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Vocapedia > Transport > Cars > Carmakers > Ford




The three sons of Edsel Ford

at an event introducing the Edsel Citation convertible.


The car brand’s many models

were an utter failure with consumers,

and Henry Ford II, right, then the president of Ford Motor,

reproached himself for allowing his father’s name

to become fodder for widespread ridicule.


Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis


Hubris, and Sputnik, Doomed the Edsel


JUNE 6, 2015









































all-electric pickup > F-150 Lightning


















the Big Three car companies (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler)










Henry Ford II, the grandson of Henry Ford










Henry Ford    1863-1947        FR / USA











Ford Motor Company























electric version of Ford's F-150 / electric F-150










the most widely used law enforcement vehicle

in the nation,

the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor

— the Crown Vic, as it has become known —

went out of production in 2011.










Ford Fiesta










Ford T        USA        1908


Ford built more than 15 million Model Ts

during 19 years of production









1930 Model A Ford        USA






Ford Zephyr        UK






Ford Anglia        UK






Ford Capri        UK






Ford Mustang






Fort Edsel        USA







Ford's Dagenham plant / factory        UK







small car        USA






car designer > Roy Abbott Brown Jr.        USA        1916-2013


car designer for Ford Motor

whose signature creation,

the supposedly futuristic

but ultimately ill-fated Edsel,

became a synonym for bold, bad ideas

not long after it was introduced in 1957






car designer > Carroll Shelby, designer of Cobra sports car        1923-2012


Legendary car designer

built the fabled Shelby Cobra

and injected testosterone

into Ford's Mustang and Chrysler's Viper











Corpus of news articles


Vocapedia > Transport > Cars > Carmakers > Ford




The Downsizing in Detroit


January 6, 2011

The New York Times



WAYNE, Mich. — Ten years ago, the Ford Motor plant here churned out giant Expedition and Navigator sport utility vehicles that got 12 miles to the gallon — and it was one of the most profitable auto factories in the world.

Today, after a $550 million renovation, the 140-acre plant is a symbol of a very different Detroit: a greener, leaner industry focused on smaller, energy-efficient cars. The factory will now build Ford’s newest compact car, the Focus, in four different and progressively more fuel-efficient versions, including an all-electric one that will be unveiled on Friday and go on sale this year.

Although the transformation has been a long time coming, Ford and the rest of the domestic auto industry appear to be finally giving up their addiction to gas-guzzling trucks and sport utility vehicles. Prodded first by rising federal fuel economy standards, then shocked in 2008 by $145-a-barrel oil and a global credit crisis that forced General Motors and Chrysler to seek federal bailouts, Detroit is making a fundamental shift toward lighter, more fuel-conscious cars — and turning a profit doing so.

Japanese automakers still hold a lead in overall fuel economy, and Toyota, despite its recall troubles, remains the top seller of hybrids with its Prius.

But Detroit has closed the gap significantly. Last year, passenger cars made by Ford and G.M. averaged more than 30 miles per gallon, according to federal rankings, compared with 27 m.p.g. a decade ago.

G.M. began delivering a plug-in electric hybrid, the Chevrolet Volt, in December, and the company will show off a new compact Buick sedan next week at the Detroit auto show. It is expected to get 31 m.p.g. in highway driving, a far cry from the lumbering Buick Roadmaster of the past.

Of course, many American consumers have yet to give up their affection for larger vehicles, and the domestic automakers still rely on light trucks and S.U.V.’s for a large share of their profits. But the huge, 8,000-pound land yachts of yore have given way to slimmer so-called crossover vehicles that have less powerful engines but can still hold seven people.

With oil prices once again trading around $90 a barrel and gasoline topping $3 a gallon, the American auto companies are pushing hard to accelerate their green transition. G.M.’s new chief executive, Daniel F. Akerson, has told his product executives to plan for oil at $120 a barrel and gasoline at more than $4 a gallon, according to company insiders.

