Model Ts can be quite fun in an agricultural way; simply knowing how to start and run one is a tribute to our great-grandparents

The difference between the world today and the world into which the Ford Model T was born 100 years ago couldn't be more stark. In 1908, the U.S. auto industry was in its infancy and Ford was on its way to becoming an international titan and undisputed industry leader.

Today, Ford is so preoccupied with its very survival that scant attention has been paid to the centennial of the Model T, a car significant not just in the broad sense that it brought car ownership to the masses, but because it was also responsible in large part for the birth of the collector car hobby we all enjoy.

Enough has been written about the ways Ford's "Tin Lizzie" set industrial and assembly standards and procedures that are still in use today. To be sure, there had been division of responsibility, assembly lines, and interchangeable parts before the Model T, but the T was the first time in the auto industry that all of these techniques became focused on improving efficiency to drive down costs and thus stimulate demand for a new product.

Henry Ford's single mindedness in this regard would put even Sam Walton to shame-even going so far as to specify the exact configuration of the crates in which suppliers would send parts to him so the wood could be re-used for body frames. What couldn't be re-used was turned into charcoal and sold under the Kingsford brand.

The results were self evident: A 1909 Model T cost $850, or the equivalent of about $20,000 in today's money. By 1920, the price was less than half that, or $300. About 15 million were made until 1927, when the more modern Model A replaced what was, by then, an arcane device.

Any color as long as it's black

The story about the customer being able to have any color as long as it was black was more or less true. Although early cars and some of those made overseas came in other colors, the vast majority of U.S.-made Model Ts were painted black because it was cheap, durable, and had better damp-proofing qualities. Some sources also maintain that it dried faster.

Mechanically, Ts are as robust, simple, and easy to repair as one would expect for a car that had the rural market in mind. The 2.9-liter, 22.5-hp, 4-cylinder engine produced decent torque, and unlike the practice of the time, all of the cylinders were cast into a single iron block with a separate cylinder head. Ford also pioneered the use of high tensile-strength vanadium steel in load bearing parts like the front axle, spindles, and crankshaft. A simple set of hand tools was generally all it took to keep a Model T running. In fact, the basic car could be treated as a module, out of which everything from a grain thresher to a sawmill could be constructed.

The T is also credited with launching the automotive aftermarket industry, hot rodding, and the collector car hobby. After World War II, Model Ts and As became popular with both restorers and hot rodders because of their sheer availability.

Model Ts came in a confusing array of body styles at different times: 2-door touring, 2-door roadster, 2-door roadster pickup, 2-door 1-ton truck, 2-door closed cab 1-ton truck, 2-door coupe, 2-door wagon, 4-door wagon, center-door wagon, and 2-door convertible. Stutz Bearcat-like speedsters are common, but none were factory-made.

Crank starters were perilous

Model Ts can be quite fun in an agricultural way, and simply knowing how to start and run one is both an accomplishment and a tribute to the perseverance of our great-grandparents.

Pre-1919 cars had hand cranks for starters. The driver had to make sure he retarded the spark manually before starting the car (lest it kick back), and he had to cup rather than grab the starter because in the case of the latter, a wrist or thumb could easily be broken.

To the extent that any Model T is a hot commodity, Brass Era stuff is enjoying a resurgence, and collectors seem to prefer the 1908-15 open cars, which have brass radiators, horns, and acetylene headlamps, plus numerous other small bits made out of brass. Overall, the market seems to have changed little in quite some time. Closed cars with amateur restorations are hard-pressed to break $10,000. Well-restored open cars from the Brass Era have brought over $60,000, though this is uncommon.

The generation with a firsthand recollection of the Model T has largely passed from the scene. Nevertheless, there remains a sizeable group of individuals who are still fascinated with this piece of American industrial history. A network of specialists is out there to supply virtually any need of a Model T owner or restorer, including entire wood body frames (

As a collectible, it seems safe to conclude that there will be no spike in Model T prices, as there will always be enough survivors to satisfy the demand largely driven by curiosity of what it's like to drive a century-old automobile.

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