|A Ford Model A cabriolet coupe with the celebrated rumble seat of song and story.
Henry Ford finally did it. It was like pulling teeth and the man who once revolutionized an industry and put Americans behind to wheels of affordable automobiles was dragged into the wild new world of the Jazz Age and motorists with money burning holes in their pockets. On December 2, 1927 Ford dealers began offering the brand new Model A replacing at long last 18 years of Model T production.
The Tin Lizzie had been the most successful automobile ever sold. Using Ford’s innovative moving assembly line and a simple design it had been marketed at prices that any reasonably middle class American could afford. Autos were no longer the exclusive plaything of the rich. And as they were produced year after year, millions of working class and even poor citizen were made mobile in second hand Flivers.
Ford was loath to make changes. He was deep in his heart a stubborn conservative. Moreover, he had peculiar ideas about the morality of automobile ownership. He regarded such things as color choices or personalized options offered by competitors as vanities. Of course his any-color-as-long-as-it’s-black philosophy also streamlined the production process and kept the per unit price of his cars low. He considered innovations now common on competitors like electronic ignition and cabin heat in enclosed models as unnecessary frills.
But the public was growing tired of breaking their arms trying to turn over the Model T engine with a crank. They were also wearing of an engine that by then was under-powered compared to other brands. It may have been fine with Ford, who was in no hurry, but customers were tiring of a vehicle that could be passed by anything else on wheels on the road including a determined milk wagon.
Sales of the beloved Model T had been sinking as competitors, especially Chevrolet, matched Ford’s production innovations and added some of their own. Chevy, and the turncoat former Ford engineers the Dodge Brothers were making their own right-priced mass produced cars and were regularly updating them.
|Henry and Edsel Ford with the new 1928 Model A--Edsel's baby long resisted by his father and sabotaged by him in early production. When it was a huge success the old man took credit.
Ford’s Board and his son Edsel finally convinced the old man it was time for a change. Henry did not make the transition, mostly overseen by Edsel, easy. He meddled in production maters—he tried to convert from die stamping body parts from sheet steel with more expensive drop forge technology which not only added production costs, but made the cars so heavy that even a new more powerful engine could not produce more speed. The idea had to be junked at the cost of millions. Edsel supervised the design which was much more modern and slightly less boxy than the Model T. It was only after the new car was a success that Henry pushed his son aside and took the credit for himself.
Edsel also tinkered with his father’s assembly line process, introducing flexible mass production, which allowed units on the line to be individualized including the use of four colors plus black and customer-ordered options.
The car was powered by a new water-cooled L-head 4-cylinder engine that could produce cruising speeds of 65 miles per hour. It also contained industry innovations including the first use of shatter proof glass.
|Advertisement unveiling the new Model and its body styles.
Six body styles could be built on the basic Model A chassis plus variations of each—a Coupe, a Roadster, a Four Door Sedan, a Four Door Convertible, a Station wagon or van, and a pick-up Truck. A simple Roadster could be had for as little as $385 while a top-of-the-line Town Car with all the options ran to $1,200, not far below the price of luxury Cadillacs and Packards.
In the midst of the biggest economic boom in the country’s history, customers were ready, willing, and able to buy and spend. By February 1929, one million Model As had been sold, and by that July, two million. Even with the Wall Street Crash that October and the ensuing plunge into the Great Depression, Ford was able to sell more than three million units domestically before the car was taken out of production at the end of the 1932 model year. In no time at all in its various forms the Model A was the most common sight on the road.
Henry Ford had learned his lesson. He did not become too attached to his new baby and replaced it in the 1933 model year with still more modern Model B with available with a flathead V-8 engine. And after the mid-30’s the company began offering new models yearly.
|Model As like this Coupe were converted by the thousands into classic hot rods.
The model A became, largely because of its widespread availability, the car on which the original hot rods were built. It remains a starting point for many classic car restorers and is still commonly customized. Both historically accurate restorations and custom versions are common sights at car shows and in local parades.