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October 1, 2008 12:03 AM   Subscribe

Oct. 1 marks the 100th birthday of Ford's Model T. With its optional windshield, gas lamps, and innovative left-side steering wheel, it ushered in an age of automotive marvels. The Model T left a legacy of mass production, user mashups, and affordable cars for everyone. It may have been one of the worst things to ever happen to the planet.

Some more Model T tech innovations and an impassioned plea to end this nonsense. (Previously)
posted by twoleftfeet (46 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
<3
posted by Addiction at 12:18 AM on October 1, 2008


Does it come in black?
posted by chillmost at 12:30 AM on October 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've always thought the various conversion kits they made for it were cool, like the Model T tractors and the Model T snowmobiles.
posted by XMLicious at 12:33 AM on October 1, 2008


And the first Technical.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 12:44 AM on October 1, 2008


Farewell my lovely. A fond appreciation from E.B. White.
posted by Phanx at 1:30 AM on October 1, 2008 [4 favorites]


Curiously, on this day in 1964 the first Shinkansen ran on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line.

And Concorde first went supersonic.

It's a transport trifecta.
posted by sien at 2:37 AM on October 1, 2008 [4 favorites]


Here's a photo gallery from the Model T Ford Club of America.
And this line from Phanx's E.B. White article/link just made my day!:

"Whatever the driver learned of his motor, he learned not through instruments but through sudden developments."
posted by Cedric at 2:39 AM on October 1, 2008


I'm hoping cars go back to something like the Model T -- smaller, slower, simpler, home- and road-repairable -- but cleaner and quieter.

My favorite trivium concerning the Model T: one of its chief designers was a man named Childe Harold Wills.
posted by pracowity at 3:01 AM on October 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


After 100 years we should evaluate any new technology.

One century - three generations - is enough time to allow habits to die. If the technology is intrinsically objectionable after 100 years then we must discuss the possibility that the technology was a bad idea.

I think cars were a bad idea.

Far too many resources are now locked into creating metal shells for human transport. We fight wars to keep our gas prices low. We accept global warming as a consequence of our need to propel ourselves at high velocity from our homes to the nearest shopping mall. Ten times more people died last year in automobile accidents than in 9/11. But we somehow assume that cars are normal, even though they have only been around for three generations.

I'm going to sleep now. Off in the distance I hear the rumble of vehicles on the highway, as nature intended.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:24 AM on October 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


But we somehow assume that cars are normal, even though they have only been around for three generations.

My great-grandmother never learned to cross the street properly and consequently was struck several times. Before you condemn her as daft, just think that she was in her twenties the first time she even saw a car, her forties when the county's school bus switched from being horse drawn, and in her sixties before she first lived on a paved street. The things terrified her. She would sit in the back and often hold a hankerchief in front of her eyes at bends. To cross the street she simply closed her eyes and went.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:39 AM on October 1, 2008


Sorry, twoleftfeet, but cars are a great idea. Haven't you ever been driving along in traffic and been struck by the wonder of everyone speeding around in his or her own little capsule, moving like magic from place to place, with interesting music, or talk, or someone reading a book coming out of its walls? About how nothing like this could have been anticipated in ages past? What someone like Samuel Johnson (who liked a brisk carriage ride in his 18th century) would have thought about the joy of speeding along in this comfortable chair, being propelled by nothing more than the slight pressure of the right foot, while town and country sped by, surrounded by music. He would have been bowled over with envy. We are the luckiest generation ever to have lived. Cars are even better than the internet. I have listened and learned about the great works of music while driving along in my car. I've enjoyed the whole range of opera, symphony and oratorio, and listened to hundreds of books. I've watched the seasons change time and again through my windshield in places far from my home, and been able to return to my own hearth by nightfall. And cars are relatively cheap! Nearly everybody has one in America. Only the downest, poorest American can't afford his or her own car. People complain about traffic jams, but, hell, we are sitting in little heated or air-conditioned bubbles, with radios and CD players, in comfortable chairs, and all the irritation of a traffic jam isn't the car, but in our selves and our impatience, and our unwillingness to appreciate the great privilege of living in the car age.
Of course all this can't go on for ever, and this brief and beautiful moment in the history of humanity, this apotheosis of the individual as exemplified by automobile ownership, will someday end. But for now, let's exult in it. The automobile doesn't need you or I to hasten its extinction. That will happen naturally. We owe it to all the trudgers, horse and wagon tenders, and oxcart drivers of the past to thrill to our lovely automobiles, and enjoy the fresh air blowing through the windows, and we owe it to our posterity, stuffed into mass transit vehicles, their lives and perspectives circumscribed by transportation puritans, to drive and enjoy. Why do you think society tolerates the horrendous carnage of highway accidents? Because in general, we recognize the almost sacred historic privilege we enjoy living in this brief moment, where speed, privacy, and entertainment are available to all but the poorest American, and that, like figures in dream, we race magically around in, each man and woman in his or her own living room. Why do we tolerate the incredible cost of automobiles to the environment? Because it's worth it...
posted by Faze at 4:55 AM on October 1, 2008 [8 favorites]


