Improvements to the 1926 Ford Model T

Improvements to the 1926 Ford Model T, while welcome enough, added about a hundred pounds to the weight of the car, placing an additional burden on the already overworked, 20-bhp Ford engine. (A popular aftermarket item was the two-speed Ruxtell axle, which provided the Model T with the flexibility of four forward speeds instead of two.)

Style changes for the 1926 Model T included a new body for the tourer, 3.5 inches longer than its predecessors.
Style changes for the 1926 Model T included a new
tourer body, 3.5 inches longer than its predecessors.

Color choices were broadened at mid-year, with Gunmetal Blue and Phoenix Brown offered on the open models, and Royal Maroon, Fawn Gray, Highland Green, Moleskin, and Drake Green on the closed cars.

And by the beginning of calendar 1926, the familiar 30 × 3.5 high-pressure tires had been replaced by 4.40 × 21 balloons as standard issue, leading to the general use of the slower 5:1 steering ratio. For an extra $25, the wood artillery wheels could be replaced at the factory with welded steel wires, adding a stylish touch to any Ford.

But the most significant improvement to the 1926 Fords had to do with the brakes. Owners had complained for years about the Ford's service brake, a single drum located in the transmission and acting on the driveshaft.

Not only was it inefficient (though it performed about as well as the two-wheel external binders employed by Chevrolet at the time), but the brake band tended to wear out long before it was necessary to open the planetary transmission and change either the low or reverse bands. (Many Model T drivers attempted to balance the wear among the three bands by occasionally using the reverse pedal to slow the car. The remedy may sound radical, but it worked rather well with no negative effects on the car.)

A new radiator design and longer hood were ushered in for the 1926 Ford Model T.
A new radiator design and longer hood were
ushered in for the 1926 Ford Model T.

For 1926, Ford widened the transmission brake band from 1.125 inches to 1.75 inches, providing it with both greater stopping power and substantially longer life. At the same time, the emergency brake drum was increased in diameter from eight to 11 inches and lined for the first time with asbestos.

Until then, what braking action the device provided -- and it wasn't much -- had resulted from unlined iron shoes pressing against steel drums. Brake and low-speed pedals were widened and supplied with a lip to prevent the driver's foot from slipping off.

Oddly enough, despite these numerous improvements, some important factors remained unchanged. Dashboard instrumentation still consisted solely of an ammeter, though an increasing number of buyers paid extra for the dealer-installed speedometer.

Since the engine was lubricated by the time-honored splash system, no oil-pressure gauge was needed. Nor did the Model T driver require a temperature gauge to tell him when his engine was overheating; steam rising from the radiator would signify such a problem. The fuel level was measured by dipping a stick into the gas tank.

One is reminded of a verse that some wag added to the popular song,
"My Bonnie":

My Bonnie leaned over the gas tank,
The depth of its contents to see.
I lighted a match to assist her,
Oh, bring back my Bonnie to me!

Nickel-plated radiator shells were an extra-cost item on open 1926 Fords like this tourer.
Nickel-plated radiator shells were an extra-cost
item on open 1926 Fords like this tourer.

With the arrival of the 1926 models, in mid-1925, closed models came with demountable rims and electric starters as standard equipment, while the open cars continued to charge extra for that equipment. By January 1926, however, a special order was required of the handful of buyers who opted for the non-demountable skins and the hand crank. (Later in the year, this equipment was dropped all together.)

But for all of the advantages offered by Ford for 1926, and despite the fact that the Model T was still the industry's sales leader, Ford's share of the American automobile market was steadily shrinking. Even a substantial reduction in the prices of the closed models (as much as $115 in the case of the Fordor sedan), which took effect June 6, 1926, failed to stimulate sales. Overall, between 1923 and 1926, U.S. annual production fell from 1,817,891 to 1,368,383, a drop of 24.7 percent.

Meanwhile, Chevrolet, although its numbers were still significantly smaller than Ford's, showed a sales gain of 41.6 percent over the same three-year period.

To see how the 1927 Ford Model T stacked up in the face of this competition, continue to the next page.

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