| September 2003

Henry Ford's dream car appealed to farmer and city dweller alike

Henry Ford probably did more to put the American farmer on wheels than any other individual in American history. Ford's famous Model T not only carried farmers and their families to town, church and school, but it hauled milk and eggs, as well as livestock and produce to market, powered feed grinders and cream separators, and even pulled plows, mowers and other implements.

Eugene W. Lewis wrote in his 1947 book, Motor Memories, about a conversation he once had with Henry Ford, who founded the Ford Motor Co. 100 years ago. About 1905, Lewis was selling Timken roller bearings. The salesman and the automaker were discussing the fledgling auto business when Ford bragged, 'I am going to make a motor car that will be light and strong and clean so that women can drive it. And it will have enough power to do any kind of work called for, and will be sold so any man who can own an average horse and buggy can afford to own a car.'

Henry finally introduced his dream car, the revolutionary Model T, on Oct. 1, 1908. The car weighed 1,200 pounds, and its four-cylinder engine gave it a top speed of 40 mph. Purposefully built with high road clearance, its tall fenders, strong transverse leaf springs and center-pivot front axle allowed the little car to twist and turn as it crawled over the rough rural roadsĀ  or even no road at all. The T could grind through deep mud, snow or sand, climb steep grades and cross deep streams, although the driver had to keep the 'C' pedal firmly depressed to keep the transmission in low gear.

The planetary transmission, with its orbital gears, made the car easy to drive. Even so, an early account in The New Yorker magazine made Model T driving sound a little too exciting. 'To get under way, you simply hooked the third finger of the right hand around a lever (hand throttle) on the steering column, pulled down hard, and shoved your foot forcibly against the low-speed pedal.

Model T Delivery Car

FORD Model T Torpedo

These were simple, positive motions; the car responded by lunging forward with a roar. After a few seconds of this turmoil, you took your foot off the pedal, eased up a mite on the throttle, and the car catapulted directly into high with a series of ugly jerks and was off on its glorious errand. The abruptness of this departure was never equaled in other cars of this period.'

By the time the all new Model A was unveiled in 1928, more than 15,000,000 Model Ts had been sold. In fact, the 'Tin Lizzies,' as they came to be called, seemed to be everywhere. 'Tin Lizzie' was only one of the many nicknames given to the car, however. Others included the Flivver, Bouncing Betty, Leaping Lena, the Spirit of St. Vitus and the Mechanical Cockroach.