No other automobile has the distinction of being the car that put America on wheels. Initially produced in 1908, the Model T, or “Tin Lizzie” as it was lovingly known, became a “car for the great multitude,” as Henry Ford once stated. In the early twentieth century, most automobiles were toys for only the wealthy. Henry Ford’s vision was to produce a vehicle that most people could afford, and he succeeded beyond anyone’s dream.
The original Model T was designed and built at Ford’s Paquette Street facility in Detroit, Michigan. Prior to Henry Ford perfecting the assembly line process, early Model Ts were hand built. When first introduced, a Model T cost $850. By 1910, production was moved to the new Highland Park, Michigan factory, where mass-production was perfected. By 1914, assembly time to build a car went from 12.5 hours to 1.5 hours. In doing so, the Model T would eventually have its price lowered to $290.
The 1926 Model T was mostly the same mechanically as the 1908 car. The body, with the exception of the Fordor, was updated with new fenders and running boards. The fuel tank was moved from under the seat to the cowl. Closed models came standard with de-mountable rims and electric starters. The chassis height was reduced by 1.5 inches. To make the car look even lower, the 30 x 3.5 inch high pressure tires were swapped with much smaller 21 x 4.40 inch balloon tires. For an additional $25, wooden wheels were replaced with wire wheels. A total of 18 body and chassis styles were available for 1926. Buyers had the choice of an open car or closed car, coupe, sedan, roadster or a pickup truck.
Its tried and true 177-ci four-cylinder engine changed little from its inception in 1908. Rated at 20 horsepower, it moved the Model T along at speeds up to 45 mph. Compression ratio was a mere 3.98:1, because of low octane gasoline available at that time. Due to its new all steel body, sans the Fordor, the 1926 model was about 100 pounds heavier than previous years and subsequently not quite as powerful.
Ford’s slogan “Any customer can have a car painted any color he wants as long as it is black” was no longer true for the 1926 model year, as seven new exterior colors were added to the pallet. Actually, Ford did offer different colors from 1908 to 1914, but changed back to only black afterwards due to its quicker drying time.
Driving a Model T was unlike driving any other car. Spark advance and throttle control levers were mounted on the steering column, and there was no shift lever to change gears. Instead, three pedals extended up through the floorboard which were used to shift and stop the car. The far left pedal was the clutch/low/high gear pedal. The center pedal was the reverse pedal and the pedal on the far right was the brake pedal. While confusing to operate at first, owners eventually became familiar with the process.
The Model T brakes were fair at best. Mechanical in design, the car was stopped by the front brakes only. The rear brake drums were engaged by using the emergency brake lever located on the floor. Ford made one improvement to the braking system by increasing the size of the rear brake drums to 11 inches, but the Model T would not win any contests in its ability to stop.
Today, the Model T commands respect in all corners of the collector car world. It is the simplicity of the car that astounds enthusiasts. Over 100 years ago, Henry Ford had a vision to build a car for the common man. This vision came to fruition and has never been duplicated in the automotive world.
Fuel For Thought
The Model T has perhaps the best heritage of any automobile
Over 15 million Model Ts were built between 1908 and 1927
One of the few cars that continued to be available at a lower price almost each consecutive year
First car the average working person could afford
Number built – 1,502,018
Construction – Body-on-frame
Engine – 177 cubic-inch flathead four-cylinder
Power/Torque – 20 horsepower/83 lb-ft torque
Transmission – Two-forward speed, one-speed reverse planetary gearset
Suspension front – Semi-elliptical transverse leaf spring with I beam axle
Suspension rear – Semi-elliptical transverse leaf spring
Steering – Sun/planetary gear
Brakes – Two sets: (a) Service band brake operates on the transmission and is controlled by a foot pedal; (b) Emergency brake is controlled by hand lever at side of car acting on the drums of rear wheels
Length/width/height – 134/66/74 inches
Wheelbase – 100 inches
Weight – 1,200 lbs.
0-60mph/quarter mile – N/A, 33 seconds at 45 mph, est.
Top speed – 45 mph
MPG – 20-25 mpg
Price – MSRP $590 (2-door sedan); Today – $5,700-11,950
Engine – Model T’s engine is a four-cylinder 177-ci flathead with a three main bearing crankshaft and removable head. The engine is rated at 20 horsepower. The carburetor is gravity fed, and oil was supplied by a splash and gravity feed lubrication system. While the Model T is considered to have somewhat of a crude powertrain, it has proven to be reliable and easy to service.
Handling – Handling is poor at best. The Model T, with its transverse front and rear springs and I beam front axle, hold the road but do not offer anything near a boulevard ride. Exceptional ride height allows the car to go places many other cars could not consider going. Riding in a Model T is much like riding in a horse and buggy, only slightly faster and much more fun.
An icon in the automotive world
Reasonably cheap to purchase
Parts readily available
Fun factor is high
Easy to maintain
Low top speed
Appreciation is not its best point
Unique transmission requires skill to function
Number built – 265,000
0-60/quarter mile – N/A, 29 seconds at 50 mph
Top speed – 55 mph
Price – MSRP – $995; Today – $3,425-$7,550
Number built – 742,147
0-60/quarter mile – N/A, 33 seconds at 48 mph
Top speed – 50 mph
Price – MSRP – $645; Today – $7,550-$16,600
Insurance cost is $123/year for a stock 1926 Ford Model T valued at $8,050. For a modified vehicle, insurance cost is $250/year. This is based on 3,000 miles per year of pleasure driving.
*Based on a quote from Heacock Classic Car Insurance, www.heacockclassic.com
Many Model T cars are used on weekend jaunts and driven to local car shows. Those who own them cherish the simplicity and uniqueness of the car. It represents the coming of America’s middle class, and, today, owners continue to enjoy showing the world this iconic car.
What to pay
1926 Ford Model T 2-Door Sedan
MSRP – $580
Low – $5,700
Average – $8,050
High – $11,950
*Prices courtesy of NADA,
Emergency brake band - $37.50
Front or rear bumpers - $275.00 each
Rear leaf spring - $400.00
Door bottom patch panels - $65.00 per pair
Upholstery kit - $865.95
Windshield frame - $385.00
*Prices based on information from Snyder’s Antique Auto Parts,
Model T Ford: The Car that Changed the World by Bruce W. McCalley
Model T Restoration Handbook by Les Henry
The Model T: A Centenial History by Robert Casey
Model T Speed and Sport by Harry Pulfer
The Story of Model T Fords by David K. Wright
The Model T was a car for the masses. It was not the best handling or most comfortable car to drive, but its low price made it available to the average working person, who then became as mobile as wealthy people of the time. Henry Ford provided a living wage to those willing to work hard and, with that, gave them the opportunity to expand their horizons and live the American dream.