Henry Ford was initially stubborn about car sales on his first car the Model T, not to mention resentful. His theory was that dealers, not his car, were to blame for the decline in sales. However, the invincible man finally came to terms with reality. As well as the rearrangement of the Ford plants where it would be produced. Production of the Model T ceased at the end of May 1927, a few days after the 15 millionth car had come off the assembly line.
The most interesting thing of Ford’s plunge into the future was that the old car expired before the new car had been born. No matter what vehicle that they might come up with, no one knew how it would be powered because no plan for an engine existed. Nevertheless, movement in the direction of a totally new car went ahead. Henry Ford’s basic concept was for a car that would deliver speed, power and comfort — suited to the improved roads and the quick-paced life of that day. It would be lower than the T, longer, wider, more pleasing in its proportions, available in a variety of models and an assortment of colors.
And it would be named after the first car made by Ford Motor Company back in 1903 –the Model A.
Months were required to reach agreement on the engine design. The one finally adopted was a 4-cylinder, 200-cubic-inch, L-head engine, only a little larger than that of the T but developing 40 horsepower. This new engine had aluminum alloy pistons and cylinder head, 3-bearing counterbalanced crankshaft, and battery distributor ignition. Model T’s outdated planetary transmission gave way to a 3-speed sliding gear type with gears of heat-treated chromium steel; clutch and transmission. The wheelbase of the new Model A was 103.5 inches, the tread was 56 inches, and road clearance 9.5 inches. The steel body was brought down to reduce the car’s height. Its weight was heavier than the T, running from 2,000 to 2,500 pounds. A 10-gallon gas tank was an another part of the plan. The radiator shell was contoured like that of the Lincoln, and the lines of the car in general suggested those of its rich sibling–sufficiently so that the Model A was often called “the baby Lincoln.” Body colors were Niagra Blue, Arabian Sand, Dawn Gray, and Gunmetal Blue, with the four-door Sedan being offered in Balsam Green, Copra Drab, Rose Beige, and Andalusite Blue –all a new change from the black Model T, available only in black between 1914 and 1925.
Wire wheels with steel spokes were offered in a contrasting color. They were fitted with balloon tires and internal-expanding mechanical brakes all around. All features on the new Model A included hydraulic shock absorbers and safety glass windshield, bumpers, automatic windshield wipers, tilt-beam headlights, and a Bendix self-starter.
Like its brother (The Model T), the Model A could go anywhere and do anything on 20 miles to the gallon but with greater safety and far superior comfort for those aboard. Yet, it was offered at prices very close to those of the Model T. For example, the Phaeton was sold for $395.00 and the Tudor Sedan sold for $495.00.
To produce a car assembled from 5,580 parts that were almost all entirely new. According to one historian, a changeover of this scope and urgency was, at the time, “unknown in American industrial history.” And yet, the change was accomplished. Highland Park’s final assembly line was moved to the Rouge in September 1927. Tools of radical new design were laid in by the thousands; there were 53,000 at the Rouge by the time production of the Model A began. Factory space amounting to 1.5 million square feet was added. Electrical welding of important parts such as the rear end assembly was developed to replace the bolting. This new practice ultimately became universal in the automobile industry.
So tremendous was the demand for parts that Ford had to back away from his policy of total Fords dependable parts and purchase from outside manufacturers parts such as wheels, body panels, piston rings, and some parts such as pumps and distributors that the company had never made.
During the five months between the time ford stopped production of Model T and delivery of the first Model A, 400,000 orders had piled up for a new car that no single customer had even seen. The lack of cars available and orders on hand had mounted to 800,000 by the spring of 1928.
Ford made almost two million Model A’s in 1929. But Black thursday came on October 24th of that year, ushering in the Great Depression, and from that time on it was downhill all the way. In 1931, sales dropped to 620,000 units. Production of Model A was shut down in August, and early the following year, the “new order” took over in the form of the radically different Ford V-8. By that time well over 20 million Fords had been manufactured, and almost 5 million of these had been the brilliant little Model A’s.
Fords Mechanical History Booklet available at Al Packer West
Fords History of Cars Booklet available thorough Ford