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Along for the Ride

Ford Motor Co. marks a century in the industry and Automotive Industries was there right from the start.

With Ford celebrating its centennial this year, we at Automotive Industries were reminded of our own 100th birthday just eight years ago.

In a joint celebration, we went through our 100th anniversary issue to find some of our noteworthy coverage of Ford throughout those years.

Ford’s First Model A

The Model A, featured in a 1903 edition of the Horseless Age, was labeled simply ‘The Ford Car.’

Henry Ford launched the Ford Motor Co. in 1903 with the Model A, but received only a passing mention in The Horseless Age (the former moniker of AI), not because his product was bad, rather because 88 other new car companies launched that same year. Still, the simplicity of Ford’s car would eventually bring it to the forefront of vehicles of that era. At 1,000 pounds the vehicle was light, allowing its eight horsepower engine to push it to speeds of 30 mph. To aid serviceability the body would be completely removed from the angle iron frame with six bolts. With a retail price of just under $800, Ford sold 1,708 units that year.


Growing interest in the automobile inevitably spawned the sport of racing. Henry Ford was one of the pioneers, building his first race car in 1901. Ford’s 26 hp racer was tested against a Winton in October of that year, winning the race handily with an average speed of 43.5 mph. Ford later claimed to have done a flying half mile in 26 seconds (69.2 seconds), and defied any foreign machine to challenge him. In France, speed was also a topic of the day. M. Serpollet drove his torpedo-shaped steamcar to a flying kilometer record at a speed of nearly 75 mph. It broke the world’s record in April 1902. Two years later, Ford drove his famous 999 racer over a record flying mile, averaging 92.3 mph. In the same year, Ford’s 999 set a speed record on an oval track at nearly 60 mph.

Selden Patent

In May of 1879, Henry Selden, a patent lawyer, applied for a patent on the automobile which was granted in November of 1899. Eventually he would sell those rights to Columbia and Electric Vehicle Company of New York. Thos two entities would go on to form the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM). Royalties were set at 1.25 percent for American automakers and 1.50 percent for importers. Within four years this generated $1.5 million, largely from Cadillac, Pope, Oldsmobile, Winton, Franklin, Packard and Thomas.

Ford and a few others refused to join the ALAM which would result in a 10-year legal battle. During the litigation, Ford forced Selden to build a replica of his car to prove it worked. This became known as “Exhibit 89.” When observed, Selden’s car barely ran, taking over 12 minutes of continual cranking to start and then never ran for a period of longer than seven minutes in succession while huge amounts of steam shot from the crankcase.

In 1911, the U.S. Circuit Court of appeals issued a 45-page opinion that the sustained the validity of the patent. However, it also declared that the Selden patent was not infringed on by the defendant’s car (Ford).

Model T

Assembly line workers install the powertrain on a Ford Model T.

Undoubtedly, the most important car of the era was the Ford’s Model T, initially covered by this publication in the September 30th, 1908 issue. Conclusions from that article included: “it departs widely from the standard practice in many details.”

These departures were made with three objectives in view: to make parts more accessible, to make the car lighter and to reduce the manufacturing costs — hence the price.

Labor Relations

The explosive growth of the auto industry created a crisis in the labor ranks, producing a proliferation of unions representing the auto workers. A primary issue was long working hours, as was women in the workforce. The British Health of Munition Workers concluded a working week should not exceed 65- 67 hours for men, 60 hours for women. It also concluded that output increased as hours were reduced.

Henry Ford took these suggestions, and came to three main conclusions about worker satisfaction. He concluded that long hours, small wages and unsatisfactory housing conditions were driving worker unrest.

He thought a personal bond between the employer and employee would allow him to provide for their needs. So he opened company stores, drug stores, laundries, a hospital, dental office, laboratory, legal department and a home and rental exchange where prices were 20 to 40 percent less than commercial shops. A profit sharing program was also introduced. However, it called for a probationary period where the company would determine if the employee was using his money wisely or not.

Even with these efforts, bouts with the unions would ensue largely starting in the early ‘20s.

War: Eagle Boats

When Henry Ford won the contract in 1918 to make submarine chasers, known as Eagle boats, he brought his finely honed manufacturing skills to the war effort. The five-building, five-acre manufacturing site, located on the banks of the Rouge River in Dearborn, Mich., represented a $2 million. It went from Greenfield site to finished facility in 75 days. Ford also brought his mass production skills into making the boats.

