Model T

The Model T, sold by the Ford Motor Company from 1908 to 1927, was the earliest effort to make a car that most people could actually buy. Modern cars were first built in 1885 in Germany by Karl Benz, and the first American cars in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1893 by Charles and Frank Duryea. But just because they were available didn’t mean that ordinary people could afford them.

The Model T was actually affordable and it became so popular at one point that a majority of Americans owned one, directly helping rural Americans become more connected with the rest of the country and leading to the numbered highway system. The manufacturing needs of the Model T went hand in hand with Ford’s revolutionary modernization of the manufacturing process.

Henry Ford Invents the Model T Engine

By day he was chief engineer at Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit, but at night Henry Ford labored over a gasoline engine. He successfully tested one on Christmas Eve, 1893, with the help of his wife, Clara, taking a break from Christmas cooking. The engine worked for 30 seconds, long enough to confirm for Ford that he was on the right track.

Three years later, Ford developed the Quadcycle, a self-propelled vehicle. After two failed business ventures, the Ford Motor Company was born on June 16, 1903.

The production of the Model T was preceded by eight car models through which Ford developed various aspects that would eventually come together as the Model T.

Official Model T development began in January 1907, when Ford assembled a team comprised of engineer Childe Harold Wills, machinist C.J. Smith and draftsman Joseph Galamb in his small Detroit factory on Piquette Avenue.

Selling the Model T

Released on October 1, 1908, the Ford Model T was a self-starting vehicle with a left-sided steering wheel, featuring an enclosed four-cylinder engine with a detachable cylinder head and a one-piece cylinder block. Fashioned from vanadium alloy steel, it offered superior strength despite its light weight. It also featured a generous ground clearance that could take the worst roads, which made it particularly enticing to rural drivers. The Model T was the first Ford with all its parts built by the company itself.

Selling for $850, it was considered a reasonable value, though still slightly higher than the income of the average American worker. Ford’s goal was to continue lowering prices.

After selling 10,607 Model Ts, Ford announced that the company would cease to sell the Model R or Model S cars, famously remarking that "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black."

A Publicity Stunt to the Top of a Scottish Mountain

Ford typically engineered publicity stunts to get his cars covered in British newspapers. In 1911, a Scottish car dealer proposed challenging his son Henry Alexander Jr. to drive a Model T to the summit of Ben Nevis in the Scottish Highlands, the highest mountain in the British Isles at 4,411 feet. The bet was that if he failed to reach the summit Alexander would lose his allowance.

Starting at nearby Fort William, the Model T drove over rocks, across bogs and through snow on a five-day journey. The car ascended to the summit using a zig-zag driving pattern.

After his descent, Alexander was greeted by a cheering crowd of hundreds, after which he made brake adjustments and drove the car back to his father’s dealership in Edinburgh.

Following the publicity, over 14,000 Model Ts were sold in the UK. It was the last time Ford felt a publicity stunt was necessary to sell his cars there.

Highland Park Assembles Model T's in Under 6 Hours

By 1913, a new 60-acre factory was built in Highland Park to churn out Model Ts. At the time it was considered to be the biggest factory in the world, and the number of Ford employees more than doubled.

For this plant, Ford worked to improve the assembly line of the manufacturing process. On April 1 tests were run, an attempt to assemble a flywheel magneto for the Model T. This was the first moving assembly line ever, utilizing conveyor belts inspired by Chicago meatpacking plants.

Each aspect of assembly was transformed into moving assembly, which improved efficiency and cut manufacturing time. In six months the time to build a Model T was reduced from nine hours and fifty-four minutes for one motor to five hours and fifty-six minutes.

The factory was divided into sections, each assembling a single part of the car in an incremental building process. The Highland Park factory eventually featured 500 of these departments in its assembly line.

Origins of 'Tin Lizzie'

The nickname “Tin Lizzie” is often applied to the Model T, though its origin is unknown.

One tradition claims Lizzie was a generic name given to horses and was passed onto the Model T. Later, a San Antonio car dealer complained to the factory about ill-fitting doors on the car and asked if cars could be shipped without doors but include a tool kit for purchasers to cut their own, reminiscent of a tin can opener.

