On October 1, 1908, the first Ford Model T
rolled out of the factory
on Piquette Avenue
in Detroit. Many people today wonder why Henry Ford started his nomenclature with the letter "T."
Short answer: He didn't.
Long answer: He developed and sold 8 models under the Ford name before the Model T.
(Note: Henry's first automobile, built independently in 1896, was dubbed the Quadricycle
, which was one of the first cars on the streets of Detroit. He sold this for $200, bought it back for $65, and it is now on display at the Henry Ford Museum.)
The first car produced by the Ford Motor Company was the 1903 Model A
. (No, not that Model A
; that came in 1927.) Sold for $750 (with an optional rear seat for an extra $100,) the car had a 2 cylinder, 8 horsepower motor
located under the front seat (the notch for the engine crank is noticeable in this picture
) that could push the car to 30 miles per hour
. Only 1750 of these were built, and obviously, very few survive to this day. (As a matter of fact, one was sold at auction for $630,000
The Model A was a success, which was fortunate, as Mr. Ford had spent all but $228 of his original $28,000 investment. This led to the Model C
, basically a modified Model A. First produced in late 1904, the C had a longer wheelbase, a 10 horsepower motor, as well as an ornamental hood, which held the fuel tank. Also notable is that the Model C is the first Ford to be built in Canada
Ford's Model F
, also introduced in late 1904, also shared many similarities with the A & C. The Model F
had a longer wheelbase than both cars, a larger (12hp) engine, and it represented a mid-size addition to the Ford product line. Only 1000 were built, and not much information is available about this model, though it seems to be represented as at least a modest success.
Not all early Fords were as popular or profitable as the A, C, and F, however. Alexander Malcomson
, who owned an equal share of the Ford Motor Company, urged Henry Ford to build large luxury cars, hopefully to reap their large profit margins. Thus, the Model B
was the first Ford to have a front-mounted, 4-cylinder engine. Despite all its modern mechanics, Ford couldn't convince many people to ante up the $2000 price tag (roughly $50,000
today,) and only 600 were built. There remain only 2 Model Bs in running condition today.
Following in the B's footsteps came the Model K, whose 6-cylinder, 40 horsepower engine could power the car to a terrifying 60 miles per hour. The K was billed as a steady, powerful, and luxurious
automobile, but in reality, the cars were unreliable and ungodly expensive ($2500-3000 in 1906.) Only 900 were built, and less than 10 are known to exist.
The lack of success of the B & K allowed Henry Ford to buy out Malcomson's share of the company (recounted by Malcomson's wife at the bottom of this page
,) which left him free to produce the small, durable, cheap automobiles he dreamed of making.
Thus, Ford's first smash hit was born: the Model N
. The N wasn't much more than a covered engine on wheels
, which led to its low selling price of $500. The Model R and Model S
were variants of the N, and together, they made Ford the world's largest automobile manufacturer in 1908.
So, while these early Ford variants are not well-known (only ~18,000 total pre-T Fords were produced,) they provided the foundation and direction that allowed Henry Ford
to dominate the world's automobile market for the next 19 years.
, sort of.)