Cars are even better than the internet.

You could have driven to my house to tell me this. It might have been fun (in your "little heated or air-conditioned bubbles, with radios and CD players, in comfortable chairs, and all").

But I'm happy that you spent a relatively insignificant amount of energy to deliver the same message to me using the internet.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:07 AM on October 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


It was a pleasant day, and on a good road the Model T Ford bowled merrily along. Suddenly it gave a wheezy cough and stopped dead. Police investigation showed that the engine had dropped out a dozen miles back. The little Ford had run 12 miles on its reputation.
posted by netbros at 5:21 AM on October 1, 2008


I don't know why this bothers me so much, but cars are not the worst thing that ever happened to the planet. The planet is going to be fine no matter what we do. It's the current ecosystem that we need to worry about.
posted by bluejayk at 5:32 AM on October 1, 2008


> The Model T left a legacy of mass production, user mashups...

Please no. Not 'mashups'. Please. No. Call it modifying, customizing, tinkering, or hot-rodding. Call it hacking, even. Make up a totally new word if you have to, but give it the dignity befitting the product of somebody who had to learn enough about mechanics and engineering to make a physical machine work, and enough skill and physical strength to do it.

Don't for a moment think it has anything to do with using prefab software to stitch two prefab songs together and anonymously posting them online for clandestine giggles and the petty thrill of feeling like you're sticking it to The Man.
posted by ardgedee at 5:47 AM on October 1, 2008 [6 favorites]


Not 'mashups'. Please.

I agree. Blame the NYTimes for using this word, not me.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:54 AM on October 1, 2008


anonymously posting them online for clandestine giggles and the petty thrill of feeling like you're sticking it to The Man.

Sheesh... I don't know whether they live up to your Mighty Engineer and his Arms of Dignity, but I think the reason people like mashups is probably because they're fun to make and fun to listen to, yanno?
posted by Drexen at 6:57 AM on October 1, 2008


I'm waiting 44 years for the 100th anniversary of Mr. T.
posted by swift at 7:01 AM on October 1, 2008


Why it's the Model T Ford made the trouble,
made the people wanna go, wanna get, wanna get up and go
seven eight , nine, ten, twelve
fourteen, twenty-two, twenty-three miles to the county seat

Yes sir, yes sir!

Who's gonna patronize a little bitty two by four kinda store anymore?
posted by jazon at 7:05 AM on October 1, 2008


I think cars were a bad idea.

Well, I am not about to divorce my car. I have great love for it still. It's an superb machine, extending in a reasonably direct way my ability to travel. It is as if I can run a hundred miles per hour while carrying four hundred pounds of gear. Wouldn't want to give it up. But Faze goes too far in dismissing the horrors of the traffic jam. In creating them, I think the car has gone too far. That is far from the only problem associated with the motor car, of course. People ought to have more respect for its awesome power, and exercise some restraint in its use. As with any good thing, taking it to the extreme tends to destroy its utility, turn it into a burden. When daily life for so many people involves sitting in heavy traffic for hours a day, breathing carbon monoxide, cut off from the world, burning precious fuel to creep along the road at a speed easily matched by a bicycle, something has gone wrong.

