The Birth of the Ford Model T

The formula for the Ford Model T's success was a very basic one: It was simple, it was tough, and it was cheap (but not cheaply built). In some respects it was even ahead of its time. The engine, for example, was cast en bloc at a time when most manufacturers cast their cylinders singly or in pairs. Further, the cylinder head was removable, a daring innovation at the time. People, including many so-called experts, said it would leak, but it didn't.

And Ford's metallurgy, under the direction of C. Harold Wills (who would later build the Wills Sainte Claire), was superior to that of most cars selling at many times the Model T's price. That figure, $825 at first, was steadily reduced as output increased, until by 1924 a brand new Ford runabout could be purchased for as little as $260!

By 1913, the year Ford production first topped the 200,000 mark, Henry had to abandon his original notion of using conveyor belts to bring component parts to the assembly point. Instead, he substituted a moving assembly line, operated at first by means of a windlass. By year's end he was able to assemble a complete car in 93 minutes, while most of his competitors still measured their production time in days.

It was in 1914 that Henry Ford is said to have issued his now-famous declaration that "the public can have any color it wants, so long as it's black!" There was a certain arrogance to the pronouncement, and indeed Ford could be an arrogant man. But in this instance the dictum made sense, for in those days the only available finish that would dry fast enough to keep up with the hectic pace of the Ford assembly line -- now turning out more than 300,000 cars annually -- was black Japan enamel.

The true success of the Ford Model T lay in its engineering. On the next page, learn about the features of the Ford Model T.

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