Detroit Before the Motown Makers: the life and death of the Model A Ford | George Elliott

From their factory at Dearborn, Michigan in 1925, the Ford Model A, when assembled, cost a relatively hefty $517. This figure was soon eclipsed by the Ford Model T and the Model S, but still, for the first 40 years of the Model A’s existence, it was a price car. Models were individually offered from dealers throughout the U.S. for sale at least one size up, and most frequently from both dealers and Ford factories, where they would be separated, packaged and sold in one of four different body styles: sedan, convertible, station wagon or trike. In the mass market, the Model A was usually purchased by individuals, some of whom built their own models. Not for sale were the special AC gizmos, chrome trim, batteries, automotive components, and advertising windows designed by Ford for use with this revolutionary design.

Ford’s goal was to make a car that was a boon to the American worker by making cost of production as minimal as possible. Thanks to its revolutionary horizontally mounted transmission, each model would be lighter and more fuel efficient than earlier Model As. Ford also believed that the car had to accommodate the growing demands of its employees: because a number of the Model A’s bodies, even the convertible body, were built on spinning steel hoists, it was of particular interest that Ford decided to construct the Model A’s inside of a lightweight aluminium alloy. Initially, this carriage, developed for military purposes, was not destined for production as automobiles, as it was found to be not capable of carrying very many people. In 1927, at the insistence of Ford president Henry Ford, the railroad industry hired the first chief engineer on the Model A to set the carriage up for production.

The early Model A (the car was not retired until the Model T production line was completed in 1927) was pioneered with a design that fit its unique design. In general, this design reigned supreme throughout Ford’s Model A production run. This allowed for the more economical assembly of additional Model A bodies because of the streamlined design of the cardboard side panels. In 1882, the Model A won several Automobile and Motorcycle Clubs of America features awards. These included “The Year’s Best Engine” for 1927’s model year, “Volunteer of the Year” for 1923, and “Car of the Year” for 1927.

“Ford’s own execution of, and approval of, the Model A is largely due to the remarkable industrial workmanship and adaptability of his staff, coupled with the brilliant navigation of his own mind. The basic design and engineering procedures for the launch of the Model A can be traced directly back to his corporate standards; the execution in the execution of the car was therefore simply taken for granted, and it was such that, for almost half a century, no one knew quite how to modify the design or make it a finer automobile,” noted the reporter for the Detroit News on the Model A launch.

The cast-iron body provided great flexibility, allowing a more open, free flowing, and open-air automobile. In the early days of Model A production, the windshield was removed to give the vehicle more visibility. When new Model A’s, like the 1928 Daylight Optional Convertible, were launched, the familiar chrome turn signal button was removed from the dashboard to improve the vehicle’s space. This resulted in Ford having to reissue the Model A again in 1929 with a chrome turn signal in order to prevent future displays of non-negotiable data being knocked off the dash, breaking speed and distance and sometimes malfunctions. In this way, Ford strengthened his grip on drivers’ trusty automotives.

• This article was amended on 14 February 2011 to correct the spelling of Henry Ford’s name

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