I have two regrets about taking on this CC. One, I couldn’t shoot myself standing in front of it. And two, I won’t be able to do the Model T full justice in the short time available (it would take a book or two). But today is a celebration of sorts: cars for tall folks as well as the diversity of cars (and writers) that make up Curbside Classics. So let’s celebrate by honoring the most important car of all time. And one of the tallest ones ever.
Let’s consider the first aspect of this tall-boy “telephone booth” coupe first, since it’s what stuck me most viscerally upon approaching it. Being 6’4″, I really notice the fairly rare encounters with someone taller then myself. Well, that just about never happens with passenger cars. But this coupe tops me, by about two inches. That is seriously tall. These two begin give a bit of human scale to it.
The awkward height of the coupe was an unavoidable outer manifestation of the T’s decline into obsolescence. Back when the T was first designed by Henry and his little coterie, enclosed car bodies were very rare indeed, and only the purview of the very richest of buyers. The T was designed as an open car, and very much in the vein of the “horseless carriage” as this very early model makes clear. The twenty years of the Model T’s life span was an eternity in the early decades of the motor car; like still running a 386 processor IBM PC today.
In the twenties, enclosed bodies became the hot new thing, for many obvious reasons. It was a s much of a revolution as the T itself had been. But the T’s slender and sky-high frame had been designed for the primitive rutted dirt “roads” of the time. An open-bodied Model T weighed all of 1200 lbs. Meanwhile Chevrolet was nipping at the T’s tail with much more stylish and modern cars that carried their closed bodies more gracefully.
Yes, Henry hung on the the T too long, in the misconceived notion that folks would keep buying it forever. The 1929 Model A (CC here)was originally intended to supplement the T, not replace it, but when T sales crashed in 1927, Henry saw the writing on the wall and just shuttered the plant until the A was ready. And the Model A makes a nice counterpoint to the T for more than just its ability to look handsome with enclosed bodies.
The A was also an opportunity for Henry to “perfect” the T, and having just taken a close look at the Model A’s mechanical excellence in that recent CC, it was interesting to see just how crude the T comes off in comparison.
I’m not going to do a shot-by-shot comparison on each of them, and obviously this T is hardly in the pristine shape as this restored A. But except for the change to a sliding-gear transmission, the A still had all of the T’s similar configuration and mechanical design, but just taken to its highest level execution.
Everything on the T just looks so much cruder although familiar, which given the early days of the automobile when it was hatched, is of course obvious. And it was a testament to Henry’s brilliant design in its simplicity and yet high quality that it lasted as long as it did. And although the T’s components may look crude, they were made of nothing but the finest materials Ford’s forges could hammer out.
While we’re underneath the T, and believe me, it’s the easiest car to shoot from below; one can practically walk under it, let’s take another look at the rear end from the front. The torque tube design, which creates a single pivot point behind the transmission, was a Ford hallmark, and carried right through 1948. Oan it looks remarkably similar to the Peugeot 404 rear axle design, because it is, except for the springing, of course. It’s a very durable design that allows massive articulation, just the thing for America’s roads in 1908 or Africa’s roads today.