Matters of moment, April 1978

Ford’s 75th anniversary

This year the Ford Motor Company of America celebrates its 75th anniversary. It began, like other purveyors of horseless-carriages, with simple cars, such as its so-called “Silent Petrol Car” of 1904, which The American Motor Car Agency of 117, Long Acre, London, sold for £200, although a tonneau, double-tube tyres and brass-rails cost an extra £30. The legendary Henry Ford, grandfather of today’s Henry Ford II, had founded his motor business on June 6th, 1903. At first it brought out all manner of models, and even tried its fortunes at motor racing. There was the Model-A twin-cylinder Runabout, the first Ford to arrive in Britain, but only a dozen of these were sold in that first year. There was the 4.6-litre Model-B, a four-cylinder 40 m.p.h. Ford, the two-cylinder Models C and F, and the big six-cylinder 6.8-litre Model-K Ford. These were supported and succeeded by the Model-R four-cylinder car, available in de-luxe editions. Henry Ford was now getting on the track he intended to follow, inasmuch as this Model-R had a medium-size (2 1/2-litre) four-cylinder engine and sold for £125 in 1906. A speed of 45 m.p.h. was claimed for it. But it was the great Model-T, the now immortal “Tin Lizzie” or “Flivver”, that set the seal to Ford’s ambitions, made him the World’s largest producer of motor vehicles, and a millionaire almost overnight. If a Model-T would be quite impractical for almost everyone today, its brilliance in 1908, the year of its introduction, must not be overlooked, and will not be, by discerning historians. It was simple in the extreme, yet made of first-rate steels. It was conventional, except for two-speed planetary transmission, so welcome at a time when letting-in (or out) a friction clutch and grappling with sliding-into-mesh toothed gears was the terror of every learner’s and most senior drivers’ motoring, and inexpensive transverse suspension. The Model-T’s 2.9-litre L-head four-cylinder with its ingenious ignition was powerful enough to make this Ford the World’s first, and perhaps the only, universal car. It could run well within its chattering capabilities, rendering it a long-life power-unit. There is little need to dwell on the success story of the Model-T. Over 15 million were sold, of which over 300,000 were made in Britain, at Trafford Park near Manchester. It put the name of Ford far ahead of any other make, on the motoring map as studied by the World’s customers for the new motor transport. It made Henry Ford very wealthy, and his name a household one, fanned by jokes innumerable about his car, his sayings (“History is bunk”, which has so often been taken out of context, and “You can have it in any colour so long as its black”, which wasn’t true for the whole of Lizzie’s life), and his exploitation of mass-production, even of something as complicated as an automobile.

There is not space in this Editorial to sketch in, even briefly, all the important Ford factors that came in the wake of the Model-T. But come they did, turning Ford into a vast, far-reaching motorempire, rivalled only by the diverse products of General Motors, a situation as true today as it was of Ford in its formative years. Ford came early to this country, not only selling cars in Britain but manufacturing them here. Mr. (later Sir) Percival Perry had put three Model-B Ford taxicabs on the streets of London in 1903 and in 1906 he formed a company to look after Ford interests here. There was a Ford stand at Olympia in 1908, premises in Shaftesbury Avenue, London, by 1909. An ex-tram depot at Trafford Park was then converted to found the first British Ford factory in 1911, from which 3,000 Fords emerged that year. The following year Henry Ford visited Ireland to select a factory site at Cork and bodies for imported T-chassis were made in England. It was the same all over Europe—this opening of successful new Ford plants.

In 1924, with Fords actually being built at the Empire Exhibition at Wembley on a moving production-line, 310 acres of Thames-side land was acquired at Dagenham in Essex for a new British Ford factory, which cost LS-million and was in production by 1931, machinery being moved there from Trafford Park by rail over one long week-end. Meanwhile, there has been further important Ford landmarks, in terms of new models. With the baby-car, led in 1923 by the Austin Seven, in the ascendant here, Ford introduced the good-looking Ford Eight in 1932, its flowing lines contrasting with the dismal and cramped square boxes into which, up to that time, British buyers of cars of this class, h.p. rating, and price had struggled to insert themselves—causing Morris to revise the Minor three years later into an Eight very similar to Ford’s! The ageing “T” had already been replaced by the “100” conventional Model-A (although it retained simple transverse leaf springing and did without h.t ignition cable) and then there was that great breakthrough, with the Ford V8, in 1932, a low-priced, very smooth and accelerative, multi-cylinder people’s car, made possible by Ford’s advanced foundry methods, enabling practical one-piece eight-cylinder blocks and crankcases to be achieved, together with a cast-iron crankshaft. At first perhaps too fast for its brakes and suspension, and apt to boil if raced, what a great motor car this Ford V8 was-and we believe that “V8” is still strictly a Ford trademark.

From that time onwards, Ford was firmly established. There followed the Zephyrs, the Consuls, the Populars, the Anglias, the Cortinas, the Corsairs, the Escorts and the Capris, representing sales success ‘after sales success, up to the 1978 range of Fiesta, Escort, Capri II, and now Ill, Cortina Mk. V, and Granada II, Fords to suit so many people and most purses. And let it not be forgotten (which is unlikely!) that all down the years Ford has had a notably sporting image. From daring to essay the Land Speed Record in the dim ages, and Henry Ford presenting his own Trophy for a Ford race at Brooklands in 1912, came the great many victorious rally and race appearances by Ford, far too many to list but leading to today’s sporting participation in so many aspects of the competition scene, from Formula Ford upwards, and Dagenham’s great 1970s rally participation. Indeed, the last exciting Grand Prix was won by Peterson in what Motor Sport rightly refers to as a Lotus-Cosworth; but it must not be forgotten that Lotus and others would not have this great Formula One vee-eight Ford-Cosworth DFV power-pack, produced by Keith Duckworth of Cosworth – an engine which won its first GP in 1967 and its 100th, at Monaco, last year–had Ford not found the finance, after Walter Hayes’ snap decision, back in 1966.

Thus Ford seem to have a more sporting image than many of their rivals, which presumably steers many enthusiasts in a Dagenham direction when shopping for their new economy and family cars…

Motor Racing on TV

Congratulations are due to ITV for their excellent live-coverage of the very exeiting South African Grand Prix on March 4th. It was excellent and instructive entertainment, with the undramatic and knowledgeable Andrew Marriott just the sort of Commentator we like to hear. With its admirable live GP coverage, ITV certainly put in the shade the BBC, which took an interest in reporting motor-racing years ago (although convinced that a tennis expert, mercifully aided by Raymond Baxter, was the best person to present it, but then went sour over sponsorship labels appearing on the cars. All the BBC could do on that March week-end to compete with ITV’s tine coverage of the South African race was to give us a tedious insight into Formula One racing on the Sunday afternoon. But we are glad to hear that it now proposes to provide live-coverage of the British GP at Brands Hatch on July 16th, and of some other races, after having had its cameras at Silverstone for the International Trophy race and at Thruxton on Easter Monday, assuming as we go to press that its announced schedule was kept To.

All credit to ITV for getting Motor-racing onto almost -a football-coverage basis, which they will continue to do, it says, with live-reportage of the Swedish GP on June 18th. “Will Peterson do it again (in his home ground?” is a lucky theme for ITV, after his South African victory for Lotus, even if he does live in England and race the World over…!