Another claim says that during a 1922 race at Pikes Peak, Colorado, participant Noel Bullock named his Model T “Old Liz,” but its unkempt state made people compare it to a tin can, earning it the “Tin Lizzie” moniker. Unexpectedly, Bullock’s car won and the nickname stuck to all Model Ts.

Anti-Semitic Newspaper Sold With Each Model T

Ford began to adopt anti-Semitic views and the Model T was used to spread them.

Ford’s anti-Semitism was mainly expressed through the Dearborn Independent, which he purchased in 1919.

Also known as the Ford International Weekly, dealers were required to sell a subscription with each Model T, helping it reach a circulation topped only by the New York Post. Many dealers, unhappy with this arrangement, complained and tried to circumvent the policy.

The final Model T went down the assembly line on May 26, 1927. By December, the Dearborn Independent folded as well.

Model T Ends, Model A Debuts

Competition arose in the mid-1920s giving consumers about 10 times more choices of touring car models than a decade earlier. The Model T tried to compete, but sales dropped and it became considered old fashioned and was the frequent butt of popular jokes.

After much hesitation by Ford, it was announced in 1927 that Model Ts would no longer be manufactured. The new Ford called Model A debuted in December after having to scrap 40 thousand tools that could only be used to build Model Ts.


My Life and Work by Henry Ford, Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, Page & Co., 1922

I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford, by Richard Snow, Scribner, May 2014

Why a Model T was driven to the top of Ben Nevis, by Steven McKenzie, BBC, May 17, 2018


The 1912 Fords must qualify as the most varied and perhaps the most interesting of any of the Model T styles. There were at least five different “1912” Touring body types.

Ford’s 1912 fiscal year began October 1, 1911. At that time they were producing the typical 1911 style Tourings the ones with the “step-side” body and the open front compartment. Cars built during October, of this style, could be called “1912” Fords. By December, 1911, (approximately) this same body was supplied with the add-on front “fore doors.” The two-piece firewall (dash) continued, and the front door sections “dipped down” to match the lower firewall. These cars could be also be called “1912” Fords. During December (again, approximately) the firewall was changed to the one-piece design, and the fore doors no longer had the dip at the front. These cars could be called “1912 Fords.”

In late December or early January the new “1912” body appeared. This is the style with the smooth sides, the rear-opening rear doors, the one-piece firewall, the top-support strap which now hooked to the windshield, and with the fore doors. There were at least two of this style: one with outside rear door handles, and the other with inside handles. These two models definitely were “1912” Fords. To add to the confusion, there were numerous variations in these bodies, and it appears that the “1911” style was also used in early calendar 1912. In addition, the “1913” bodies appeared in late 1912, but these are never called “1912” Fords. For the purposes of this study, it is the smooth side, rear-opening-door model that we will call the 1912 Ford.

The Model T Ford for 1912 is perhaps one of the most interesting models produced by Ford. It truly marks the transition from the “old” to the “new” in the evolving Model T. The 1909 through 1911 cars were all open-front models there were no doors to enclose the front seat passengers. The 1912 Touring Cars were supplied with “fore doors” as standard equipment. The driver’s side did not open on the Touring Car but the passenger side had a door as a part of the add-on assembly. Thus began the three-door style that was to continue until mid-1925, ending with the introduction of the “Improved Fords” for 1926. Interestingly, the Town Car was also given the fore doors but the Runabout (now called the “Commercial Roadster” continued the open-front body of the 1911’s. Even more interesting is the fact that there were doors on both sides of the Torpedo Runabout.

The changes which marked the beginning of the 1912 models began, perhaps, in August 1911 when Ford began using the right-front steering arm with the integral hole for the speedometer swivel, and referred to it as the “1912 arm.” According to factory invoices, the “1912 rear axle” was first used in June 1911. (This is the so-called “clamshell” twelve-rivet rear axle of 1911-12.) Still another clue was a reference to “1912 rear fenders” on some production of the runabouts, also during September 1911. Ford’s fiscal year, at the time, was from October 1, 1911 through September 30, 1912, and Ford generally referred to cars made after September as “1912” Fords.

