The Ford Model T (colloquially known as the Tin Lizzie and also the Flivver) was an automobile produced by Henry Ford's Ford Motor Company from 1908 through 1927. The Model T set 1908 as the historic year that the automobile came into popular usage. It is generally regarded as the first affordable automobile, the car that "put America on wheels"; some of this was because of Ford's innovations, including assembly line production instead of individual hand crafting, as well as the concept of paying the workers a wage proportionate to the cost of the car, so that they would provide a ready made market. The first production Model T was built on September 27, 1908, at the Piquette Plant in Detroit, Michigan.
There were several cars produced or prototyped by Henry Ford from the founding of the company in 1903 until the Model T came along. 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 Ford 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 and not the Model U. 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. As it happens, the first Plymouth car (1928), built by competitor Chrysler Corporation, was named the Model U.
The Ford Model T was named the world's most influential car of the twentieth century in an international poll. 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 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.
The Model T had a front mounted, 177 |in3 (2.9 L) four-cylinder en bloc motor (that is, all four in one block, as common now, rather than in individual castings, as common then) producing 20.2 hp (15 kW) for a top speed of 40-45 mph (64-72 km/h). The small four cylinder engine was known for its L heads. According to Ford Motor, the Model T had fuel economy on the order of 13 to 21 mpg (5 to 9 kilometres per litre or 11.1 to 18.7 litres per 100 km). The engine was capable of running on gasoline or ethanol, though the decreasing cost of gasoline and the later introduction of Prohibition in the United States made ethanol an impractical fuel.
A flywheel magneto (broadly equivalent to a modern alternator) produced low voltage alternating current to power a trembler coil, which created a high voltage current. This ignition pulse was passed to the timer (analogous to a distributor in a modern vehicle) and redistributed to the firing cylinder. Ignition timing was adjusted manually by using the spark advance lever mounted on the steering column which rotated the timer. A battery could be used for starting current: at hand-cranking speed, the magneto did not always produce sufficient current. A certain amount of skill and experience was required to find the optimal timing for any speed and load. When electric headlights were introduced in 1915, the magneto was upgraded to supply power for the lights and horn. In keeping with the goal of ultimate reliability and simplicity, the trembler coil and magneto ignition system was retained even after the car became equipped with a generator and battery for electric starting and lighting. Most cars sold after 1919 were equipped with electric starting, which was engaged by a small round pedal on the floor in front of the driver's seat. Before starting a Model T with the hand crank, the spark had to be manually retarded or the engine might "kick back". The crank handle was cupped in the palm, rather than grabbed with the thumb over the top of the handle, so that if the engine did kick back, the rapid reverse motion of the crank would throw the hand away from the handle, rather than violently twisting the wrist or breaking the thumb. Most Model T Fords had the choke operated by a wire emerging from the bottom of the radiator where it could be operated with the left hand while cranking the engine with the right hand. The car's 10 gallon (38 litre) fuel tank was mounted to the frame beneath the front seat; one variant had the carburetor (a Holley Model G) modified to run on ethyl alcohol, to be made at home by the self-reliant farmer. Because fuel relied on gravity to flow forward from the fuel tank to the carburetor, a Model T could not climb a steep hill when the fuel level was low. The immediate solution was often to drive up steep hills in reverse. In 1926, the fuel tank was moved forward to under the cowl on most models.
Early on the engine blocks were to be produced by the Lakeside Foundry on St. Jean in Detroit. Ford cancelled the deal before many engine blocks were produced. While the first few hundred Model Ts had a water pump, its use was abandoned early in production. Ford opted for a cheaper and more reliable circulation system based on the thermo-syphon principle. Hot water, being less dense, would rise to the top of the engine and up into the top of the radiator, descending to the bottom as it cooled, and back into the engine. This was the direction of water flow in most makes of cars even when they did have water pumps, until the introduction of crossflow radiator designs. Water pumps were also available as an aftermarket accessory for Model T.
The Model T's transmission was controlled with three foot pedals and a lever that was 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 gear. When pressed and held forward the car entered low gear. When held in an intermediate position the car was in neutral, a state that could also be achieved by pulling the floor-mounted lever to an upright position. If the lever was pushed forward and the driver took his foot off the left pedal, the Model T entered high gear. The car could thus cruise without the driver having to press any of the pedals. There was no separate clutch pedal. The middle pedal was used to engage reverse gear, and the right pedal operated the engine brake. 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 extremely 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 even though it was nominally in neutral. Power reached the differential through a single universal joint attached to a torque tube which drove the rear axle; some models (typically trucks) could be equipped with an optional two speed rear axle shifted by a floor mounted lever. All gears were vanadium steel running in an oil bath.
When introduced, the T used the building methods typical at the time, assembly by hand, and production was small. Ford's Piquette 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. In 1910, after assembling nearly 12,000 Model Ts, Henry Ford moved the company to the new Highland Park complex.
The assembly line was introduced to Ford by William C. Klann upon his return from visiting a slaughterhouse at Chicago's Union Stock Yards and viewing what was referred to as the "disassembly line" where animals were cut apart as they moved along a conveyor. The efficiency of one person removing the same piece over and over caught his attention. He reported the idea to Peter E. Martin, who was doubtful at the time, but encouraged him to proceed. Others at Ford have claimed to have put the idea forth to Henry Ford, but William "Pa" Klann's slaughterhouse revelation is well documented in the archives at the Henry Ford Museum and elsewhere, making him the father of the modern automated assembly line concept. The process was an evolution by trial and error of a team consisting primarily of Peter E. Martin, the factory superintendent; Charles E. Sorensen, Martin's assistant; Harold Wills, draftsman and toolmaker; Clarence W. Avery; and Charles Lewis. When the first car was completed using the assembly line, in front of the media, onlookers and even Henry Ford, it was Pa Klann who drove it proudly off the line.
As a result, Ford's cars came off the line in three minute intervals, much faster than previous methods, increasing production by eight to one (requiring 12.5 man-hours before, 1 man-hour 33 man-minutes afterwards), while using less manpower.
By 1914, the assembly process for the Model T had been so streamlined it took only 93 minutes to assemble a car. That year 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, 9 out of 10 of all cars in the entire world were Fords. In fact, it was so successful that Ford did not purchase any advertising between 1917 and 1923; in total, more than 15 million Model Ts were manufactured, more than any other model of automobile for almost a century.
Henry Ford's eccentric approach to research and development meant few changes to the vehicle were made over its lifetime; 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. Eventually, on May 26, 1927, Ford Motor Company ceased production and began the changeovers required to produce the Model A.
Model T engines continued to be produced until August 4, 1941. Almost 170,000 engines were built after car production stopped. Replacement engines were required to continue 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.
By the 1920s, the price had fallen to $300 (about $3,400 in 2006 inflation-adjusted dollars) because of increasing efficiencies of assembly line technique and volume. Henry employed vertical integration of the industries needed to create his cars. He specified how to make the wood crates that outside suppliers used to ship him parts. Then he disassembled the crates and used the preformed wood pieces in the bodies of his cars. He also used wood scraps to make charcoal and sold it under the brand name "Kingsford," still a leading brand of charcoal.
Sales passed 250,000 in 1914. By 1916, as the price dropped to $360 for the basic touring car, sales reached 472,000.
By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model Ts. However, it was a monolithic bloc; as Ford wrote in his autobiography, "Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black". Until the development of the assembly line, which mandated black because of its quicker drying time, Model Ts were available in other colors including red. The design was fervently promoted and defended by Ford, and production continued into 1927; the final total production was 15,007,034. This record was achieved in just 19 years from the introduction of the Model T and stood for the next 45 years