The hulls literally ran down an assembly line at the unheard of rate of one a day, “Ford does not build boats; he is manufacturing them,” wrote AI staffers.


By the mid-20s, auto related scrap was an obsession both in factories and salvage yards. Henry Ford, determined his operations would waste nothing, took extraordinary steps to use all available materials. A 1928 article outlined how Ford made small stamped parts from offal. He dumped all metal scrap from rolling mills, billet trimmings, machine shop shavings, and even nails into his furnaces, creating a steel mix of which was nearly 50 percent recycled.

Ford used scrap lumber from shipping containers in his vehicles, cut smaller pieces for shipping containers and ground the smallest scraps for cardboard. Tools were often reworked eight to 10 times, mop pails were made from old paint cans and conveyor belts scraps were used in his cars to stop squeaks and rattles.


Henry Ford examines a Ford V-8 engine. Automotive Industries covered the engine extensively in its pages.
AI covered Ford’s V-8 more than any other engine of the era. The staff noted that Ford engineers designed the engine to run with as few parts as possible. The industry was all taken with the intricate foundry work that produced a single piece block with the exhaust manifold cast-in.

Ford introduced strict tolerances to the production of sand-cores and prohibited any filing or fitting — the process had to produce perfect parts. Though Ford was not the first automaker to come out with a V-8 it was only 10 hp shy of the Oldsmobile engine of the time at one-third the price. The Ford engine was around $460 dollars while the Oldsmobile cost $1,595. That’s where Ford really excelled; cutting-edge technology sold at mass market prices.


In 1941, Ford displayed a plastic bodied vehicle claiming a curb weight of just 2,000 pounds. The company said it was 1,000 pounds lighter than a conventional vehicle of comparable size. Construction consisted of 14 plastic panels mounted to a tubular-welded frame with plastic cement.

The body panels were made from synthetic resins, reinforced with fiber from wheat, flax, raimi, hemp and spruce pulp. Panels were preformed by suction, then molded under 1,500 psi. Ford claimed it had a light engine program in development to compliment the car.

Henry Ford Dies

Henry Ford gives the sledge hammer test to a composite deck lid.
Henry Ford’s death prompted a eulogy from AI that listed the major highlights in his life. It was four pages long, singlespaced, and began with his birth in Springwells Township, Wayne County, Mich., in 1863. AI noted he began tinkering with internal combustion engines as early as 1889, and completed his first car in 1896. In 1899, he helped organize the Detroit Automobile Company, eventually leaving to begin organizing the Ford Motor Co. in November of 1902.

The following year it was incorporated, but even though the company bore his name, John F. Gray was president; Henry was the vice-president. They began with the Model A. In 1908, the most important car the industry had even seen debuted, the Model T. Ford Motor Co., moved to Highland Park in 1909, where the moving assembly line was invented. In 1914, Henry rocked the world, announcing a minimum wage of $5 dollars a day.

In 1922, the company moved into the luxury market by acquiring the Lincoln Motor Co. Henry’s fascination with aviation led to Ford Airlines which began operating in 1925. In 1927, the Rouge complex, the most powerful industrial site in the world, opened with the debut of the new Model A. The first Ford V-8 was introduced in 1932, the one millionth V-8 was built in 1934. In a sign of things to come Henry Ford II was elected a director in 1938; he was 19 years old.

Henry Ford died on April 7th, 1947 at the age of 84.

1949 Ford

“Sweeping changes in the styling and mechanical design as basic and dramatic as the shift from the Model T Ford in the late ‘20s characterize the 1949 Ford line,” AI said in our coverage of this landmark Dearborn design. The car marked, “a complete break with traditional Ford engineering.”

Up front, the “time-honored” transverse leaf spring axle was replaced by independent units with direct acting dampers surrounded by “hydra-coil” springs. In back, two semielliptic longitudinal springs and diagonally mounted dampers replaced the transverse leaf spring design. Bendix hydraulic duoservo brakes were a big improvement as well.

The engine (either a 95 hp inline six, or 100 hp V-8) was moved forward by five inches, allowing the rear seat to be moved ahead of the rear wheels. Overall width fell to 71.7 ins., although front and rear seat width increased by six and eight ins., respectively.