The Obama administration is also nudging the industry along with money for cutting-edge auto technology. The Energy Department has made nearly 50 grants worth $2.4 billion for research and manufacturing. G.M. alone received $241 million, most of it related to the Volt.

Ford, which avoided the disruptions of bankruptcy that befell G.M. and Chrysler in 2009, is further ahead than its hometown rivals in overhauling its fleet, and it is eager to get that message out.

On Friday, it will unveil the all-electric version of its Ford Focus — its answer to the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt — at an event in New York with its chairman, William Clay Ford Jr., and another in Las Vegas with its chief executive, Alan R. Mulally.

“All of us know energy is going to be more expensive going forward,” Mr. Mulally said in an interview. “Consumers are coming together around the world on quality as a reason to purchase and fuel efficiency as a reason to purchase.”

By 2012, the Focus compact will be available to buyers in four versions: gasoline-powered, conventional hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric. All will be built in the Wayne plant, which can easily change the mix of vehicles produced.

While the American automakers still make more truck-based models than their foreign rivals, they have radically scaled back their production. Since 2004, G.M., Ford and Chrysler have closed 17 assembly plants in the United States and Canada that built pickup trucks, S.U.V.’s and vans. It was an unprecedented overhaul that removed about 3.5 million low-mileage vehicles from their annual manufacturing capacity.

The government-sponsored bankruptcies of G.M. and Chrysler, and significant reorganization at Ford on its own, have restored fiscal health to the industry, which had been reeling from overcapacity, huge health care costs and a collapse in consumer credit.

Now Ford can make money building the Focus in its former S.U.V. plant. Health care costs for retirees, which used to add about $1,500 to every vehicle made in a union plant, have been offloaded to a trust administered by the United Automobile Workers. The union has also trimmed staff levels and agreed to lower starting wage scales to bring down manufacturing costs.

“We’ve always had a great market for small vehicles in the United States,” Mr. Mulally said. “We didn’t have small vehicles because we couldn’t make them here profitably.”

Both G.M. and Ford are expected to report impressive profits for 2010, despite annual United States sales well below the 17 million that the industry sold a few years ago. Chrysler, which is still losing money, is lagging in the switchover from trucks to smaller cars as it awaits new products from its Italian partner, Fiat.

Skeptics concede that the domestic companies have narrowed the gap in fuel economy with Japanese automakers, but say that the American automakers need to extend their advanced gas-saving technology to all of their models.

“It’s clear that the Detroit manufacturers are aware of the right decisions and are selectively applying them,” said Jim Kliesch, a senior engineer in the clean-vehicle program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “What we want to see them do is apply them across the board.”

Ford still sold nearly twice as many light trucks as cars in 2010 in the United States. But the vehicle size and mileage of its overall fleet of products have changed substantially.

Its best-selling S.U.V. last year was the smallest in the lineup, the compact Ford Escape, which gets 23 miles to the gallon and is available as a gas-electric hybrid that gets 32 miles a gallon. A decade ago, the iconic Ford Explorer was the industry’s top-selling S.U.V. at 15 m.p.g. (Ford just revamped the Explorer and improved its gas mileage by 25 percent.)

The company is also offering its first full-size pickup with a smaller, turbocharged engine instead of a traditional V-8. And once its big sedans like the Crown Victoria are discontinued, Ford’s largest passenger car will be the medium-size Taurus.

Analysts say that the auto industry’s big investments in electric and plug-in models will not pay off for some time in the marketplace but represent an attempt to gain an important foothold with environmentally conscious consumers.

“There are significant questions about the economic viability of battery-electric vehicles, yet all of the major auto companies are engaged in it,” said Jay Baron, the chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Last year, hybrid sales fell 8 percent, and accounted for just 2 percent of the overall domestic sales, of 11.6 million vehicles.

Far more important to reducing the nation’s fuel consumption are the industry’s efforts to make gasoline-powered cars and trucks more efficient.

