Features of the Ford Model T

The first versions of the Ford Model T were way ahead of their time, though many of the features will probably seem archaic to today's standards.

In the early years one had to crank a Model T in order to get the engine started. And woe betide the driver who forgot to retard the spark before doing so -- doctors had to set many a broken arm resulting from the Ford engine kicking back while being cranked. An electric starter was offered as optional equipment commencing in 1919, but it added $75 -- about 15 percent -- to the price of the car. Many, possibly most, buyers elected to keep on cranking.

The technique of driving a Model T has almost become a lost art. Having cranked the engine into action, the driver had to advance the spark, then turn the ignition key from "battery" (used only for starting) to "magneto." At that point, he was ready to go.

The handbrake, located to the driver's left, was almost totally useless for stopping the car, nor would it hold the car very effectively if parked on a hill. Its real purpose was to disengage the gears, for once the brake was set the transmission was in neutral. Then as the driver released the hand brake, he opened the hand throttle a bit (there being no foot accelerator).

At the same time, he depressed the left pedal, placing the car in low gear. Amid a shrill whining sound, the Ford got under way. Then at a speed of perhaps 10 miles per hour, the driver released that pedal so that the transmission would shift itself into high gear. In the hands of a novice, the shift often took place with a pronounced jerk, but with a bit of practice most operators learned how to accomplish it more smoothly.

Reversing the Model T required the coordination of both feet and the right hand. The left foot depressed the "low" pedal halfway, thus releasing the transmission from high gear. The middle pedal (there were three) was then fully depressed, engaging the reverse gear. And of course the driver had to control the throttle with the right hand. Perhaps this helps explain why Henry Ford didn't bother to outfit the Model T with a foot accelerator, since a third foot would have been required in order to make use of it.

Then there was the service brake. Located in the transmission, it was operated by the pedal on the right. By modern standards it wasn't very effective, but truthfully it wasn't any worse than the conventional two-wheel binders used in those days by Chevrolet and other makes.

There was just one problem -- the brake band tended to wear out faster than the transmission's "low" or "reverse" bands. But that was solved if about every third time the driver slowed down he hit the reverse pedal, rather than the brake. No, this procedure wouldn't cause any damage, for the mechanism was tough enough to withstand a lot of punishment, and it helped assure that all three bands -- low, reverse, and brake -- wore out at about the same time.

Finally, we should mention the dashboard instrumentation. It consisted of an ammeter. Period. Of course, a speedometer was available to anyone willing to spend a few extra dollars. The fuel supply, meanwhile, was measured by dipping a stick, preferably a clean one, into the gas tank. And if the engine overheated, the driver was summarily notified by means of a geyser spouting out of the radiator. A gauge would have been superfluous! And since lubrication was by the splash system, an oil pressure gauge would likewise have been quite useless. As we've said, it's all very simple!

On the next page, you will learn about the 1924-1927 Ford Model T.

Want more information on cars? See: