didn’t come with a fuel gauge. The fuel tank, itself, is located under the front bench seat.
Checking the oil level is a bit trickier since the Model T does not have a dipstick for that. Instead, you have to find the top pepcock on the bellhousing (on the side of the flywheel) and unscrew it. If the oil starts coming out, you have oil, but if you unscrew the bottom one and nothing comes out, there’s no oil. Checking the tire pressure is the last step before starting the car. In the Model T, they need to be at 55 Psi. By comparison, most modern cars run on 25 to 35 Psi tire pressure.
Starting a Ford Model T’s engine
Starting the car involves moving the fuel switch (in the engine bay) to the “on” position. The fuel is gravity-fed from the fuel tank through a single, up-draft carburetor. The controls are, by far, the quirkiest you will see on any car.
There are three pedals on the floor, arranged in what resembles a gated shift pattern. The right pedal is for the brakes. The middle pedal is for the reverse gear and it works by pressing the pedal down while the car is in neutral. The left pedal is the clutch, but it operates in conjunction with the handbrake, positioned to the left of the driver. Pressing the clutch and moving the gear lever into the intermediary position engages the first (low) gear. Pressing the clutch again and moving the lever all the way forward engages the second (high) gear.
There are two levers behind the Model T’s steering wheel. The right one is the throttle, which when in top position, makes the car idle. The further you move it down, the more you open the throttle. The lever on the left side of the steering wheel is for the spark advance. Upon starting the T, the lever should be in top position – retarded – and when the engine is working, the lever is moved down in order to advance the timing.
While there is a manual crank, later examples of the Model T had a key like on most cars up until the 2010s. Earlier examples of the T had a coil box where you would normally find the lower center console on a modern vehicle. Turning the ignition key to the left causes the coils to start buzzing, which means they are active. Turning the key all the way to the right engages the magnetos, located behind the engine. Next to the key fob, there is a gauge for the amperage and to the right of it, there’s a manual choke, which is used to give a rich fuel mixture for easier engine start.
Next to the key fob, there is a gauge for the amperage and to the right of it, there’s a manual choke, which is used to give a rich fuel mixture for easier engine start. In order to prime the Model T’s engine, you first need to manually crank the engine from the front while pulling the external manual choke (a small metal ring at the bottom of the radiator).
Three of four cranks are usually sufficient to prime the engine, but you have to make sure the key is in the “off” position, otherwise, the manual crank, connected to the crankshaft may cause a hand injury. Follow all that and you should be ready for a drive. The Ford Model T also has a horn that sounds like a buzzer.
One of the most iconic nicknames for a car
Many people of the older generation refer to the Ford Model T as “Tin Lizzie”. There are two theories suggesting the origins of the moniker. According to the first one, Lizzie was a common name for a reliable workhorse – at the time people were still relying heavily on horses to pull heavy loads. Even today, many analogies between a horse and a car exist and since the car gradually replaced the horse and is made of metal, the nickname “Tin Lizzie” was born.
Another theory concerns a specific Model T Ford that entered a hill-climb race, held in 1922. One of the race participants – Noel Bullock – entered in his Model T, nicknamed “Old Liz”. The car was said to look worse for wear, lacking any paint and missing a front hood. Spectators compared the “tired” T to a tin can, which is where the nickname “Tin Lizzie” came from. Contrary to everyone’s expectations, the same Model T ended up winning the race. In Pixar’s Cars movies, there is an homage to “Tin Lizzie” – a Ford Model T, named Liz.
The last Ford Model T
The last Ford Model T rolled off the production line on May 26, 1927, after 19 years of production and over 15.0 million units made. This officially marked the end of the Model T’s production and a special ceremony was held to commemorate the end of the T‘s production span, which marked the end of a great era for American motoring and the automotive industry as a whole.
Ford Model T price then versus now
In 1909, a brand new Ford Model T would set you back $825, which is $25,721 in 2022 money. Just seven years later, in 1916, the price of a Model T was just $345, which comes up to $9,691 in 2022 money.
Given the historical significance of the Ford Model T, the car is still relatively attainable, compared to other iconic classics. At the time of writing this, a Model T could set you back between $14,000 and $26,000 depending on the version. If historical significance and heritage are what you are into, the T is steel, compared to million-dollar Cobras or rare muscle cars, which are well into the six-figure price range.
When was the Ford Model T Made?
The Ford Model T came out in October 1 1907 as a 1908 model year. It was produced for 19 years, with the last one rolling off the assembly in May 1927.
How Much is a Ford Model T Worth?
Depending on the version, a Ford Model T can cost between $18,000 and $26,000.
Was the Ford Model T the first mass-produced car?
Yes, the Ford Model T revolutionized automotive production, by being the first car assembled on a rolling production line, allowing for much greater production efficiency.
When Did Henry Ford Invent the Model T?
Henry Ford invented the Ford Model T in October 1907 and, with it, revolutionized mass production.
How much did the Model T cost?
Earlier models cost $825 in 1909. By 1916, thanks to numerous production optimizations, the price went down to $345.
What came after the Model T?
In 1928, a few months after the Ford Model T production ended, the Ford Model A was introduced. Its design was largely a carry-over from the later Model T, but with rounded forms.
What would a Model T cost today?
Today, a Ford Model T costs between $14,000 and $26,000, depending on the model year and body type.
Are there any Model T left?
While it is difficult to pinpoint an exact number, it is believed that at least 10,000 to 15,000 Model T Fords are still on the road. Many are believed to be in museums or private collections.
What does the T in Model T stand for?
Henry Ford, actually, started out with the Ford Model A. letter “T” was the next letter in line, after the numerous experimental prototypes like the Model B, C, D, etc. Hence, why it was the first Ford Model. The Ford Model A came after it.
How fast did the Model T go?
Depending on the version, the Ford Model T could reach between 42 and 45 mph (68 – 72.4 km/h).
Was the Ford Model T electric?
No. The Ford Model T was powered by a 2.9-liter (177 cubic-inch) inline-four, internal combustion engine that produced 20 horsepower and 83 pound-feet. It could run on gasoline, kerosene, and methanol.
Did the Model T have a key?
Later versions of the Ford Model T had a key. However, you needed to manually crank the car from the outside, as part of a multi-step starting process.
How much is a restored Model T worth?
Given current prices for the Ford Model T, a fully restored example is in the ballpark of $26,000.
Why was the Ford Model T discontinued?
Despite being the first mass-produced car, demand for the Ford Model T dwindled in 1927. This prompted Henry Ford to come up with a new model – the Model A.
How do you shift gears in a Ford Model T?
The Ford Model T still has a clutch, located on the left side of the pedal box, which works in conjunction with the handbrake/gear lever. When the lever is in the back position, the handbrake is engaged. Moving to the intermediary position engages the first (low) gear and moving the lever all the way forward engages the second (high) gear.
Why was the Model T called Tin Lizzie?
There are two stories explaining the origins of Ford Model T’s nickname. The first one stems from the name Lizzie being commonly used for a workhorse and the analogies with cars – a car being a horse made of tin metal (Tin Lizzie). The second refers to a certain, beat-up Model T, nicknamed by its owner “Old Liz”, which despite its “tired” look won a hill-climb race, earning it the nickname.