The Model T Ford - The People's Car

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Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.
- Henry Ford in his autobiography.

In October, 1908, Henry Ford unveiled what was to become known as 'the people's car'. He had spent two years setting up a place in Piquet Avenue, Detroit, USA, designing and building the Model T. After several years of experimenting with the design, materials to use in construction and types/colours of paint, it was ready for retail.

When the first Model T rolled off the production line on 1 October, 1908, it started off a new way of mass-producing cars that would make motoring affordable to the general public. When full production began, every vehicle came in one colour only: black. By 1918, half of all cars in the USA were Model Ts. Over the 19 years it was produced, the Model T Ford was practically unchanged in design and appearance, and a total of 15million cars were sold.

Automated Production Line

Ford introduced the first full moving production line to build the Model T allowing workers to stay in one place doing a specific job during assembly. Other manufacturers at the time had variations of a moving production line but Ford's was the first that was totally 'automated' - allowing a car to be fully assembled non-stop. The idea for this type of production line was conceived after a visit by a member of Henry Ford's team to a slaughterhouse, where the animals were moved round on a conveyor system through the various stages of preparation. At one stage a car was being assembled and completed every 98 minutes from start to finish. It was an amazing achievement which set the standard for mass-producing cars today.

Basic Technical Specifications

There were just three body styles available:

The Sedan was a four-seater car with an enclosed body; the Coupé was a two-seater model (which today would probably be referred to as 'The Sports Model'); and a pick-up truck which had a two-seater cab and a flat open back for carrying cargo.

The engine was a 20 horsepower four-cylinder side valve unit. This engine gave the car a top speed of 45mph and its fuel consumption was 25 to 30 miles per gallon.

The engine was started by means of a crank handle, although an electric starter was available as an extra, and in the last year of production the electric starter motor was fitted as standard.

The transmission, gearbox and final drive assembly was a basic rear wheel drive with a two-speed gearbox. There was no clutch; gear change was done via foot pedals as the gearbox was technically a semi-automatic box. It had a ten-gallon (US) fuel tank, which was fitted under the driver's seat.

The Model T Ford designers were Henry Ford, assisted by Childe Harold Wills, Joseph A Galamb and Eugene Farkas.

Tin Lizzie and the Flivver

The Model T's popularity was that it had a basic, simple but robust and effective design. It was generally reliable and, most importantly, affordable to the average man in the street on a basic wage. Prices started originally at $800, but actually came down to less than $350 by the end of production. The nearest compatible price at the time for a car was anywhere between $2,000 and $3,000.

The Model T was given the nicknames of the 'Tin Lizzie' and the 'Flivver.' It is believed that the name Flivver was to do with the noise made by car exhaust systems at the time. Tin Lizzie is believed to come from a popular song at the time the Model T was introduced.

The serial number on the last Model T produced was simply 15,000,000. After production ceased at the 15million mark, a further 160,000 cars were produced in a variety of colours.

Farewell My Lovely

A well-known author of the time, EB White, wrote a moving essay on the end of the Model T Ford's production, entitled 'Farewell My Lovely'.

Henry Ford

Henry Ford was born in Greenfield, Michigan in 1863. His father was Irish and his mother was Dutch. His parents ran a farm but Henry, even at an early age, had a passion for machinery and making machines work, as well as inventing various machines used around the farm. When he was 16 he left the farm and moved to Detroit, where he was taken on as an apprentice to a mechanic. He eventually ended up as the chief engineer at the Thomas Edison Illumination Company. Henry Ford died on 7 April, 1947, aged 83.

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