Model t Build
At one point, half the cars on the planet were Model T's.
Ford has made just half a dozen of its latter-day T's, though it could possibly build more. The new cars were commissioned by Ford for the company's 2003 centennial celebrations.
If you could buy one, which you can't, the new cars would be a lot more expensive than the originals, since economies of scale certainly don't apply. The limited production stands in sharp contrast to output at the Model T plant in Highland Park, Mich., where as many as 8, 900 cars left the line in a single day.
To be fair, ramping up for production took a lot of time because the team - Bill Leland, an engineer with Ford's advanced vehicle engineering group, and Guy Zaninovich, an independent auto restorer and Model T expert - started with a well-restored 1914 Model T touring car and little else.
But the project seems to have had an ample budget - enough to call on outside suppliers for items like new body shells, engine block castings, cylinder heads, transmissions, rear axles and more.
It was a complicated process. The original engineering drawings, which had been executed on linen, had long ago crumbled to dust. So to get precise specifications for the castings for the four-cylinder engine block, Mr. Leland and Mr. Zaninovich submitted an original block for a CAT scan at Hill Air Force Base, near Ogden, Utah. The scan generated a three-dimensional computer model, which was used, in turn, to create the castings.
A woodworking team - Sture Lundin and Sven Hansson - was brought in from Sweden to hand-craft the bodywork (sheet metal supported by wood) for the new cars.
Other replica parts were easier to obtain.
With so many Model T's still running - Mr. Zaninovich estimates that there are some 300, 000 out there - there are several sources for replacement items like ignition coils, magnetos, carburetors, brakes, lamps, wheels and the like.
And the partners do acknowledge some departures from the original. For example, the pistons are aluminum and the valves are stainless steel, instead of the cast iron originally used. The substitutes are more durable and efficient.
Even with so many parts ready-made by outside companies, this is an expensive way for Ford to acquire Model T's for its centennial. No one connected with the program will discuss costs, but there is no doubt that building one of these all-new T's exceeded the $25, 000 or so that it would have taken to buy a well-restored original.
So what was the point? ''Well, what we really wanted to do here, '' Mr. Leland said, ''was say we'd made a new Model T.''
Ford has not decided exactly how the cars will fit into its centennial plans, but four have already been donated to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. If in 2003 you visit Greenfield Village, a historic park affiliated with the museum, you are likely to see - and possibly ride in - one of the painstaking replicas.