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100 years of a car

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the Ford Model-T car, the vehicle that changed the face of the automobile business, helping to put the four-wheeled auto within reach of a vast swathe of the American population. Ford’s mass-production techniques may not have been totally original, since one can argue that some of the features of mass production used had been employed in parts of the industrialised world before. But the factories that churned out these cars were probably the most famous forms of mass-production in their time, and encouraged a host of imitators.

Here’s a nifty slide-show on the anniversary.

16 comments to 100 years of a car

  • llamas

    Well, I’ll build on that . . .

    At one time, for quite-along-time, there were more Ford Model T’s on the road than any other car – perhaps than all other cars combined.

    Have you ever driven a Model T? I have. It’s not for the faint-of-heart, because its driving controls are different than any other automobile ever made, before or since.

    It has a manual (non-automatic) transmission – but there is no gear-shift lever. It has three pedals on the floor, but they do not have the same functions as the three pedals on the floor of any modern automobile with a manual transmission.

    The pedal on the left is the clutch and the gear-shift (it’s only got 2). All-the-way-down is ‘low’ – in the middle is neutral (but neutral is an abstraction in an auto with an epicyclic transmission and you have to set the parking brake to leave it in neutral) – and all-the-way-up is ‘high’. The middle pedal is the reversing pedal – it can go just-as-fast backwards as it can forwards, which is to say, not-very-fast-at-all. The pedal on the right is the brake. The accelerator is hand-operated.

    For 20 years, this was the majority or default design for automobile driving controls. More people used this arrangement, more people learned this arrangement, than any other system that came even close in terms of numbers. If there was a world standard, this was it.

    If the EU had their way, this arrangement of driving controls would be mandated by law and any other arrangement would be outlawed . . . .

    Just my little joke, there . . .

    There’s a fellow in my town who drives his Model T pickup to town on sunny days. Still runs like the day it was made. He could have ‘historic vehicle’ tags for it and pay no road taxes, but those have a mileage limitation and it’s not enough for his needs – so it just has a regular MI tag on it.

    They don’t build ’em like that anymore.



  • Pedant

    Yes, the Ford Model T started an explosive trend that we are still seeing – it’s almost like “Planet Ford”.
    I remember when, as a young car enthusiast, I had been speaking disparagingly about the ubiquitous Ford cars (e.g., the Ford Cortina), until my mother said, “Well they can’t be all that bad. A lot of people living today may well have been conceived in the back of a Ford motor car.”
    She had a point.

  • RAB

    My dad caught a train from Cardiff to Birmingham
    in the twenties.
    Bought his car at the factory, and learned how to drive it on the way home to Wales.

    No licence test either. You just applied for one.

    It was a Lanchester though,
    not a Ford.

  • It had a manual spark-advance, too, like almost every car of the era. The driver manually adjusting ignition timing while driving.

    It took considerable technical skill to drive one of those things.

  • Laird

    I have never driven a Model T, but I have often wondered how the controls worked (I knew that acceleration was hand-controlled, but not much else). Thank you, llamas, for that description.

  • Love the description of the controls! I had no idea it was so unique.

    Without a doubt this is the anniversary of a revolution in transportation. Since then we’ve had great improvement, but these can only be described as evolution. I suspect the next revolution will look like this…


    The technology now supports the idea of full automation. And the efficiencies of full automation are just too good to pass up. It would be great to see Ford involved in creating the future rather than going under.


  • It was not just a revolution in transport. Henry Ford paid his workers the princely sum of $6 a day. This meant they could afford a Ford and the workers became the consumers. Totally pissed on the ideas of a certain bearded Kraut.

  • llamas

    Nick M. wrote:

    ‘It was not just a revolution in transport. Henry Ford paid his workers the princely sum of $6 a day. This meant they could afford a Ford and the workers became the consumers. Totally pissed on the ideas of a certain bearded Kraut. ‘

    Not so much. Ford paid his workers $5 a day, starting in 1914. But it wasn’t that straightforward. To make this rate, you had to work at least 6 months with perfect attendance, mesh into the new 3×8 hour shift system (which kept the Highland Park plant running 24×7 vs the previous 18×5), and you had to submit to, and pass, inspection by the staff of Ford’s ‘Sociological Department’, which vetted your habits in the matter of hygiene, ‘morals’ and politics. Part of the $5-a-day rate was also in the form of a profit-sharing bonus-style programme. Ford’s ideas were (in many ways) not so different than those of the followers of a certain bearded Kraut – certainly his modern followers – and they also had resonance with those of another, mustachio’ed Kraut who came a bit later.

    That being said, it was a great step forward for the workers – and for Ford, who cured his chronic absenteeism problems at-a-stroke, kept the unions at bay for 20 more years (Ford hated the unions), and created a mass of new customers for his own products. Ford often described $5-a-day as ‘the best cost-cutting measure we ever introduced’.



  • Paul Marks

    The government (local, State or Federal) should not have built “free” roads – and should not have regulated the rail industry to bits.

    And Henry Ford had lots of funny ideas.

    About “demand”,although he cut wages when he had to, he still believed that credit expansion and a “high wage” policy somehow created production – rather than developed production creating high wages.