We need to learn to enjoy the driving, and also learn not to rely on it every single day for things that would be better done with simpler and less-costly technology. Let it extend our power to get around, but not usurp it. As usual, the problems lie not with the technology, but with its application.
posted by sfenders at 7:29 AM on October 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure George is wrong about automobiles. With all their speed forward, they may be a step backward in civilization. It may be that they won't add to the beauty of the world or the life of men's souls. I'm not sure. But automobiles have come. And almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They're going to alter war and they're going to alter peace. And I think men's minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles. And it may be that George is right. It may be that in ten or twenty years from now, if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldn't be able to defend the gasoline engine but would have to agree with George: that automobiles had no business to be invented.

I don't drive. It makes me mean. It causes me to consider all the people around me as obstacles, as things to get around, as thwarting me. If they'd all just move, I'd be there already.

I am fortunate to live where I can walk: to the grocery, to the drug store, to my sister's house, to dinner, the bar, a show. To most of the chain stores you might want to go to. Sometimes the people walking three abreast, or too damn slow, strike me just as much as obstacles, but they are breathing humans, right there, and I am forced to look at them and recognize that they are people, beautiful people, doing what I'm doing, walking, not thinking about the person behind or next to me.

I don't drive because I can take the bus. And read. Or notice the sun rising over the Lake. Or nap. Or meet my neighbor who has turned out to be a good friend.

Thank heaven for the car, which lets me get avocados in Chicago. And delivers booze, so I don't have to carry it on the bus from my wine monger. That is the bus which gets me to the places I'm too lazy to bike to or when it's too cold to walk.

None of those things means I need to drive one. Alone. To go half a mile to buy a carton of milk.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:40 AM on October 1, 2008


That Time list of the fifty worst cars is a hoot. Here's a quote from the writeup of the '75 Triumph TR7: "The thing had more short-circuits than a mixing board with a bong spilled on it."
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:42 AM on October 1, 2008


We propose banning private cars from Manhattan Island. Permitted motor vehicles would be buses, small taxis, vehicles for essential services (doctor, police, sanitation, vans, etc.), and the trucking used in light industry.

Present congestion and parking are unworkable, and other proposed solutions are uneconomic, disruptive, unhealthy, nonurban, or impractical.

It is hardly necessary to prove that the actual situation is intolerable. “Motor trucks average less than six miles per hour in traffic, as against eleven miles per hour for horse drawn vehicles in 1911.” “During the ban on nonessential vehicles during the heavy snowstorm of February 1961, air pollution dropped 66 per cent.” (New York Times, March 13, 1961.) The street widths of Manhattan were designed, in 1811, for buildings of one to four stories.

By banning private cars and reducing traffic, we can, in most areas, close off nearly nine out of ten cross-town streets and every second north-south avenue. These closed roads plus the space now used for off-street parking will give us a handsome fund of land for neighborhood relocation. At present over 35 percent of the area of Manhattan is occupied by roads. Instead of the present grid, we can aim at various kinds of enclosed neighborhoods, in approximately 1200-foot to 1600-foot superblocks. It would be convenient, however, to leave the existing street pattern in the main midtown shopping and business areas, in the financial district, and wherever the access for trucks and service cars is imperative. Our aim is to enhance the quality of our city life with the minimum of disruption of the existing pattern.
(Paul Goodman, "Banning Cars from Manhattan," 1961)
posted by nasreddin at 7:52 AM on October 1, 2008


I want one of these.
posted by contessa at 7:56 AM on October 1, 2008


That Time list of the fifty worst cars is a hoot. Here's a quote from the writeup of the '75 Triumph TR7: "The thing had more short-circuits than a mixing board with a bong spilled on it."

My favorite quote was from the '56 Renault Dauphine review, calling it "the most ineffective bit of French engineering since the Maginot Line."
posted by Ndwright at 9:36 AM on October 1, 2008


If we didn't have cars, we'd have horses. Who poop. A LOT. And get mistreated, and die in the road (ever tried moving a dead horse? Not fun).