“The domestic automakers have done a terrific job of catching up to some of the technology that’s been available, such as direct fuel injection,” Mr. Baron said. “Those technologies can get 30 percent improvements in fuel economy, but there is a limit.”

Even if consumers are not necessarily ready to buy hybrid and electric cars in big numbers, the carmakers say there is no turning back on their efficiency drive. New federal standards will require a fleet average of 36 miles per gallon by 2016. That is a 30 percent improvement from the 27 m.p.g. required for the 2011 model year.

“Are we going to stick with improving fuel economy? You don’t have a choice,” Mr. Akerson of G.M. said. “The government has told us what we have to do, and we will meet those goals.”


Nick Bunkley contributed reporting.

The Downsizing in Detroit,






Ford Says It Can Get By

if Rivals Survive


December 3, 2008
The New York Times


DETROIT — The Ford Motor Company told Congress on Tuesday that it wanted access to $9 billion in loans but that it could survive and become profitable in three years without the money unless the current recession “is longer and deeper than we now anticipate.”

In a 33-page plan submitted to the Senate Banking Committee, Ford said it was healthier than the other two Detroit automakers but warned that its fortunes were closely tied to that of its two rivals, General Motors and Chrysler, both of which have said they could soon run out of money. “Because our industry is an interdependent one, with broad overlap in supplier and dealer networks, the collapse of one or both of our domestic competitors would threaten Ford as well,” the company said in its plan. “It is in our own self-interest, as well as the nation’s, to seek support for the industry at a time of great peril to this important manufacturing sector of our economy.”

The three Detroit automakers are scheduled to appear before Congressional committees later this week as they seek $25 billion in government loans. The executives are returning to Washington a second time after they were unable to convince lawmakers during earlier hearings that taxpayer money could save the industry. Lawmakers told the auto companies to submit plans to how they would restructure to become viable.

Ford’s chief executive, Alan R. Mulally, said in a statement: “For Ford, government loans would serve as a critical backstop or safeguard against worsening conditions, as we drive transformational change in our company.”

If the company does access the loans, it said Mr. Mulally’s salary, which amounted to $21 million last year, would be reduced to $1 a year. Last month, when he and the chief executives from G.M. and Chrysler were asked whether they would be willing to eliminate their own pay, Mr. Mulally had been the most resistant.

The three men also had been criticized for flying corporate jets to Washington to ask for financial assistance. This week, Mr. Mulally plans to drive a Ford Escape hybrid sport-utility vehicle to Washington to testify a second time before Congress, and Ford said in its submission that it now plans to sell all five of its corporate jets.

The company said that it would speed up its plans for electric vehicles, starting to roll them out in 2010. Ford will also invest up to $14 billion to improve fuel efficiency over the next seven years.

Ford acknowledged making “mistakes and miscalculations in the past” but asserted that it has made considerable progress in its restructuring. It said its performance was improving before the weakening economy and tighter credit markets caused industry sales to plummet.

The company said it expected to break even or earn a profit in 2011, the first time it has given such financial guidance since abandoning its goal of making money in 2009. Its original restructuring plan had called for a return to profitability in 2008. Ford lost $8.7 billion in the first nine months of this year.

    Ford Says It Can Get By if Rivals Survive, NYT, 3.12.2008,






Op-Ed Contributor

Let Detroit Go Bankrupt


November 19, 2008
The New York Times



IF General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.

Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. With it, the automakers will stay the course — the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses. Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check.

I love cars, American cars. I was born in Detroit, the son of an auto chief executive. In 1954, my dad, George Romney, was tapped to run American Motors when its president suddenly died. The company itself was on life support — banks were threatening to deal it a death blow. The stock collapsed. I watched Dad work to turn the company around — and years later at business school, they were still talking about it. From the lessons of that turnaround, and from my own experiences, I have several prescriptions for Detroit’s automakers.

First, their huge disadvantage in costs relative to foreign brands must be eliminated. That means new labor agreements to align pay and benefits to match those of workers at competitors like BMW, Honda, Nissan and Toyota. Furthermore, retiree benefits must be reduced so that the total burden per auto for domestic makers is not higher than that of foreign producers.

