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Ford Model T

It was the car that brought motoring to the masses, and helped Ford gain a grip on the market. So how does it stack up today?

Within months of the founding of the Ford Motor Company of America in 1903, the first cars found their way across the Atlantic. But our love affair with the blue oval really began on 8 March 1911, when the Ford Motor Company Ltd was created in a showroom on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue.

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By October that year, the first example made from imported parts had been produced at the firm’s new Trafford Park factory, in Manchester. That car was a Model T, which had made its debut in the US in 1908 and was already a roaring sales success.

By 1914, Henry Ford’s famous moving production line had been introduced, slashing build time per car from more than 12 hours to only 93 minutes. This meant that by the time production was finally halted in 1927, more than 300,000 examples had rolled 

out of the Manchester factory.

There was a choice of versions, including roadster, tourer and town car bodies, not to mention pick-ups, vans and buses. The stunning red car in our pictures is a 1912 Torpedo Runabout, which has a longer body than other two-seater Model Ts.

With its brass radiator, carriage-style lamps, wooden wheels and exposed running boards, the T looks bizarre on 21st century roads. The driving environment is even more alien.

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Clamber aboard the exposed cabin, and there are three pedals in the usual place. But they don’t do what you’d expect. The right-

hand pedal is a transmission brake, the middle pedal selects reverse gear, while the left-hand pedal is used to engage drive to the two-speed epicyclic transmission. A brass lever on the steering column controls the throttle, while the tall stick by your right leg is the parking brake, which works via drums on the rear axle.

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Confused? You will be. And it’s only the start, because getting the T to move takes some real concentration. First, the engine 

has to be fired up via the hand crank below the radiator. To pull away, you place the handbrake in the centre position, set some revs with the throttle and gently press the left hand pedal.

As you push it down, you feel a biting point and the car edges forward. You then apply more throttle with the brass lever. Once on the move, depressing the left pedal maintains the low-ratio gear, but to increase speed you release the pedal fully and slide the handbrake lever forward to engage high ratio.

In this state, the T drives along without any need to touch any of the pedals, resulting in a sort of Edwardian cruise control. The 2.9-litre four-cylinder engine chugs so gently, you almost feel each revolution, but the 20bhp Ford hits a respectable speed – so it’s vital you remember how to slow down. It involves reversing the process: back off the hand throttle, press the left pedal to select the low ratio – and get some engine braking – then use the right pedal, which constricts the transmission bands to slow the car.

Anticipation is crucial as the Model T doesn’t stop like a wheel-braked car. Leaf-spring suspension and three-inch tyres ensure the handling is far from modern, too. But there’s a decent turning circle and the ride isn’t as uncomfortable as you’d expect. In fact, the car was famed for its composure over the rutted dirt roads of its day; a Ford dealer in Scotland guided one up Ben Nevis, while Lawrence of Arabia used one in the desert battles of World War I.

The Model T is durable, affordable and easy to repair – traits that still mark out the best Fords. And while it doesn’t drive anything like a modern vehicle, its production techniques and mass appeal set the template for every mainstream car on sale today.

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WHY: Arguably the most important car ever made, the Model T got the UK population off horses and behind the wheel of a vehicle. It established Ford as major force in Britain, too.

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