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
and Henry Ford II, right, then the president of Ford Motor,
reproached himself for allowing his father’s name
fodder for widespread ridicule.
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 T USA
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
Fort Edsel USA
Ford's Dagenham plant / factory
small car USA
car designer > Roy Abbott Brown Jr.
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
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
Downsizing in Detroit
The New York Times
By BILL VLASIC
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.”
The Downsizing in Detroit,
Ford Says It Can Get By
if Rivals Survive
December 3, 2008
The New York Times
By NICK BUNKLEY
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
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
Ford Says It Can Get By if Rivals Survive, NYT, 3.12.2008,
Let Detroit Go Bankrupt
November 19, 2008
The New York Times
By MITT ROMNEY
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
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
Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,
Ford to Make Broader Bet
on Small Cars
July 22, 2008
The New York Times
By BILL VLASIC
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
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
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
Eight of the company’s 14 plants in North America now build trucks, S.U.V.’s and
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
“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
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
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
By LINDSAY BROOKE
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
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
“The engine was torquey, which made it work pretty well on the farm,” Mr. Casey
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
Related > Anglonautes >
cars > infrastructure > roads, highways, traffic
cybersecurity, gas prices, navigation, safety
cars > driver, safety, crash
electric cars, solar cars, hybrid cars, hydrogen cars
self-driving / driverless cars, autonomous vehicles
commodities > oil > gas
climate change / crisis,
global warming / heating
health > cancer