1925 Ford Model T Roadster
March 24, 2008 7:08 AM
At the turn of the century, automobiles were for the most part expensive status symbols, hand-built for the wealthy. In 1903, Henry Ford incorporated the Ford Motor Company, with the goal of building "a car for the great multitude." By 1908, Ford would forever transform the fabric of American life with the introduction of his "universal car," popularly known as the "Tin Lizzie" or "Flivver," the Model T. After bankrolling a mill to produce super-tensile, long lasting vanadium steel, Ford implemented a design spearheaded by Childe Harold Willis. Weighing in at 1,200 pounds, the Model T's front mounted four cylinder 20 hp engine was pretty much bulletproof, and could run on gasoline or ethanol at a top speed of about 45 mph getting 13 - 21 mpg. Its three-speed "planetary" transmission made it relatively easy to drive the poor roads of the era. In its first year, the car set a new record by selling over 10,000 units for about $825, and the Ford revolution had begun.
Although Ford believed that the Model T was all the car any American would ever want or need, he wasn't willing to rest on his laurels. As production rose 100% in its first three years, the cars were still hand made, and timely to produce. Seeking to streamline his operation, Ford hired the nation's premiere industrial architect, Albert Kahn, to design a state-of-the-art factory which sprawled over 62 acres. Drawing his inspiration from a Chicago slaughter house, Ford implemented the moving assembly line. With continuous experimentation and innovation, production time fell from 12.5 hours to a stunning 93 minutes. By 1914, 13,000 workers at Ford's Highland Park plant produced 260,720 cars, while the remaining 299 American car manufacturers only made 286,770 cars with 66,350 workers. Once production time had been optimized, Ford turned to other methods to streamline his operation and grow profits. Seeking to curtail high employee turnover, he implemented an eight hour work day to accommodate three shifts every 24 hours, and doubled wages to five dollars per day. Over the years, Ford ignored the protests of his advisors, dropping the price of the Model T to lows of $260, so that his own workers could afford to buy one.
Ford's profits continued to climb. The Model T was so successful that Ford didn't need to purchase advertising between 1917 and 1923, and by the time the ten millionth car rolled off the line in 1924, nine out of every ten cars in the world were Fords. Still, all good things must come to an end. When GM targeted the low end market, offering Chevrolets with more contemporary styling and a smooth three-speed transmission, Ford's sales began to fall. Despite warnings from his son Edsel, Ford refused to update the Model T. Finally, on May 25, 1927, Ford abruptly closed his Highland Park plant for six months - ostensibly to begin work on the Model A, but more likely to mourn the end of the greatest car America and the world had ever known. Ironically, almost 170,000 Model T motors continued to be built through 1941, and every single Model T part is still easily available to this day.