That extra burden is estimated to be more than $2,000 per car. Think what that means: Ford, for example, needs to cut $2,000 worth of features and quality out of its Taurus to compete with Toyota’s Avalon. Of course the Avalon feels like a better product — it has $2,000 more put into it. Considering this disadvantage, Detroit has done a remarkable job of designing and engineering its cars. But if this cost penalty persists, any bailout will only delay the inevitable.

Second, management as is must go. New faces should be recruited from unrelated industries — from companies widely respected for excellence in marketing, innovation, creativity and labor relations.

The new management must work with labor leaders to see that the enmity between labor and management comes to an end. This division is a holdover from the early years of the last century, when unions brought workers job security and better wages and benefits. But as Walter Reuther, the former head of the United Automobile Workers, said to my father, “Getting more and more pay for less and less work is a dead-end street.”

You don’t have to look far for industries with unions that went down that road. Companies in the 21st century cannot perpetuate the destructive labor relations of the 20th. This will mean a new direction for the U.A.W., profit sharing or stock grants to all employees and a change in Big Three management culture.

The need for collaboration will mean accepting sanity in salaries and perks. At American Motors, my dad cut his pay and that of his executive team, he bought stock in the company, and he went out to factories to talk to workers directly. Get rid of the planes, the executive dining rooms — all the symbols that breed resentment among the hundreds of thousands who will also be sacrificing to keep the companies afloat.

Investments must be made for the future. No more focus on quarterly earnings or the kind of short-term stock appreciation that means quick riches for executives with options. Manage with an eye on cash flow, balance sheets and long-term appreciation. Invest in truly competitive products and innovative technologies — especially fuel-saving designs — that may not arrive for years. Starving research and development is like eating the seed corn.

Just as important to the future of American carmakers is the sales force. When sales are down, you don’t want to lose the only people who can get them to grow. So don’t fire the best dealers, and don’t crush them with new financial or performance demands they can’t meet.

It is not wrong to ask for government help, but the automakers should come up with a win-win proposition. I believe the federal government should invest substantially more in basic research — on new energy sources, fuel-economy technology, materials science and the like — that will ultimately benefit the automotive industry, along with many others. I believe Washington should raise energy research spending to $20 billion a year, from the $4 billion that is spent today. The research could be done at universities, at research labs and even through public-private collaboration. The federal government should also rectify the imbedded tax penalties that favor foreign carmakers.

But don’t ask Washington to give shareholders and bondholders a free pass — they bet on management and they lost.

The American auto industry is vital to our national interest as an employer and as a hub for manufacturing. A managed bankruptcy may be the only path to the fundamental restructuring the industry needs. It would permit the companies to shed excess labor, pension and real estate costs. The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing and assure car buyers that their warranties are not at risk.

In a managed bankruptcy, the federal government would propel newly competitive and viable automakers, rather than seal their fate with a bailout check.

Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts,

was a candidate for this year’s Republican

presidential nomination.

    Let Detroit Go Bankrupt, NYT, 19.11.2008,





Ford to Make Broader Bet

on Small Cars


July 22, 2008
The New York Times


DEARBORN, Mich. — The Ford Motor Company, which devoted itself for nearly 20 years to putting millions of Americans into big pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles, is about to drastically alter its focus to building more small cars.

The struggling automaker, reacting to what it sees as a rapid and permanent shift in consumer tastes brought on by high gas prices, plans to unveil its new direction on Thursday, when it will report quarterly earnings.

Among the changes, Ford is expected to announce that it will convert three of its North American assembly plants from trucks to cars, according to people familiar with the plans.

And as part of the huge bet it is placing on the future direction of the troubled American auto industry, Ford will realign factories to manufacture more fuel-efficient engines and produce six of its next European car models for the United States market.