Cars of that period were carryovers of the 1911 models except for the “1912” parts. The 1911 style Touring Cars continued until about December 1911, and then began evolving into the 1912 style, apparently by mid-January 1912. The December 1911 cars generally had the one-piece dash (firewall) and have generally been referred to as the “early 1912” style. Since Ford’s records indicate 1912 production began with about engine number 70,000* on October 1, 1911, it seems reasonable to call these 1911 cars “1912s.”

* Ford records show the first number of 1912 production to be 69,877 but invoices show numbers above 70,000 built in September 1911.

The last of the 1911-built “1912” Touring Cars used the typical 1911 body with the “step“ in the side panel and the front-opening rear doors, but with the one-piece dash. They retained the 1911 top support straps which extended forward to the front of the chassis. The new 1912 Touring body had the relatively smooth side panels, with rear doors that opened at the rear. As noted, the front compartment was enclosed with matching but removable panels. Similar fore door assemblies were used on the late 1911-style bodies to “update” the older style. With these panels in place, the 1912 Ford took on the general appearance that was to typify the Model T for the next decade or so.

Interestingly, the 1912 catalog, dated December 1911, illustrates the 1912 Touring with the smooth sides but with front-opening rear doors. While this style may have been produced, it must have been quite rare. More likely the catalog illustration was an artist’s creation, and he just put the door handles on the wrong side. The same catalog illustrates the 1911 Runabout. The Town Car is shown with the fore doors, and the Delivery Car, then new, is pictured. The new Torpedo Runabout, based on the standard Runabout body, completed the line.

The new 1912 Torpedo was announced in a letter to the branches, dated October 27, 1911. This car replaced the earlier Torpedo and Open Runabouts which, while popular today because of their “racy” styling, were not too popular in 1911. The letter points out that this model now has standard height seats. Also, unlike the 1911 Torpedo, this new design used the standard hood, steering column and other chassis and body parts.

The standard Runabout followed the style of the earlier Runabouts. It was called the “Farm” or “Commercial” Runabout, and was supplied with a single “mother-in-law” seat on the rear deck. The December 1911 catalog shows the Commercial Runabout with the flat rear fenders but in all of the 1912 (calendar year) catalogs, the car is shown with the rounded fenders, the same as used on the Torpedo. The author has never seen a 1912 standard Runabout with anything but the flat fenders, and Ford’s Parts Lists show the cars using the same (flat) rear fenders as on the Tourings. Perhaps both types were used, but more likely the catalog picture is incorrect. In any event, Ford went back to the flat rear fenders in their 1913 catalogs.

With the new bodies on the Touring Cars an improvement came in the top support. Instead of having the front support straps running all the way to the front of the chassis, they now hooked to a bracket at the windshield hinge. The tubular metal windshield supports to the front of the chassis were continued, however.

This new 1912 series of cars lasted but a part of the year. In September 1912 (perhaps even a bit earlier) the 1913 body style was introduced. The last of the 1912 Torpedos were “sold out” in October 1912, to be replaced with the 1913 style. (While called “Torpedos” by Ford in later years, the 1912 Torpedo was the last car of this name to have the rear-mounted gasoline tank.) Although the new 1913 Touring was shown in the fall, the older Town Car continued. The Delivery Car was still shown, although none had been built for several months. It had proved to be a poor seller, and it took a little time to get rid of the stock. 513 Delivery Cars were sold after October 1, 1912, but all were “old stock.” The last one was sold in December 1912, and that was the end of the Model T Delivery Car business, although accessory bodies of this style, provided by outside suppliers, were used on the Ford chassis in later years.

Most of the 1912 Fords used the “1912” 12-rivet rear axle which had been introduced in the summer of 1911. Based on seemingly original cars, and from photos of later 1912 cars, it would appear that the “1913” rear axle was introduced in the later part of 1912, before the 1913 models. (The 1913 axle is the type used from 1913 through early 1915, with the “fatter” center section having a shape similar to all later Model Ts.)

The engines in the 1912 cars continued in the 1911 pattern. The serial-number boss was located just behind the timing gear housing on the right side until about number 100,000, when it was moved to a location just behind the water inlet on the left side. Shortly after that, it was again moved to the standard location above the water inlet. The actual date of these changes is not known the 100,000 figure is approximate.) 1912 cylinder blocks were not marked with the “Made in USA.”