We need transport, as small groups and yes sometimes as individuals, and so we need cars. They don't have to have polluting engines, and mass transit for commuting is almost always better, but we really couldn't do without em. I've lived where things are walkable, and it's great, till you have more to carry than you can handle or put on the bus. Or you break a leg, or need to get somewhere the bus doesn't go. Or don't want to take your sick infant to the dr's on the train, spreading influenza as you go.
posted by emjaybee at 10:17 AM on October 1, 2008


Thank you, Faze, for putting into words a sentiment I have been (unsuccessfully) trying to describe to people for a long time.
posted by joedan at 10:30 AM on October 1, 2008


People that think cars were a bad idea are just incredibly ignorant navel-gazers.

There, I said it.

For fuck's sake, think of the choices you've got.

You can either have a car.

Or you can have a HORSE.

Or entire teams of horses. Or oxen. Camels. Llamas. Or other beasts of burden. Which, taken as a whole, take up more time and resources for maintenance and upkeep, not less, than cars.

/me shakes head

I mean, come on. Before the invention of the car, even a public transportation paradise like Manhattan had a significant problem dealing with piles of HORSESHIT everywhere.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:37 AM on October 1, 2008


Plus feeding a horse is non-trivial. Though as a bonus, I had a neighbour in my old place who had a two-level detached garage. He had an office in the upper part, but apparently it used to be the hayloft for the neighbourhood horses. My garage had barn doors when I bought the house. I figure there were horses in that garage as recently as 80 years ago.
posted by GuyZero at 11:09 AM on October 1, 2008


It may have been one of the worst things to ever happen to the planet.

Yeah, because we had much cleaner streets when tens of thousands of people moved around cities using four-legged manure machines. As Cool Papa Bell has just ably pointed out.
posted by Dasein at 11:12 AM on October 1, 2008


Wow! You're right. It's either Cars or Horses.

Too bad there isn't some other option, like a machine that could move you at the same average speed as the stop-and-go automobile traffice by pedalling.

It takes me 15 minutes to drive to work. It takes me 17 minutes to bike there. I frequently pick up groceries on the way home. I get to talk to my neighbors. SUV drivers give me the finger (charming).

I dread the last bike-friendly day of fall, when I have to lock myself back into using the car every day, burning through more than twice as much gasoline a week as I do during bike season and wearing out a very complicated and expensive machine that I don't know how to fix.

Most of why we have to drive now is beause we've built our cities and done our civic planning based on the assumption that people drive cars. This is why we get big cities with one giant industrial park, one cluster of office towers, one University Campus, fancy suburbs and concentrated low-cost housing tracts. If the average person can get 50 km in a half hour, you don't have to put everything closer to home than that. If we homogenized out cities - with many smaller, distributed shopping districts, housing developments and office parks, people could live closer to everything and bike or walk to everything, with the occasional drive. We've built our cities to force us to drive every day but it's not necessary to build a city that way. The car has distorted our idea of how a city should be designed.
posted by Crosius at 11:19 AM on October 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


Or you can have a HORSE.

Maybe YOU can afford a horse, but even in London at the height of the British Empire, when horses were as popular as ever, most people could not. In Manhattan today, denied the use of horseless carriages, I expect most people would rather use the subway instead, what with the price of real estate and of hay.
posted by sfenders at 11:27 AM on October 1, 2008


Too bad there isn't some other option, like a machine that could move you at the same average speed as the stop-and-go automobile traffice by pedalling.

Which assumes you're relatively young and able-bodied. I guess in your egalitarian fantasy, the disabled, the old and the guy with the trick knee get the poor-house, yes?

I mean, if you look around at cultures that use a lot of bikes, like the Chinese, it's not because they just loves them their bikes. It's because its a recently peasant population that couldn't afford horses and cars.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:36 AM on October 1, 2008


burning through more than twice as much gasoline a week as I do during bike season

One other data point. Let's say price of gas is 4 bucks a gallon. It's actually much cheaper, but taxes vary from state to state and country to country.

One gallon of gas = 125,000 BTUs.

125,000 BTUs = 31,565 kilocalories. A kilocalorie is what Americans popularly call a calorie of food.

I bet you'd have a really hard time buying 31,565 calories worth of food for four bucks. I bet you'd have a hard time eating 31,565 calories in a week.

