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Ford Model T – 100 Years Old

Your father, or maybe your grandfather, probably owned one. When Ford produced its 10th million Model T in 1924, 9 out of 10 of all cars in the entire world were Fords. Over 15 million Model Ts were manufactured, a record that stood for a half century until surpassed by the VW Beetle. The Ford Model T not only put America on "wheels", but the entire world. The Model T was so well known, Ford didn't need to buy any ads for it between 1917 and 1923.

In 1999, 132 automotive journalists choose it as the "Car of the Century". Interestingly, recently Time magazine included it amongst "The 50 Worst Cars of All Time." The main reason, "A century later, the consequences of putting every soul on gas-powered are piling up, from the air over our cities to the sands under our soldiers' boot."

The Model T will be celebrating its 100th birthday in October, but the T Party 2008, the world's largest gathering of Model Ts, is planned for July 21-26 in Richmond, Indiana. This week-long celebration, one of dozens planned during the next six months, is expected to draw nearly 1,000 Model Ts from around the world and 10,000 enthusiasts.

Hungarian-born Jozsef Galamb and Eugene Farkas as well as Childe Harold Wills were tasked with putting Henry Ford's ideas into a production car. The first production Model T was built on September 27, 1908, at the Piquette Plant in Detroit. In 1910, after assembling nearly 12,000 Model Ts there, production moved to a new Highland Park plant.

The Model T was the first automobile mass produced on assembly lines with completely interchangeable parts. Initially, the lowest priced model, the two door roadster sold for $825, a bargain for the day. By the 1920s, it dropped to $300 because of volume production and manufacturing efficiencies including the moving assembly line introduced in 1913. The latter is credited to William C. Klann, who was inspired by the way animals were disassembled in Chicago's Union Stock Yards. By 1914, when Ford produced more cars than all other automakers combined, it took only 93 minutes to assemble a Tin Lizzie.

Henry Ford was "green" long before environmentalism came into fashion. The Model was a flex fuel vehicle that could run on gasoline and grain alcohol, or ethanol. In these early days, gasoline was not widely available, so the idea was that farmers could distill their fuel from corn they grew. However, gasoline become cheaper and much more available. Prohibition also help curtailed the idea. Ford had suppliers ship parts in wood crates that when disassembled, could be used in car bodies. Waste wood was used to make charcoal and sold under the Kingsford brand. A brand that is still in existence.

Model Ts were not only sold on every continent, save Antartica, but manufactured on every one as well. By 1921, it accounted for almost 57 percent of the world's automobile production. The first foreign Model T production was in Walkerville, Ontario. Because of preferential tariffs, cars for all British Commonwealth nations, except the British Isles, were made in Canada. From 1909 to 1927, over three-quarters of a million Tin Lizzies were built by Ford of Canada with over 225,000 exported to Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, India, Singapore, Java and others.

By 1911, Model Ts were being produced in Manchester, England. England was the world's third largest producer of Model Ts behind the U.S. and Canada. The Model T was the best selling car in the United Kingdom between 1913 to 1923. Model Ts were built in France, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Belgium, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Japan.

During World War I, thousands of Model T cars and ambulances were used on the European battlefields by Allied forces. Some 5,745 Model T military ambulances were built with most sent over to Europe. Both Ernest Hemingway and Walt Disney were Model T ambulance drivers. Like the Jeep in World War II, the Model T could be produced cheaply, was repairable in the field and being lightweight could be lifted by a few soldiers if it got stuck in mud.

Eccentric Henry Ford believed that the Model T would be all the car a person would ever need, thus, though the years there were few improvements. The four-cylinder engine produced only 20-horsepower and top speed was only 40-45 mph. Competitors offered ever better performance, comfort, styling and convenience, thus Ford lost market share.

Finally, production ended in March, 1927. Its replacement, the Model A went into production in October 1927 as a 1928 model.