The “Made in USA” on the cylinder head appeared late in the year and is believed to have been before the introduction of the 1913 models. The bulk of 1912 production had only “Ford” cast into the head (plus the usual foundry identification numbers).

The standard carburetor used on the 1912 cars was the Holley H-1 (P/N 4550), introduced in 1911. There were also Kingston “6-ball” carburetors used in limited numbers but Ford did not list the Kingston in the parts books.

Early 1912 production used a new aluminum timer with an integral oil-filler spout. The timing gear cover used with this timer had no oil filler spout. This timer proved to be unsatisfactory and was replaced with another aluminum timer of what was to become the standard design. The timing gear cover once again had the oil spout. Both of these 1912 covers had the fan adjustment screw on the right side, and this screw bore against a boss at the engine end of the fan support arm, a system which continued until the 1926 models.

The ignition coil box for 1912 was either the Heinze 4600 or the Kingston 4675. The Heinze box used coils which measured 2-5/16 by 3-1/16 by 5 inches. The Kingston used coils which were 2-9/16 by 2-5/16 by 5-3/4 inches. It is possible that some of the earlier Kingston 4660 boxes were used in early 1912 production. This box used the same coils as the 4675 box.

1912 is believed to have been the last year in which dust pans were installed at the factory between the transmission and the frame. These pans may have been discontinued much earlier some sources say as early as late 1910. The pans at the sides of the engine continued, of course, throughout Model T production.

The fuel tank used in the 1912 cars (other than the Torpedo) continued in the pattern of the 1911’s, with the mounting brackets riveted to the tank. The sediment bulb was located to the center of the tank, directly over the universal joint. The tank was again modified during the year, this time to use separate mounting brackets, and with the bulb between the frame rail and the driveshaft—the location used on the round (and oval) tanks until the end of the Model T era.

The aluminum hood continued the pattern of the 1911’s. Sometime during this period the hold-down clamps, still forged, were given another “ear,” adding to the owner’s convenience since he did not now have to look at the clamp to put it in place. Real progress here!

The bulb horn on the 1912’s began with the double-twist, all-brass type. Early on, these were superseded with an all-brass single-twist type. Later in the year the black and brass single-twist horn appeared, before the 1913 models. 1912 truly began the “black and brass” era.

Headlamps were generally either E&J 666 with the Ford script, and all brass, or the Brown Model 19. As with the horn, the black and brass lamps appeared later in the year. These were E&J 666 or Brown 16.

Side lamps were all brass E&J “Pat. 1908” or Brown 100. The black and brass E&J 30 or 32, or the Brown 110 (and perhaps the Corcoran and Victor lamps of 1913) appeared later in the year. The tail lamps were E&J “Pat. 1908” or Brown 105, with the E&J 10 or 12, and the Brown 115 (black and brass) appearing later.

The radiator continued in the pattern of the 1911’s, with the cast filler neck. There was no “Made in USA” under the Ford script during most of the year but this may have been added before the 1913 models.

Speedometers were standard equipment. They were all apparently Stewart Model 26, in two styles, both all-brass. The first Stewart 26 had round holes in the face for the odometer five across the upper part, and three across the lower part for the trip odometer. The later Model 26 used a drum-type odometer, with the drums appearing through rectangular holes across the upper half of the face. Black and brass models may have appeared later in the year.

1912 was the last year in which the hard-rubber knobs were used for the spark and throttle levers. These were replaced with levers with flattened ends. It is possible that some early 1913 style cars used the rubber knobs but these were just transitional models.

The steering column itself continued in the style of the 1911’s with the brass gear case, brass-plated levers, the fifteen-inch black-painted steering wheel with the forged iron spider, and the brass quadrant. Earlier production 1912 cars used the bronze steering wheel spider, perhaps being painted black.

Upholstery in the open cars was for the most part leather but some leatherette seems to have been used in later production.