And a horse doing a medium amount of work eats about 25,000 calories a day.

Gasoline is a fucking bargain.

You know, except for that global warming shit.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:46 AM on October 1, 2008


Ford celebrates the occasion by posting a 34 percent decline in sales in the previous month.
posted by raysmj at 11:49 AM on October 1, 2008


faze: iPod. Have you heard of it?
posted by bonaldi at 11:54 AM on October 1, 2008


Also, forget the fucking horses. Just start designing your cities so that everyone doesn't need a car to themselves. The old and the infirm strawmen who have lots to carry can get cabs, or we can create shared rental systems. Everyone else can use public transport. It can work bewilderingly well.

Car a bad idea? On the contrary, it's been a liberating force for good. Everyone having a car to themselves? Mind-bogglingly awful idea.
posted by bonaldi at 12:01 PM on October 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


Ford celebrates the occasion by posting a 34 percent decline in sales in the previous month.

That's because Ford couldn't build a decent shit with a bowl of All-Bran. Their inability to read the market is astounding. They deserve a 200% decline in sales.
posted by GuyZero at 12:01 PM on October 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


My dog certainly likes riding around in the car. I don't like driving, though. It makes me crabby.
posted by everichon at 12:04 PM on October 1, 2008


When I lived in London, I mostly used public transport. My first few years, I didn't even own a car. Now I've moved to the countryside to get away from the noise, teeny flats and horrendous living costs, I need to drive to work, drive to the nearest supermarket, and drive to even get to a bank. I bought my property as close to work as I could afford, and I'd still need to cycle for well over an hour to get there over some pretty steep hills. Public transport is damn near non existant. I work in a school, so it's not like the job could just be upped and moved to the nearest city. I'd love to not have to spend all that money on petrol ($8 a gallon or so), but there is just no choice out here.

Roughly 50% of the world's population doesn't live in cities. Denser urban and suburban zoning, better public transport, and use of bicycles work well in dense city like areas. It's completely ineffective in those areas and their support areas that grow all that food city-dwellers eat.

Without heavy use of oil transport and fertilizers, there's no way cities could sustain their current populations. Even the simple tractor is a huge force multiplier for farming. People in cities can go without cars if they want. People in rural areas often cannot.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:14 PM on October 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


People in cities can go without cars if they want. People in rural areas often cannot.

And in Twenty-First Century Ironies, Volume 1: How Rural Living became less environmentally sustainable than Urban Living.
posted by GuyZero at 3:20 PM on October 1, 2008


Canals! We need to replace all the roads and highways in the world with canals. Then you can get anywhere you need to in a rowboat. Or in a glittering crystal chariot drawn by seahorses and little silver fishies.

Yeah, people in cities can do well without cars, but for extra efficiency we ought to get rid of elevators everywhere too. People in rural areas can get along fine without elevators.
posted by XMLicious at 4:53 PM on October 1, 2008


So I did an experiment (which I invite you to try yourself). I stood on a street corner near my home and watched the cars go by. Of the sixty cars I counted, only two were carrying more than one passenger.

This can't be the right way to do things. It's grossly inefficient to send tons of metal down a road to carry one 150 pound person. This can't possibly be sustainable.

I'm not proposing any solutions. Bicycles, public transportation, urban redesign... even walking might help. But I don't know.

I do know that no solution will come until people can recognize that there is a problem.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:07 PM on October 1, 2008


People in cities can go without elevators if they want. People in rural areas often cannot.

This can't possibly be sustainable.

Things that are not sustainable will, by definition, come to an end. Some things that are absurdly and obviously unsustainable will come to an end fairly soon.
posted by sfenders at 6:15 PM on October 1, 2008


Things that are not sustainable will, by definition, come to an end.

Perhaps a miserable painful end. The stern invisible hand of natural selection doesn't always pat you on the back and call you a friend. It doesn't hurt to look ahead sometimes.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:50 PM on October 1, 2008


XMLicious writes "Canals! We need to replace all the roads and highways in the world with canals. Then you can get anywhere you need to in a rowboat."

Ya, that ain't going to work so well around here.
posted by Mitheral at 7:36 PM on October 1, 2008


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