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Published: Sunday, 5/13/2001

The `Tin Lizzie' lives

The Model T Ford was an innovative automobile nearly 100 years ago, setting the pace and direction for the auto industry to follow. Arousing intense interest among antique-car fanciers, the Ford Motor Co. has commissioned from-scratch construction of six examples of the venerable “flivver,” using Henry Ford's original plans, in preparation for the automaker's centennial celebration in 2003.

The cars, replicas of the 1914 Model T, are being hand-built outside Detroit by a Ford engineer and an old-car expert with the help of a host of company employees and contractors. Ford won't say how much each vehicle is costing, but it's safe to say it will be many times the factory sticker on the originals, which ranged that year from $500 for the runabout model to $750 for the touring car.

The details are authentic, including wooden bodies with sheet-metal overlay and wooden wheels, but the materials are modern. The engines were produced using data from a CAT scan of a vintage engine block and a computerized model to create modern castings machined by Ford's engine prototype shop.

All six of the cars are being painted jet black, since this was still the era of Mr. Ford's famous edict, “The customer can have any color he wants so long as it's black.”

Ford made 15 million Model Ts from 1908 to 1927. Auto historians consider it “the most important car in history,” one University of Michigan expert says.

During its time, Henry Ford put Americans on wheels with his “motorcar for the multitudes.” He pioneered significant aspects of industrial life in this country by improving the moving assembly line and making it the industry standard, and by introducing the concept of the living wage. In 1914, the company raised its workers' pay from $2.40 for a nine-hour day to $5 for an eight-hour day. Ford wanted his workers to be able to afford to buy the cars they were making, not entirely an altruistic motive. Ford's profits doubled over the next two years.

Often referred to as the “Car of the Century,” the Model T still stands as a monument to progress in this country's industrial culture and social mobility. Toledo, as well as every other city where cars are built, owes a lasting debt to what once was called the “Tin Lizzie.”


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