The company will also end speculation about its Mercury division by making the brand an integral part of its new small-car strategy, according to these people, who spoke on the condition that they not be quoted by name because of the timing of the official announcement on Thursday.

The sweeping changes are the result of months of strategic discussions by Ford executives, and represent a dramatic response to the woes afflicting Detroit’s automakers.

United States vehicle sales have slumped 10 percent so far this year, with Ford down 14 percent, and the industry is headed for its worst annual sales in more than a decade.

Moreover, $4-a-gallon gas and a weak economy have battered the market for big S.U.V.’s and pickups, and sent automakers scrambling to revamp their product lineups.

No company has more at stake than Ford, which popularized the S.U.V. in the 1990s with its truck-based Explorer and led the boom in pickups with its best-selling F-series model.

After losing $15.3 billon in 2006 and 2007 combined, Ford had hoped to stabilize its operations this year and return to profitability in 2009.

But rising fuel prices and the collapsing truck market forced the company, the second-biggest United States automaker, to abandon its profit target in May and accelerate its shift to smaller vehicles.

Since then, Ford’s chief executive, Alan R. Mulally, has directed an unprecedented overhaul of the company’s future products.

Mr. Mulally, who joined the company from aircraft maker Boeing in 2006, is committed to reducing Ford’s dependence on large vehicles, according to people familiar with his plans.

“We don’t have a sustainable company if we don’t do this,” Mr. Mulally recently told members of his management team.

For at least a decade, about 60 percent of Ford’s United States sales came from trucks and S.U.V.’s, compared to 40 percent from cars and car-based crossover vehicles.

Eight of the company’s 14 plants in North America now build trucks, S.U.V.’s and full-sized vans.

Those numbers are shifting rapidly as consumers turn away from large vehicles, and the chief goal internally is to make cars and crossovers the bulk of its product lineup to better align the company with market demand.

A Ford spokesman, Mark Truby, declined to comment Monday on the details of the company’s plans.

“We said when we made our June announcement about accelerating our transformation plan that we would have more details to share when we report our second quarter financial results in July,” he said.

Industry analysts believe Ford cannot wait any longer to reshape its manufacturing operations and step up production of smaller cars.

“Trucks and S.U.V.’s have been so central to their strategy for so long, but the bottom line is that consumers have moved on,” said David E. Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The sharp drop in vehicles sales this spring and summer has raised fresh concerns about the viability of Detroit’s automakers.

With its stock hovering around $10 a share and speculation growing about a possible bankruptcy filing, General Motors last week announced broad plans to cut costs and increase its cash reserves by $15 billion.

Ford has already slashed more than 40,000 jobs in the past three years, and sold off three of its European luxury brands to raise money.

But the company is now about to address its long-term, and increasingly precarious, reliance on big vehicles by transferring billions of dollars in product development and manufacturing costs into car programs.

Ford is expected to convert three of its big assembly plants from truck-based products to cars, including its so-called Michigan Truck plant in Wayne, Mich., that builds Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator S.U.V.’s.

The company plans to use the plant to increase its output of the Ford Focus, a compact car that has become one of its best sellers this year. Ford also plans to retool two of its V-8 engine plants to add production of more fuel-efficient 4-cylinder and V-6 engines.

A large part of its future car lineup will be based on vehicles currently under development for the European market. By 2010, Ford plans to begin assembling six of its upcoming European car models in North America, starting with the Ford Fiesta subcompact.

And while Ford has shed upscale brands like Land Rover and Jaguar, the company will keep the Mercury brand and use it as another distribution channel for small cars.

Some analysts have speculated that Ford might abandon Mercury as it streamlines its overall operations.

By shifting to smaller cars, Ford is attempting to reverse a strategy that generated big profits in the 1990s.

The automaker, along with G.M. and Chrysler, created sport-utility vehicles to combat the popularity of cars made by Toyota and Honda.

“The baby-boom generation didn’t want American cars,” said John Wolkonowicz, an auto industry analyst with the forecasting firm Global Insight. “But the Ford Explorer was the first family-friendly, four-door sport utility, and people bought it like crazy.”