1912 is the only Model T production year in which no verifiable production figures have been found. The existing records indicate 1912 production began with engine number 68,877 but other records show numbers above 70,000 as having been built in September 1911. (The 1912 Ford fiscal year began October 1, 1911 and ended September 30, 1912.) Our official “guesstimate” is that “1912” cars would be in the engine number range of 70,750 to 157,424. The earlier numbers, of course, would be 1911-style cars. The later numbers could be “1913” models. Serial numbers for the calendar year 1912 were from 88,901 to 183,563. In addition 12,247 “B-numbered” engines were used between October 1, 1912 and January 1, 1913. These went into “1913” models. Interestingly, too, the regular serial numbers skipped 12,247 numbers between 157,xxx and 169,xxx this gap being filled with the 12,247 B-numbers.

1912 was a strange year in that there was no numerical sequence in the use of serial numbers versus assembly dates. It would seem that engines were assembled and stored for future use. Sort of a first-in, last-out sequence. This was particularly true in the last three months when the B-numbered engines were used. The lower numbers were used in December while the higher numbers were used in October, again in a random sequence.

#233 Model T

When Ford Motor Company introduced its new Model T on October 1, 1908, even an inveterate optimist like Henry Ford (1863-1947) could not predict the vast changes that his rather homely new vehicle would produce. What flowed from this series of bold innovations was more than an endless stream of Model Ts &mdash it was the very foundation of the twentieth century itself. The assembly line became the century's characteristic production mode, eventually applied to everything from phonographs to hamburgers. High-wage, low-skilled factory jobs accelerated both immigration from overseas and the movement of Americans from the farms to the cities and into an ever-expanding middle class. The creation of huge numbers of low-skilled workers also gave rise in the 1930s to industrial unionism as a potent social and political force. Higher wages allowed workers to buy the very goods they produced, including cars. The Model T spawned mass "automobility," altering our living patterns, our leisure activities, our landscape, and even our atmosphere. Finally, mass automobility meant that everywhere there was crude oil in the ground, from the Permian Basin to the Persian Gulf, there was a potential for wealth and conflict.

The Model T had some advanced features, like a four-cylinder engine with a detachable cylinder head and a one-piece cylinder block. It did use lightweight, high-strength vanadium alloy steel. But one key to its early success was a simple thing like ample ground clearance, allowing it to deal with abysmal rural roads. At $850 the new car was cheap for its day, but still cost $30 more than the average worker's annual wage. The real key to the Model T's importance lies in Henry Ford's oft-quoted desire to "&hellip build a car for the great multitude . so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one." Ford fervently believed that if automobiles could be priced low enough, people would clamor for them.

By the end of 1913, Ford and his engineers built a huge new factory, created the moving assembly line, and driven the price of a Model T down to $550. But the pace and nature of work on the assembly line led to labor turnover so high that, on January 5, 1914, Ford Motor Company announced that it was nearly doubling its prevailing wage rate to $5 a day, an unheard of amount of money for unskilled or semiskilled work.

By the time the last Model T was produced on May 26, 1927, it was obsolescent technology, being fast superseded by more powerful, more comfortable competitors. But nothing has equaled its impact.

The 1927 Ford Model T, on display at The Henry Ford, is the 15 millionth Ford Model T to be produced. This touring car has a 4-cylinder, in-line, water-cooled, 176.7 cu. in., 20 hp engine, and its price at the time was $380. It came off the line at Ford's Highland Park, Michigan, plant on May 26, 1927, and marked the end of Model T production. Eight of Ford's longest serving employees &mdash John Wandersee, August Degener, Frank Kulick, Fred Rockleman, Charles Hartner, Charles Maida, Peter Martin, and Charles Sorensen &mdash each stamped a serial number numeral on the engine. Henry Ford's son Edsel drove the car off the line, accompanied by his father, Martin, and Sorensen. The car has always remained in the possession of Ford Motor Company or The Henry Ford.

Text: Robert Casey, Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford
Museum photo: Courtesy of The Henry Ford
Other photos: Courtesy of David Harrington

Ford Model T Specs and operation

The original was built with a 22hp, 4-cylinder engine allowing a Model T top speed of between 35 and 40 miles an hour. That’s pretty fast for the era and speed of other transportation available at the time.

The cooling system for the engine was a splash system. The gas tank was beneath the front seat and used gravity to feed the engine.

