The saying goes; “to know where you’re going, you need to know where you come from.” Admittedly, it is a bit of a cliché, but one that still rings true for the Ford Motor Company.
At the end of October, Ford celebrated its biggest ever South African market share of 16.4%. To put that number into perspective, the carmaker sold 7 199 vehicles during this month. That is 232 each day.
This milestone was recently celebrated at the Vintage and Veteran Club in Johannesburg, where collectors rocked up in a collection of models that played a pivotal role in Ford’s success, since its inception in 1903.
Models showcased included early Model A’s, a 1956 Thunderbird and arguably the most important vehicle ever manufactured – the Ford Model T.
In the motor industry, success is measured in numbers and the Ford Model T is that success.
Production of this model started in 1908 when the automobile was seen as a form of mechanical witchcraft, but even then, it wasn’t the first.
The Ford Motor Company (FMC) was already established in 1903. During the time leading up to the Model T, it made significant profits from its first vehicle, appropriately named the Model A.
Carl Benz, however, already had a claim to automotive fame when he built the Motorwagen in 1885. It was the first vehicle to substitute the old-fashioned type horsepower for gasoline.
So, you might ask; where exactly do Henry Ford and his Model T fit in?
In a way, Henry Ford re-invented the wheel. Five years into the production life of the Model T, Ford found the solution to increase production, lower production costs and meet growing customer demands by introducing the moving assembly line.
This decreased the production time of a Model T chassis from nearly 13 hours to less than two hours, and as a result, the price to buy a set of wheels also decreased drastically from $825 in 1909 to $260 by 1925.
When production seized in 1927, FMC has produced nearly 15 million of these iconic vehicles.
Now, 89 years after the last Model T rolled off the factory floor, it is estimated that 150 still exist within South Africa.
Nearly 10 of them pulled up at the VVC club, where members of the media had the rare opportunity to get up close and personal with these icons. We were even offered the opportunity to ride shotgun on a trip through the streets of Joburg.
Travelling through time in a 1913 Ford Model T Runabout.
It was a surreal moment climbing into the passenger seat of this important vehicle.
It was perfectly restored and well maintained. It burped into life after only the second crank of the lever, purring as evenly as can be expected from such an old machine.
A 2.9-litre engine power the Model T, producing a fiery (for the era) 15kW. But getting that power to the rear wheels is the real challenge.
See, the Model T doesn’t exactly have conventional driving controls.
For starters, the throttle is a lever located on the steering wheel. The ‘gears’ are operated using the left pedal with a ‘high’ and ‘low’ position.
If you want to slow down, you better plan ahead since the right pedal brakes the gearbox in order to reduce speed.
What about the reverse? Well, the middle pedal is used to reverse, but only when the left pedal is located in the neutral position.
It was quite a hand-full for the driver to pilot this old-timer. At any given moment he had to deal with driving a machine with this peculiar controls, hand signalling due to a lack of well, any modern safety indicators and traffic, especially from onlookers.
The Model T Runabout boasts an open-top that provides very little shelter from the wind for its passengers. But, at a cruising speed of around 15km/h this didn’t really prove to be an issue. Flying insects, however, were a different issue entirely.
Speaking of issues. Normally any vintage car would have more than its share of them. Especially considering this is a 103-year old car and usually, the fact that it’s still running would be nothing short of a miracle.
But there were not a single rattle, squeak or even oil-leak – it was faultless.
Henry Ford set out to redefine personal mobility. He wanted to build a vehicle for the masses that’s affordable, mechanically simple and easy to maintain.
And that is exactly what he did.
If you are keen on vintage cars, make a note of the upcoming George Old Car Show to be held in February.