If you count the praise and condemnation, cussing and discussing, there have been millions of words written about the Model T Ford and the flood shows little sign of abating, even though the very last “T”, Serial Number 15,000,000, rolled off the assembly line about 60 years ago. That final “T” was a 1927 model; the first was a 1908.
The Model T Ford enjoyed one of the longest production runs of any single automobile model in history, a 19-year career which has been shared by few other cars (Rolls-Royce – Silver Ghost and the Volkswagen “Beetle” are others) and remained mechanically almost unchanged during that entire period. All Model T Fords share a wheelbase of 100 inches and a four-cylinder, L-head engine of 33×4” bore. Most T engines produced about 20 horsepower only and 1500 rpm was the absolute maximum speed that the simple splash lubrication could handle. The ignition was courtesy of a unique low-tension flywheel magneto coupled to a box of buzzing high-tension coils located on the dash. The standard engine was started by crank, although electric self-starters were available at extra cost and actually became a standard item on the very last Ts built. Very early Model T Fords will be found with either a 56-inch tread or the less common Southern tread of 60 inches which was well out of production by 1918.
Collectors categorize Model T Fords primarily by their ornamentation dividing the cars into three main eras of manufacture, the “Brass band”, “black radiator” and “nickel trim” Ts. Model Ts manufactured from 1908 through 1916 had brass radiator jackets, while the 1917 through 1925 cars had black-painted radiator shells and the 1926 and 1927 cars, the final two years of production, had nickel-plated radiator shells. The Museum is fortunate in having in its collection excellent examples of automobiles built in all three periods. By viewing these autos as a group, the visitor sees in one group of cars an encapsulated history of the auto industry, Canadian as well as American, as shown in one make and model of car which survived from the early days of the automobile through to the period when a car was almost taken for granted. The visitor sees the lovely brass trim disappear in favor of more utilitarian paint, then to maintenance-free nickel trim, the wheels shrink from the high, carriage type and the tires grow from narrow treads suitable for use on buggy tracks to a larger, softer-riding tire more suitable for use on gravel roads and the new paved roads and streets. The viewer sees the reliable Press-To-Lite acetylene generator disappear as electric lights become more reliable and capable of putting out more light, self-starters become standard equipment instead of a rare and costly accessory and the entire automobile become, if less elegant, certainly more an everyday workhorse: not a luxury, but a necessity.
The Model T Ford was the car which, more than any other single vehicle, “put the world on wheels”. Almost revolutionary when she first appeared, the T was obsolete and behind the times at the time of its demise; no matter what it had accomplished, it had failed to change with the times it itself had forced to change, so it was supplanted by the famed Model A for the 1928 season.
One feature unique to the Model T is the Ford planetary transmission, which utilizes driving bands in internal clutches to transmit engine power, with or without reduction, to the rear wheels. Generally misunderstood by people who have no experience with early cars, this is, in effect, a two-speed automatic transmission which is controlled directly by the driver’s feet. And it dates from 1908, which proves, if anything, that there is very little new under the sun!
Ford production began in Canada in Walkerville. Ontario (now a part of Windsor), in 1904, when cars were shipped to Canada in pieces from Detroit and assembled in a small shop which did not even have electric lighting. When the T entered production in 1908, the Ford Motor Company quickly became one of the largest manufacturing concerns in the world; it was not long before a full-scale assembly line was operating in Windsor and subsidiary plants set up across the country, including a plant in Winnipeg. At the height of production, Ford’s main plant in Michigan was turning out a T every three minutes and almost every single part, with the exception of electrical systems, was made by Ford