The gas tank is in a position where it can easily catch on fire — which was apparently a Ford principle, as this issue later again rose later with the Pinto and its placement fiasco.

The transmission was a 2-speed that was operated through foot pedals instead of hand gear shift box.

The impact of the Model T

Where do we even begin here? The impact of the Model T is almost beyond description. First and foremost, when Henry Ford aimed to design a car for the masses, that was precisely what he got. Over its 19 years of production, 16.5 million cars were sold. This wasn’t just in the USA either, 57 percent of the world’s automobiles were Model Ts by 1921.

Anyone could own this car: it was cheap enough that any working person would have been able to afford one, with Ford’s own workers being no exception. The factory adopted a $5 daily minimum wage in 1914. This handsome paycheck would likely not have been possible without the Model T.

Over its 19 years of production, 16.5 million cars were sold

It standardized American cars from 1908 onwards: steering was now left-hand drive. Before the Model T, steering was often right-hand drive in American cars. Its trim levels were flexible, with the standard Roadster being produced alongside the pickup truck-style Runabout.

Finally, it was the first global car. As well as being produced in the United States, factories sprung up in England, Mexico, Spain, France, Denmark, and Japan, among other nations.

It was the car that put the world on wheels and kickstarted the car culture we have today.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:

The story of one of Henry Ford’s most interesting friendships.

It’s fair to say these cars were never as influential as the Model T.

DIY car maintenance is still very possible today. Read this guide for some pro tips!

Rise to Fame

Henry Ford's Model T cars opened up the roads for the American middle class. The car was affordable because of Ford's simple but ingenious use of the assembly line, which increased productivity. Because of this increase in productivity, the price dropped from $850 in 1908 to less than $300 in 1925.

The Model T was named the most influential car of the 20th century as it became a symbol of America's modernization. Ford built 15 million Model T cars between 1918 and 1927, representing as much as 40 percent of all car sales in the United States, depending on the year.

Black is the color associated with the Tin Lizzie—and that was the only color available from 1913 to 1925—but initially, black was not available. Early buyers had a choice of gray, blue, green, or red.

The Model T was available in three styles all mounted on a 100-inch-wheelbase chassis:


It has been said that these were "made" @ Ford's Iron Mountain facility in Michigan's upper peninsula, then shipped to Detroit where these now-woody bodies were mounted on a rolling chassis. My question is:

- were the wagon bodies really fabricated @ Iron Mountain, or

- were they fabricated in Detroit then shipped upstate just to have the panels affixed (seems.

With the holiday season upon us, perhaps no one would object to my sharing the Amazon link to my novel “Henry’s Lady,” which features a Model A enthusiast as the primary character. Thank you very much for any consideration! And happy holidays from Indiana!

Historic Engines – The Ford Model T

When we talk about engine development, we mean it. Development is a process in which we take everything we know and we try something new. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but without an understanding of all the steps that have gone before, how do you get a clue about the next step to take?

That’s the idea behind the next series of articles you’re going to find here at EngineLabs. We’re going to take a look at the great engines of the past, and see what those engines have to offer us today – even if it’s a cautionary tale of what not to do. The Historic Engines series will take it all in, and put today’s best engines in context.

If you have an idea of an engine we should cover, please send it along and we’ll get it on the list.

We decided to start almost at the beginning, with Ford’s original mass-market engine, delivered in almost 16 million units of the Model T. Between its introduction in 1908 and the end of production in 1927, the basic engine in the Model T hardly changed at all, and it continued to be used in a wide variety of applications after Ford moved on. Millions of Model T engines are still running today, about 100 years later.

The Model T was the car that put America on wheels, and the engine is central to the success of the vehicle. Henry Ford was a maniac about cutting costs everywhere a penny could be saved. He even had farms raising cattle to provide leather for his seats and beef for his workers to eat at lunchtime. Ford put pressure on his engineers to build the Model T engine to be versatile, reliable, and inexpensive. The results they achieved are pure genius.

The Model T engine is as simple as an engine can possibly be. It’s an inline 4-cylinder flathead design – specifically an L-Head configuration. That means that the valves are next to the pistons, pointed upwards. The head is not truly flat, having four spade-shaped combustion chambers to accommodate the valves. But there’s no chance of valve/piston interference – remember that.

