News - Ford

Millennium's motoring milestone

Revolutionary: The Model T represents a significant milestone in the manufacture of automobiles.

Ford's Model T has received the ultimate accolade from an international panel of motoring experts

Ford logo20 Dec 1999


FORD'S Model T - affectionately known as the "Tin Lizzie" - was voted the Car of the Century by an international jury consisting of 133 automotive journalists last Saturday.

The Model T amassed a tally of 742 points to eclipse a strong field of contenders including the Mini (617 points), Citroen DS 19 (567), Volkswagen Beetle (521) and Porsche 911 (303).

Its credentials as the most significant car of the century were perhaps best summed up by former Chrysler president Robert Lutz: "It (the Model T) introduced the division of labour assembly line concept and it made automobiles affordable to the masses." Lutz, master of ceremonies at the awards function in Las Vegas, said the Mini had also been a strong contender for the title.

"It really was the first car to genuinely make sense out of the front- wheel drive concept because of the space-saving nature of putting the engine east-west,'' he said.

The jury narrowed the initial field of 200 cars down to five finalists before voting for the winner.

It was a twin triumph for the Blue Oval as Henry Ford, the father of the Model T, was named entrepreneur of the century.

The Model T was a powerful car in its day, deriving its motivation from a 15kW, side-valve, four-cylinder engine mated to a two-speed planetary transmission. It was capable of a top speed of 72km/h, and ran between 5 and 7.5km on a litre of petrol.

Mass production of the car from 1913 introduced the concept of a moving assembly line, improving the speed of chassis assembly from 12 hours and eight minutes to one hour and 33 minutes.

In 1914 Ford produced 308,162 cars, which was more than all 299 other automobile manufacturers combined.

It was also in 1914 that the Model T, in the interest of streamlining production, dropped the colours red, blue, green and grey it was now available in "any colour so long as it is black." Mass production brought significant cost benefits for consumers. Henry Ford introduced the Model T at $850 for the Touring Car, but by October of 1924, he was able to offer the Runabout for as low as $260.

Few things other than the price ever changed on the Model T: electric lights were introduced in 1915, the radiator shell went from brass to black in 1917, and in 1919 an electric starter became an option on the closed cars.

Although many people think Henry Ford?s great invention was the production line. That was only part of it.

His real breakthrough was that the Model T was built from parts made by machine tools. These tools made exactly the same part, time and again, to the same specifications.

Repeatable parts not only meant a production line could be used to build cars at a lower price, thus making cars more affordable, but they also meant cars could be sold right across entire markets.

It is not widely understood that hand-made cars common at the time could not accept spare parts other than those that were hand-made to fit the place where the failed part was housed.

The fender from one hand-made car would not fit on another because the shape was slightly different and the bolt holes were probably in a different place.

The piston from one bore in the same engine would probably not fit in another bore in the same engine because each bore was hand milled and each piston shaped to suit the bore shape in which it was to run.

Since the original parts of the Model T were interchangeable with spares parts, this meant the Model T could be serviced across the country.

Until then, the cars had to go back to where they were made to get their tailor-made spares fitted. That alone inhibited the spread of the motor car across nations.

Share with your friends

Ford articles

Motor industry news

GoAutoNews is Australia’s number one automotive industry journal covering the latest news, future and new model releases, market trends, industry personnel movements, and international events.