The Mustang

Ford’s Mustang ushered in the ‘Pony Car’ era in the spring of 1964 and became the most successful Ford launch ever. The J-car graced the May 1966 cover and hinted at future high-speed production techniques.
The Mustang was the most significant vehicle introduction of the decade. AI dedicated three pages to it in the April 15th, 1964 issue, published just two days prior to the car’s introduction at the New York World’s Fair. We noted that after two full years of marketing studies, Ford concluded there was a large segment of buyers — 100,000 per year by Ford’s estimation — that wanted a low-priced car with sports car looks and performance. Ford’s prognostications weren’t even close. At the end of its first year run, AI would report sales of 680,989 units — the most successful launch in history.

Ford’s achievement was even more incredible, considering the Mustang was a “body engineering” project. Lee Iacocca, then division manager of Ford, demanded that the running gear and chassis components be off-the-shelf Falcon and Fairlane pieces to hold cost down. His stated goal was to keep cost below a dollar per pound. He succeeded. The 2,561 pound hardtop sold for $2,368, while the 2,740 pound convertible cost $2,614.

The other key to the Mustang’s success was its option list. It offered three different transmissions, four engines, six different axles and fifteen stand-alone options. It also was one of the first cars to offer option “groups,” with five different packages to choose from.

Ford’s Racing Prototypes

AI’s May 1st, 1966 cover story on Ford’s racing prototype program focused on the company’s efforts to develop a lightweight successor to the GT40 and the Mark II. The car’s monocoque was made of adhesively bonded honeycomb aluminum, and carried bodywork designed to meet Appendix J of the FIA’s rule book. It was designed for speeds of 250 mph.

Working with Kar Kraft, Ford designed a number of structural members and inner panels in clay, from which molds were made.

The parts were then cast in fiberglass or fabricated in metal. AI showed how this cut months from the process by eliminating layout drawings and mahogany die models and could be used on production programs.

The J-car debuted at the LeMans test days, but didn’t make the race. A Ford GT40 Mark II won the 24- hour classic, driven by Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren. However, one year later the Ford GT Mark IV, which was derived from the J-car took Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt to victory.

Ford’s Wrist-Twist Steering

After three years of research, Lincoln-Mercury finally showed its design for a “wrist-twist” steering system. Developed under the direction of former missile engineer Robert Rumpf, the unit replaced the conventional steering wheel with two five-inch plastic rings mounted to an immobile cross-bar. “We decided to approach the problem as though we were from another planet,” Rumpf told AI.

Each ring drove a sprocket that was attached by a chain to another sprocket on the steering shaft. The rings turned simultaneously, allowing the driver the choice of using one, or both, to steer the car. Because the small rings didn’t have the leverage of a larger/standard steering wheel, a back-up hydraulic unit was fitted in case the regular unit expired.

Company official told AI the system would cost new car buyers $100 dollars in production, and had but three turns lock-to-lock. Also under test was a variable ratio system with fewer than two turns of lock.


As we asked in our initial coverage of the Taurus and Sable, “You’ve got to wonder why Ford never designed cars like this in the first place.”

These vehicles launched a “team concept” at Ford, which attempted to eliminate potential problems by including each of the groups in the process of designing, developing and building a car from the start.

Ford spent $3 billion dollars to bring these cars to market at a time when it was bleeding red ink. Team Taurus, AI reported, identified more than 400 features from other cars that would be considered best-in-class, and transferred that knowledge to its car. In addition, Ford claimed 1,401 potential problems were identified and eliminated during the design stage.

Though called “jelly beans” by the competition, the Taurus and Sable were widely successful. Lew Veraldi, the father of the Taurus, was named AI’s Man of the Year.


The Ford display at the 1991 Detroit Auto Show featured one of the most daring and significant concept cars ever. Called the Contour, it represented a revolutionary new way to design and build automobiles. AI’s March, 1991 issue described the Contour as a Taurussized sedan, using a radical extruded aluminum spaceframe, plastic body panels and a space efficient straight-8 engine with T-drive.

Contour was the pet project of Chuck Haddad, manager of advanced engineering at Ford’s design staff, he claimed the design could cut 50 percent of the weight off an allsteel body-in-white. He also cited tooling savings that ran into hundreds of millions of dollars, a low powertrain profile that allowed a new styling freedom and a spaceframe approach that would allow a minivan or light truck body to bolt-on the Contour chassis.

Another milestone for Contour was the high degree of supplier input that helped make the vehicle module intensive and cutting- edge. It featured never-seen-before systems like ducted cooling, modular suspension, a low pressure AC unit, a compact bake booster and the spaceframe. Haddad hinted the economy of such a car could create a whole new low-priced market.

AI asked: “Would Ford be bold enough to build it?”

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