In the mid-1990s, Ford introduced its full-size, seven-passenger Expedition and Navigator S.U.V.’s, which were built on a pickup-truck chassis.

The big vehicles got less than 15 miles a gallon of gas, but consumers hardly cared when gas was inexpensive. Other manufacturers followed suit, and the big S.U.V. became fashionable.

Ford and other automakers earned up to $15,000 in profit on each full-size sport-utility vehicle. At the company’s Michigan Truck plant, employees worked weekends to keep up with demand.

“It’s hard to blame Ford for building vehicles that consumers wanted to buy,” said Mr. Wolkonowicz.

Cheap gas also fueled the astronomic growth of the pickup truck market. In 2004, Ford sold a record 939,000 full-size pickups, and nearly two-thirds of its overall sales in the United States were trucks, vans and S.U.V.’s.

At the same time it invested in the growing truck market, Ford cut back spending on its cars. Its Taurus sedan, once the market leader, fell to a distant third behind the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

While it concentrated on trucks, Ford fell out of step with larger market trends. In 2004, only 28 percent of its United States sales were cars, compared to 43 percent for the overall market.

When Mr. Mulally was recruited as Ford’s chief executive in September of 2006, he began questioning the company’s dependence on pickups and S.U.V.’s.

Ford managers said Mr. Mulally repeatedly referred to charts that showed large vehicles constituted only 15 percent of the global automotive market. Small cars, by comparison, made up 60 percent.

At Mr. Mulally’s urging, Ford embarked on a longer-term strategy to globalize its car platforms and expand its car lineup in the United States market.

But the task took on greater urgency this spring, when rising gas prices drove consumers away from trucks in droves.

Between January and June, pickups tumbled from 13 percent of the overall market to 8 percent, and unsold S.U.V.’s stacked up on dealer lots. The company announced wholesale cutbacks in truck production and the elimination of 15 percent of its white-collar workforce.

Almost every day for the past three months, Mr. Mulally assembled his senior executives in his office to pore over future product plans. A consensus emerged to accelerate the switch to cars and further downsize truck production.

The plans will begin to take effect later this year when production of the Expedition and Navigator is moved from the Michigan Truck plant to another factory in Kentucky.

Then, in a move that symbolizes the company’s overall change of direction, workers will quickly shift to making body panels for the Focus compact.

    Ford to Make Broader Bet on Small Cars, NYT, 22.7.2008,






Mr. Ford’s T: Versatile Mobility


July 20, 2008

The New York Times



WHEN Henry Ford started to manufacture his groundbreaking Model T on Sept. 27, 1908, he probably never imagined that the spindly little car would remain in production for 19 years. Nor could Ford have foreseen that his company would eventually build more than 15 million Tin Lizzies, making him a billionaire while putting the world on wheels.

But nearly as significant as the Model T’s ubiquity was its knack for performing tasks far beyond basic transportation. As quickly as customers left the dealers’ lot, they began transforming their Ts to suit their specialized needs, assisted by scores of new companies that sprang up to cater exclusively to the world’s most popular car.

Following the Model T’s skyrocketing success came mail-order catalogs and magazine advertisements filled with parts and kits to turn the humble Fords into farm tractors, mobile sawmills, snowmobiles, racy roadsters and even semi-trucks. Indeed, historians credit the Model T — which Ford first advertised as The Universal Car — with launching today’s multibillion-dollar automotive aftermarket industry.

Many of these Model T oddities are likely to surface this week at a centennial celebration in Richmond, Ind., hosted by the Model T Ford Club of America. The event is expected to draw nearly 1,000 Model Ts, the largest gathering of the cars since production ended in 1927.

Do-it-yourself magazines ran story after story describing how to modify the T. But some of the most clever and practical conversions came from owners’ sheer ingenuity, with a bit of carpentry and mechanical skill. One Midwestern traveling minister built a tiny church atop his car. He installed a pint-size organ inside and designed the steeple to fold down so the road-going chapel could be garaged.

