When Henry Ford introduced his new low-priced Model T in 1908, he could not have conceived what impact the humble “T” would have on the world. Before the Model T, most people had not traveled outside their hometown. By making cars available to the masses, this newfound mobility would soon alter American’s living patterns, their landscape, their leisure time, and even their air.
Henry Ford did not invent the assembly line (Ransom Olds was building his cars using the assembly line starting in 1901), but after touring meat-packing factories where the meat was sent down to the next worker by conveyor belts, he knew his car factory needed this missing, but crucial, step. Ford’s moving assembly line debuted in December 1913, reducing the time it took to complete one Model T from twelve hours to a mere two-and-a-half. By the end of 1914, Ford was out-producing all other American car makers combined. Bringing the initial purchase price down was key to widespread adoption of the automobile. From its original 1908 price of $825 (about $19,000 today) for the two-seater “Runabout” body style, the price sank to $260 (about $3,200 today) by 1924, due in large part to the efficiency of the moving assembly line.
Ford also wanted the consumer to be able to repair the car as easily as possible, so the T’s design is an exercise in simplicity. To keep repairs simple, and also to save on cost, there is no water pump, oil pump, or fuel pump. The engine is cooled through a primitive thermosiphon system, and the gas tank is located under the front seat. Fuel is gravity-fed to the engine, which works well when travelling on level ground…but hills would sometimes starve the engine of fuel. The T also rides high on a rather robust leaf spring suspension, well-suited for the mostly unpaved roads of the time.
The Model T seen here is a 1918 Touring, or open-topped model, and rolled off the assembly line on March 19th, 1918. Electric start wasn’t an option until 1919, so this car’s engine is still cranked by hand to start it. To reduce costs further, after 1914 all Model Ts were painted black, with black radiators and trim, as seen here. With its steering wheel-mounted throttle, two-speed planetary transmission, and distinctive low-RPM chug-chug-chug sound, driving this T is much like operating a tractor.
Manufacturer: Ford Motor Company
Country of Origin: United States
Drivetrain Configuration: Front-mounted, rear-wheel drive
Engine: Water-cooled, 177 cu. in., four-cylinder, 22hp
Transmission: Planetary 2-speed gearbox
Top Speed: 45 mph
Years of Production: 1908-1927
Number Produced: 15 Million
Original Cost: $360 for a Touring model ($6150 USD today)