Vintage Car

Scale/Gauge12″ to the Foot
Region/EraEarly 1900’s
OwnerSteve Nixon (MMRG)

Model T Ford

Henry’s Model T is credited with putting the world on wheels and was given the title “The car of the 20th century”. It was the first true mass production car, with over 16 million cars being sold between 1908 and 1927.

Have you ever wondered, why do we have right-hand drive and left-hand drive cars? Well, here is the answer. In the beginning just about every car, including all the Ford cars up to the Model S were right hand drive. However, the Model T had the steering put on the left, because it was simpler to assemble. By 1918 half the cars in America were Model T’s and by the early 1920’s over half the cars in the world were Model T’s.

Henry was obsessed with making the car as simple as possible to build and own, so he kept the basic design unchanged for 19 years. At launch the car cost $860, when a daily wage was about $3. Towards the end of its production run the efficiencies had reduced the cost to $240, which was several times lower than most of its competitors. Henry aimed at the mass market, not the rich gentry; “I will build a car for the great multitude” was his stated aim. Our car was built in late September 1913 and at that time they were building over 1000 cars per day, which is what most manufacturers would make in 6 months to a year. At peak production in the early 1920’s they were assembling over 8000 a day, which is about 5 times more than Ford Fiestas get built today.

Henry got the idea of moving assembly lines from the slaughterhouses in Chicago (which would “dis-assemble” the carcasses). and by adopting similar principles reduced the assembly time from around 12 hours down to 93 minutes in 1914. This faster production speed meant that the paint had to dry just as fast and the only way to do that was with black paint, hence the beginning of the era: “any colour you like as long as it is black”, which lasted until 1924. Being a 1913 car, this one is before the black era.

The specification of the car means that it is both simple and robust. It has a 4 cylinder 2.9L engine with a compression ratio of 4.5:1, so it is easy to start by hand crank; starter motors were available from 1915 as an option. It uses a magneto style ignition (essentially magnets around the flywheel) to produce an alternating current to drive the ignition. It only produces about 22HP as the engine speed is slow but is has enough torque to get you up the hills.

There are no pumps at all, the oil is scooped up and splashed around, the fuel is gravity fed and the water goes round due to a thermos-syphon effect; all simple and less to go wrong. The transmission uses epicyclic gears, which is like older automatic gearboxes. The gears are always meshed, so again no crashing of gears. It only has low, high, and reverse gears.

The trick when driving is to get it into “high” gear and use the throttle to control it all, which is one of the levers on the steering wheel. The other lever adjusts the timing of the spark.

The footbrake slows the gearbox, not the wheels so it is not very good for emergency stops. The hand brake operates the drum brakes on the rear wheels. There are no front brakes at all, which was true of all the early cars.

The wooden wheels use clincher type tyres, rather like those on a bicycle. They are pumped up to 60psi to keep them in place. If you get a puncture you have to repair it just like a bicycle, fortunately on modern roads this is very rare.

Lights were a very different affair 100 years ago. The main headlights ran off acetylene gas, generated in the tub on the running board, while the coach lamps higher up and the rear lamp are oil. There were no indicators (nor brake lights), so you must use hand signals.

It runs happily on any unleaded fuel, because over 100 years ago you bought your “gasoline” or “petroleum spirit” in cans or bottles from the chemist and as such fuel was rather inconsistent. It does about 20 miles to the gallon. The tank is under the front seat cushion, and you must measure the fuel level with a stick, so filling up is quite a sight.

There were several different body styles some being open, and others enclosed, but they all sat on the same chassis. Our car is known as a Four Seat Tourer. The wheelbase is 100 inches and overall length is around 11 feet (3.35m), plus an extra foot if the roof is folded down. It may seem big, but in fact it is narrower and shorter than a Ford Fiesta, just a bit taller!

Driving a Model T is really very simple, especially if you have never driven anything before. This is because the controls are quite different. So, it is a case of learning what all the pedals and levers do. Perhaps the most important thing to concentrate on when driving any car of this age is to keep in mind “how much space do I need to stop”.

There are still several thousand Model T’s in running order around the world and the biggest rallies in America often attract up to 1000 cars. You can still get all the spares for the car, and they are very easy to maintain.

Our car will participate in several rallies and events each year. The picture here was taken during an event in March 2022 near Lytham St Anne’s. Later that year in July we toured The Isle of Man. During 2023 we will be in the Wye Valley and the Orkneys.