And the Model T worked on the railroad. Their original wood-spoke wheels replaced with heavy flanged-steel railcar wheels, the Fords served as track-inspection cars and even railyard switcher engines.

No duty was too mundane or extreme for the wildly popular T, which became known by the nickname Flivver. By jacking up the rear and replacing one wheel with a pulley and leather drive belt, owners could turn the Ford into a fine stationary power plant for milling grain or turning the saw blade of a mobile lumber mill.

Even years after its heyday, the T continued as the Swiss Army knife of automobiles. In the 1930s, a group of New England ski enthusiasts created the first tow rope on the slopes of Woodstock, Vt. Their initial power source was a well-worn T equipped with a Pullford tractor conversion, its huge steel drive wheels turning at just the right speed to reel skiers up the mountain.

Even when the original bodies and frames had rusted away, T owners would swap out the nearly unburstable Ford engines and drive axles to power boats, oil derricks and stationary pumps.

The car’s do-it-all utility sprang from a combination of stout basic design and widespread availability, said Robert Casey, curator of transportation at The Henry Ford museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich., and author of “The Model T: A Centennial History” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008).

“First, there were simply more of them than anything else,” Mr. Casey explained. “And the T was cheaper than just about every other car once Ford got production really rolling.” By the mid-1920s, Ford’s mass-production juggernaut at its Highland Park factory near Detroit had reduced the price of a new two-seat Runabout to $240.

Those looking to convert their Fords for uses beyond transportation found the T’s 4-cylinder engine a willing accomplice. Although it produced just 20 horsepower, the rugged 2.9-liter unit didn’t have a lot of weight to haul around. The basic car tipped the scales at about 1,300 pounds, giving it peppy performance.

“The engine was torquey, which made it work pretty well on the farm,” Mr. Casey added.

Indeed, the T often served as a mechanical beast of burden. The car moved capably in tilled soil because Henry Ford and his draftsmen had designed its wagonlike 30 x 3 1/2 inch wheels, high ground clearance and flexible suspension for traversing the rutted dirt roads of rural America.

But in competing with horses and mules pulling heavy disc harrows and grain threshers, the Ford quickly showed its limitations, spurring inventors and entrepreneurs to step in with tractor conversion kits. In his 2004 book, “Ford Farm Tractors,” Randy Leffingwell noted about 125 manufacturers offering tractor conversion kits for the Model T in 1914-30.

Well-known names included American-Ford-A-Tractor, the Adapt-O-Tractor and the Smith Form-A-Tractor (which also made chain-drive kits to turn Model Ts into semi-trucks for road use). Sears & Roebuck and other retailers sold hundreds of kits. “Make your Ford do the work of two or three horses!” shouted ad copy for Pullford’s $135 kit, sold by Montgomery Ward.

One of the most successful makers, the E. G. Staude Manufacturing Company of St. Paul, Minn., produced nearly 30,000 of its Mak-A-Tractor kits for Ford cars. The $225 kit included two large-diameter cleated wheels and different gearing to boost the car’s lugging power (and reduced top speed to 2.5 miles an hour).

Nearly as prolific as the tractor kits were speedster bodies, designed to make the humble Ford look like a Grand Prix car or dirt-track racer. The two-seat speedster body kits were made by at least a dozen specialist companies, including F. M. Ames, Bub and Paco. Stripping off the standard Ford sheet metal and installing a lightweight speedster body further improved the T’s power-to-weight ratio and made performance brisk.

“There haven’t been many automobiles, or even machines in general, which can be made into a race car and a tractor,” Mr. Casey of the Ford museum said.

Today, no single vehicle has to serve as many purposes as the milestone Model T. Perhaps a minivan comes closest to being the do-it-all device, but it would be ill-suited to pulling a disc harrow over a freshly plowed field.

Mr. Ford’s T: Versatile Mobility,










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