Saturday, June 06, 2015

A Ford in Your Past?

To the delight of many Michiganders, Ford Motor Company sold a quarter-million vehicles in May. It was another in what has become a long string of positive performances since the U.S. economy started to emerge from the depths of the "Great Recession."

Ford's revival has been a do-it-yourself affair. The company declined to accept government financial assistance to weather the economic storm, while rivals General Motors and Chrysler dipped deeply into the federal till to stay in business. Ford management anticipated the crisis and, unlike the others, got its house in order before banking disasters struck.

Perhaps it's fitting that Ford led the way. It often did so in the history of American automotive companies. Henry Ford, a farm boy with little formal education, had a remarkable ability to introduce or develop novel ideas in building a manufacturing empire. His first product was the Model T, and his factories ultimately produced more than 15 million of them. The video celebrating the Model T has, I think, some fascinating scenes of the vehicles being produced and driven.

Ford did not invent mass production, but he was the first to develop the idea in a big way. He made large capital investments to build giant factories that housed assembly lines. Some believe he created the first workable private auto, but Karl Benz of Mercedes-Benz renown did that two decades before the first Model T Ford rolled off the line in 1909. Likewise, Ford did not invent mass media advertising, but he was one of the first to use it effectively.

Ford Motor Company produced print ads in color when color printing was a rarity. "There's a Ford in your Future" became perhaps the best-known advertising slogan in the 1940's, and various versions of the phrase popped up on the American scene for many years after the company adopted new tag lines.

Henry Ford gained some of his fame by paying assembly line workers $5 per day, an unheard of sum in the early 1900's. His motivation probably was not entirely altruistic.  Skilled workers flocked to Detroit for good paychecks, and Ford managers could take their pick from many candidates for every job that became available.

Whether or not there's a Ford in your future, there probably was one in your past. American families (and many in other countries) either owned a Ford at one time or another, or owned other mass-produced vehicles whose development mirrored the Ford example. The video claim that the Model T was the "great-great-grandparent of most every car on the road" has some truth to it. Sometimes the connection is close in unlikely places. On a trip to Europe, a German family member loaned us their car for a lengthy road trip--it was a Ford SUV!

My family didn't own a car during most of my years at home. Dad bought a 1927 Model T in 1945. It was one of the stranger of the many "T" models--a convertible pickup truck. Dad used it to carry materials to a lake lot about five miles from our home where he was helping build a cottage for an uncle. The tough old truck did the job well for about a year.

Dad (age 53), me (age 9), and our Model T (age 18).

One statement in the video probably is over-exuberant hype. There is no way our Model T ever was started with a "half-turn" of the crank. Dad was a strong guy, and he did a whole lot of cranking to get that four-banger engine going on many occasions when I was responsible for adjusting "the spark" at just the right time.

The last Model T's were produced in 1928; I bought one of the first successors, a 1929 Model A, in 1952 for $50. I drove it for about a year and sold it for $55. Wouldn't it be grand if today's cars held their value like that?


Tom Sightings said...

Thanks for the history lesson. I have mixed feelings about Ford. Had a Mustang a long time ago ... terrible car (despite the hype) as it had no traction and bounced all over the road. (Hey, at least it wasn't a Pinto!) Later, with a family, I had a Taurus, which wasn't bad; and B now has a 2004 Ford Freestyle which we both like a lot.

Dick Klade said...

Tom: My experience with owning Fords also was mixed, after my early ownership of the Model A. We twice bought older used sedans. One was a fairly good performer, the other had multiple problems. Later, we bought a new Mercury, which proved to be a fine machine. However, our experience with GM cars has been nothing but good. Our current family car is a Pontiac. Too bad that brand has been discontinued. We love the Pontiac.

Alan G said...

Never owned one of those old classic Model T's or A's but always wanted one. My only Fords were two Mustangs from the sixties and an old green Ford Falcon station wagon which I bought to assist in hauling band equipment. Never had any issue with Ford products personally but back in my day as you well know there was a palatable rivalry between Ford and Chevy owners.

My first car was a 1949 Dodge and the car I own now which is certainly to be my last car is a 2007 Chrysler 300 with one of those damn Takata air bags! I did not mention my other car, the little Geo Metro, because I plan on being buried in it, sitting up in the seat with seat belt on! Heh, heh, heh

Dick Klade said...

Alan: Think you could skip the seat belt on your final road trip--it would be hard for law enforcement to collect your fine if they nabbed you!

PiedType said...

I've zero experience with Fords. Daddy always drove Oldsmobiles. After I left home, my next two cars were Oldsmobiles (442s), then a Chevy Nova, a Honda Accord, an Acura Integra, a Mazda MX-6, and currently a 2011 Subaru Forester (destined to be my last car, I'm sure). Never cared for Fords but greatly admired their standing on their own thru the recession.

Dick Klade said...

Pied: We're hoping our old Pontiac will outlast us, but if it crashes a Subaru Forester is high on our list (with a Prius) of possible replacements. The current Forester models are getting very good marks from car raters.

Ramana Rajgopaul said...

I grew up getting familiar with many different kinds of cars in the immediate post WWII India. Among the cars that I distinctly remember is a Ford V8 in a funny bug looking shape. It was followed by a similar looking Mercury. Then Ford went out of favour with my father who went to Citroens and then to Buicks, Chryslers and eventually settled down to an Indian made Fiat clone.

A very dear friend of mine who restores and sells old motorcycles for a living has a T Model restored and in working condition which he does not allow anyone to drive. There is so much history about the Fords that I am glad that I came here to read this one.

Anonymous said...

The first car I bought was a second hand Ford Anglia manufactured here in the UK in the early 1960's. Fords where very popular here as 'company cars' and beloved by travelling salesmen (who didn't love a 'free' car) I drove many of their models, the most famous being the (British) Cortina. How I would have loved a Model T .

Anonymous said...

David says his first car was a 1927 Ford. I think. I would verify if he were here (I know it ws a very old car in 1945 when he began to drive and it was a Ford from the twenties). We have been rooting for ford nd laughing at the companies who accepted the bailout. We read a huge biography about Ford and the company he built for one of my history classes.

Dick Klade said...

Dianne: I also like the way Ford handled the recession with no government subsidy. In your history, you probably came across the dark side of Henry Ford. He was an outspoken anti-Semite. Because of that the company suffered--many Jews for a long time refused to buy Ford vehicles. That may still be true today to some extent.

Kay said...

Ummm.... I believe I had my first accident in a Ford station wagon. The Ford had hardly a dent, but the other car's bumper and front end were smashed. I really liked that car and drove it to school everyday, not to mention used it to carpool the kids.

Domingo said...

Ford is the only car brand I've ever owned and I haven't had many problems. Even if you don't own a Ford, we as Americans have benefited from Henry Ford's assembly line. Like you said, he didn't invent it but his ability to refine it and attract skilled workers influenced manufacturing in all areas of business.