The T engine displaces 2.9 liters (177 cubic inches), and has a bore of 3.75 inches and a 4-inch stroke. The compression ratio was a mere 4.5:1, creating normal cylinder pressures of only 50-75 psi. As a result, the engine develops about 20 horsepower, but it makes 83 pound-feet of torque due to the long stroke and relatively large displacement.

The genius of the Model T engine is not in what it has, but rather what it lacks. There is no oil pump – all lubrication happens by splashing the crank through the oil pan, drenching the three main bearings, the cam, and the lifters with oil.

There’s no water pump, either. Ford’s engineers realized that hot water rises, and they created an unpressurized cooling system that feeds cooled water from the radiator into the bottom of the block, relying on convection to push the hot water out the top and into the radiator. It works, sort of. Model T drivers know to carry extra water.

Don’t look for a fuel pump, either. It’s all gravity-fed from a tank under the seat to a simple carburetor with two adjustments: an idle stop and a mixture needle. The driver can adjust the mixture from the cockpit. There’s a basic choke, accessible from the front of the car near the crank, and from the driver’s seat if the Model T has electric start capability. The throttle is a lever mounted by the steering wheel, like a tractor.

The ignition system is also a marvel of easy design. There is a basic distributor mechanism on the front of the engine, driven directly off the camshaft. The driver sets the spark timing by means of a second lever near the steering wheel, which rotates the distributor cap. Timing can be adjusted by bending the metal rod that connects the lever to the distributor.

In practice, you want the spark to be fully retarded to after top dead center to start the engine, then you advance it as soon as the engine is started. This is to avoid kickback through the hand crank and to make the engine easier to start. Four separate box coils are actuated by the commutator in the distributor housing, and each emits a short buzz when sparking.

Because of the extremely basic design of the Model T engine, owners could run the car on gasoline, kerosene, or grain alcohol (pure ethanol). This “multifuel” capability was also done by design, to allow farmers to create their own fuel with excess corn. You can literally run a Model T on Moonshine! A generator and electric starter became standard equipment on 1920 models, but before that the only accessory on the engine was a simple fan driven by a flat belt.

Here’s something you probably don’t know – the Model T was single-handedly responsible for the birth of aftermarket speed equipment. Remember that the Model T engine cannot have any interference between the valves and pistons? That opened the door for companies like RAJO to make high compression heads that boosted compression for more power. Other companies made upgrade “Rocky Mountain” brake kits, Ruckstell made two-speed rear axles that enabled speeds up to 60 MPH, and other people created a full list of aftermarket gear to customize your Model T.

The Model T engine almost looks like a toy by modern standards, but if you put in four quarts of modern synthetic oil, this machine will keep running effectively forever. Henry Ford eventually cut the price of a new Model T from $850 in 1908 to just $260 for a roadster in 1925. That’s about $3,500 in today’s dollars, for a brand new car. Today, typical prices for an unmodified and good condition Model T range from about $5,000 to $10,000.


When America entered World War II, all three automakers pivoted to military production.

Horses remained the leading method of transportation during the war, but trucks played an important role, Noble said. Automakers learned to build heavier-duty chassis and to implement four-wheel drive.

“Pickups took a huge technological leap forward,” Noble said.

The trucks that followed were profoundly modern. Dodge introduced the Power Wagon in 1946 as the first production four-wheel-drive pickup truck. In 1947, Chevrolet debuted its Advance Design trucks with an aerodynamic design and roomier interior.

Ford introduced its F-Series line in 1948 and began to focus on a smoother ride and new creature comforts such as armrests, an automatic transmission and attractive two-tone paint. The radio and heater were improved. Ford built its first factory four-wheel-drive truck in 1959.

Ford used the F-Series to transition pickup trucks from the farm to the driveway. The introduction of the F-150 in 1975 was another step toward making trucks more versatile and comfortable.

“With all the features that were available in cars, it just opened the door to this incredible marketplace for trucks,” said David Cole, a founder of industry marketplace AutoHarvest.

Since 1977, Ford has sold more than 26 million F-Series trucks.


