The jolly old car you see on these pages isn’t just a quaint antique. It is the machine that changed everything. And it is a centenarian. According to your point of view, the Model T Ford, launched in Detroit in 1908, either marks the moment when the fun started – the point where the convenience and comfort of the modern car for all replaced our historic reliance on domesticated animals for personal transportation – or the birth of the Model T represents the terrible moment when we started out on a road that has led us to the beginning of the end of our lovely planet. Or very possibly both, given that no one had heard of global warming back then.
So we can reasonably celebrate the significance of the Model T while fully recognising that, all things considered, and bearing in mind the survival of the polar ice caps, the Maldives and East Anglia, it might have better if we’d stuck with four legs rather opting for four wheels. Then again, there have been some frightening estimates of the volumes of “carbon” emissions that might have been left on our roads by a multitude of horses after a century of economic expansion.
The truth is that what Ford and his little troupe of engineers came up were two remarkable machines, dependent on one another, and both still with us, in a way.
The first machine, the Model T Ford, was a sturdy, comfortable, reliable method for humans to get around and, yes, have some fun. The second machine was the modern manufacturing corporation, of which more later. The Model T wasn’t easy to drive, as I discovered. Taking a 1915 example from the Ford heritage collection in and around our own monument to Ford, Dagenham, made me wonder about that vision. First, you must start it with a crank handle. Hold this the wrong way and your opposable thumb will follow Tin Lizzie into the history books. In the 1920s firms such as the Non-Kick Device Company of Kansas City, Mo, advertised an improved starting handle under the heading “Broken Arms Prevented”. The romance of motoring.
Image by Capri23auto from Pixabay