    Henry Ford (whatever he may have thought he was doing) was not paying six Dollars a day to “increase demand” he was paying six Dollars a day to get the best men from his competitors (a very different thing) – Ford workers were the best workers (not a boast a simple matter of fact – if you were not the best you could go work for someone else, and the better men there could come work for Henry Ford).

    And, of course, his odd ideas about Jewish people.

    But all the above being said……

    Henry Ford was still a very great man. And the industry he helped create was one to be proud of.

    Even after the U.A.W. and the government defeated Ford in the 1930’s he still had one golden time – World War II.

    The top people out Ford managed to totally change how the company operated – and to produce on a scale and to a quality that government planners could only dream of.

  • sorry llamas:
    Neutral is neutral in an auto, no drive passes from the engine to the wheels, and the vehicles can be moved without the engine running, like being towed (although not advised) and park disconnects the drive and locks the transmission so even with the handbrake off the vehicle will not move.


  • llamas

    Sim-O wrote:

    ‘sorry llamas:
    Neutral is neutral in an auto, no drive passes from the engine to the wheels, and the vehicles can be moved without the engine running, like being towed (although not advised) and park disconnects the drive and locks the transmission so even with the handbrake off the vehicle will not move.

    Not in a Model T. The transmission is not a sliding-gear transmission, as you are probably accustomed to. It is an epicyclic transmission aka planetary transmission. Henry Ford had a jones for this design.

    Such a transmission is never really in “neutral”, since the gears are always in mesh. It is controlled by band brakes which selectively lock or release either the sun gear or planetary gear carrier(s), changing the sequence in which the gears drive and therefore the drive ratio(s). Similarly, the ‘service’ brake on a model T is actually another band in the transmission, and the driver must be careful to have the gear-shift pedal in the ‘neutral’ condition before fully applying the service brake, or the transmission will lock and the engine will stall. The ‘parking’ brake is a ratchet-secured lever which (when fully applied) places the gear-shift bands in the ‘neutral’ condition while also applying band brakes to the rear wheel drums.

    A Model T in ‘neutral’ with the engine running is like a pistol with the hammer cocked. It is only prevented from moving by the differential forces applied by the transmission brake bands, which make the planetary-gears rotate idly without transmitting power. The engine is never physically disconnected from the transmission, as it is in a manual transmission placed in ‘neutral’, where the gears are actually physically un-meshed. A Model T in the ‘neutral’ condition is akin to a modern auto with a hydrostatic automatic transmission in the ‘drive’ condition – unless held with the service or parking brakes, or by eg a steep incline, it will ‘inch’ forward. ‘Neutral’ is a transitory condition which occurs only when the operator exactly matches the retarding forces of the two braking bands in the transmission to a condition where both carriers stop moving. Model T’s with worn or mal-adjusted transmission brake bands were well-known for running-over drivers who were starting them with the hand-crank, even though the parking brake was set and the transmission was nominally in ‘neutral’.

    Model T’s have no ‘park’ condition as you describe. A smart Model T driver carried a wheel chock, since the wheel brakes were not of the finest.

    The humourist E. B White wrote a wonderful column about the joys of driving a Model T, which I link here


    in part because he describes in detail the less-than-neutral ways of the Tin Lizzie.

    If you book far enough in advance, you can actually take a course at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI, that will teach you how to drive a Model T.

    So now you know.



  • Thanks for that link llamas – indeed wonderful!

  • Laird

    Indeed wonderful. Thanks again, llamas!

  • llamas,
    I will now shut up and consider myself educated before I show myself up even more.

    It sounds completely bonkers.



  • llamas

    Sim-O – always happy to oblige 😉

    It’s not as bonkers as it sounds – the epicyclic transmission is at the heart of many modern hydrostatically-operated automatic transmissions. A single epicyclic gear set can give you 3 different speed ratios, which is why many automatics used to have 3 speeds. Two epicyclics in series would give you (in theory) 9 speeds, which is pretty handy but it’s hard to pack in all those brake bands and you don’t really need them anyway. But there’s plenty of 5- and 6-speed automatics tootling around these days.

    The key to making them work without having the thing run you over is to add a clutch or clutches and a mechanical lock aka the park pawl, which physically locks the trasnmission. Couple with a torque-limiting hydrostatic clutch aka torque converter, you can get what amounts to ‘true’ neutral and park conditions. All modern autos have these features.

    Ford did not consider them necessary. Henry Ford apparently hated the idea of clutches, and he wasn’t keen on volute gears either. The Fordson farm tractor was famous for the balkiness and unreliability of its clutch, which would not disengage when cold and/or when needed. Many people died while driving a Fordson when the plow hit a snag and the entire tractor drove itself around its own rear axle, to land on the driver, right around the third shirt-button. But it was a warm demise – Ford disliked volute gears so much that the Fordson had a worm-drive rear axle, which was so inefficient that the waste heat would fry the driver right out of his seat.

    Even the later Ford N-series tractors, the last tractor model that Henry Sr worked on, were equipped with one of his unique ideas – a centrifugally-assisted clutch, which gripped harder, the faster the engine was turning. This stroke of genius resulted in a clutch which is significantly-harder to release at high engine speeds – just when you might need it the most. YHS possesses, and uses, one of these fine old antiques, and, just like the Model T, driving it is a slightly-different skill that has to be learned.



  • The Ford production line was a take off on the packing plants of the day. Meat was at the heart of the motor revolution.