Life without cars in nearly every driveway may seem unimaginable for most Americans today, as cars have become crucial to everyday life. This fact that cars have become such a common and expected presence in the U.S. and in countries around the world can be traced back to automaker and innovator Henry Ford. His efforts and forward-thinking creations made automobiles accessible to not only the wealthy but to the less affluent as well. Additionally, he also changed how cars, and ultimately other goods, are manufactured. From humble beginnings, the life of Henry Ford was marked by successes that changed the world of transportation and industry.

1863: Henry Ford is born on a farm not far from Detroit in what is currently Dearborn, Michigan. His parents are Mary and William Ford.

1879: At the age of 16, Henry leaves home for Detroit and a machinist apprenticeship.

1888: Henry marries Clara Bryant.

1891: The Edison Illuminating Company hires Ford as an engineer.

1893: Edsel Ford is born to Clara and Henry. Also during this year, the Edison Illuminating Company promotes Ford to the position of chief engineer.

1896: Ford finishes his first vehicle, which took him two years to complete. It is called the Quadricycle. The two-cylinder automobile weighed approximately 500 pounds and had two speeds and a four-cycle gasoline engine.

1899: With the help of investors such as William C. Maybury, who was the mayor of Detroit at the time, Ford opens the Detroit Automobile Company. As a result, he leaves his position at the Edison Illuminating Company.

1900: The Detroit Automobile Company closes.

1901: Ford designs a car that wins a 10-mile race against Alexander Winton, a top race-car driver at the time. The attention that comes from this race leads to the founding of the Henry Ford Company, where he serves as the chief engineer.

1902: Ford leaves the Henry Ford Company and builds the Ford 999 race car.

1903: The Ford Motor Company is incorporated in June of this year and successfully produces the Model A. By July, the first Model A is sold to a dentist in Chicago.

1908: The Model T is released. Known as the "Tin Lizzie," the Model T was made to be affordable for everyone and easy to maintain. The vehicle sold so well the company had difficulty producing enough to meet the high demand. It would ultimately become one of the best-selling cars of all time.

1913: Ford becomes the first company to use an assembly line for automotive production. This revolutionary process allowed the manufacturer to produce the Model T significantly faster to meet demand.

1914: To reduce staff turnover, Ford cuts the 9-hour work day to 8 hours and begins to pay workers $5 daily, more than double the normal pay.

1914: The first full-service industrial motion picture firm, the Photographic Department, is formed by Ford Motor Company to create motion pictures and still photographs. It releases its first film during the summer of the same year, called How Henry Ford Makes One Thousand Cars a Day.

1917: The Ford Model TT is produced. It is the manufacturer's first pickup truck.

1918: The manufacturing of Eagle-class antisubmarine patrol boats begins at the River Rouge Complex.

1925: Ford builds the first of his multi-engine, all-metal Tri-Motor airplanes, which would become the first airplanes used by commercial airlines. The planes are given the nickname "Tin Goose."

1927: In efforts to open rubber plantations as a source of rubber for the Ford Motor Company, Ford buys land in Brazil. This would later become the industrial town known as Fordlandia.

1927: Ford's River Rouge Complex begins producing entirely finished cars. The vehicles produced at this factory were built from the ground up using raw materials owned by the Ford Motor Company.

December 1927: The new Ford Model A is released to the public.

1928: The Ford Model T is discontinued after having sold more than 15 million vehicles.

1933: Ford opens the Edison Institute, which would later become known as the Henry Ford Museum.

1937: The Battle of the Overpass occurs at the River Rouge Complex. The incident occurs when Ford security attacks United Auto Workers members who, with city permit in hand, are passing out leaflets in an effort to unionize Ford's workers.

1941: After declaring in April that he would rather close factories than answer union demands for higher pay, Ford agrees in July to give workers some of the highest wages in the industry, plus a union shop. Also this year, Ford begins making jeeps for the military along with Willys-Overland.

1943: Stomach cancer claims the life of Ford's son.

1945: During a trip to Richmond early in the year, Ford has a stroke, which affects him both mentally and physically. Later that year, his grandson, Henry Ford II, sells Fordlandia.