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Look down and a brass bolt tops the cast iron steering column pointed directly at your heart, while your bottom nestles directly above the petrol tank.
When you took your "flivver" on the road a hundred years ago, you did without the benefit of air bags and with no seat belts, no heater, no speedometer, no windscreen wiper, no rear view mirror, no temperature gauge, no side windows, no cup holders, no... In the Model T you know you're doing less than 40mph, and that's data enough. With a 10-gallon tank and 20 miles per gallon fuel economy, the first Model T had a range in excess of the combined total of properly laid roads in the United States at the time (155 miles).
In 1908, Henry Ford bought motoring to the masses with a revolutionary machine that would define the 20th century – and may yet shape the future of mankind. 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.
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.You have to use a lever and a pedal to change up and down all of two gears (plus another pedal for reverse) and the throttle is where the indicators ought to be. It has a "epicyclical" or "planetary" gears system, like its thermosyphon cooling system and vanadium steel construction.These wonderfully named features were breathtakingly modern in 1908.The second machine was the modern manufacturing corporation, of which more later. Taking a 1915 example from the Ford heritage collection in and around our own monument to Ford, Dagenham, made me wonder about that vision. 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". Second, the T creeps forward as soon as you start, so you have to scuttle round quickly to get in. ", an elegy to the Model T written for the New Yorker in 1936 which has never been bettered, E B White took this as the last vestige of horsiness in the horseless carriage: "I can still feel my old Ford nuzzling me at the curb, as though looking for an apple in my pocket." Ahh! Even allowing for the fact that an Edwardian driver might be just as flummoxed by the Sat Nav fitted to a 2008 Focus in "Titanium" trim, I found myself hopelessly in a tin tizzy.