By the time that 1908 had rolled around, Henry Ford had already formed three automobile companies after completing his famous Quadricycle of 1896. The first two of those companies failed his vision of a low-cost car for the masses, and he either left them or was thrown out for non-performance.
Ford was a tinkerer who, at one point, had dallied with the speed demon. His most famous example is the 1902 999 speedster, a beast of a car that could only be mastered by the soon-famous Barney Oldfield. Ford eventually had to step away from the temptations of speed cars and focus on making a vehicle for the Everyman. He could not do both.
Ford Motor Company of 1903 was the third attempt at forming a company that would finally fulfill Henry Ford’s calling. When the photo below was taken in 1924, Ford Motor had produced almost all of its record 15,000,000 Model Ts, a vehicle that is considered by many to be the most important American car made during the 20th century.
Did Ford Ever Make a Speedster?
The easy answer is: “No.” Ford Motor Company never officially produced a sporty vehicle that they named a “speedster.”
Nevertheless, in at least two instances they came close. Very close…
The first occasion was the Ford Model K 6-40 Gentleman’s Roadster, a luxury sporting car that Henry Ford was more or less coerced into producing to appease his partner of the time, Alexander Malcomson. Malcomson wanted a luxury car to appeal to the upper class buyer, while Henry Ford’s real allegiance was with rural and working class folks; the low-cost Model N was Henry’s solution.
Consider the sales material for the Ford Model N:
“To a man who buys a $600 car the amount invested is as great as $6,000 is to the wealthier man who pays the higher figure for his equipage.
“And no matter what the price, the man who buys an automobile from a responsible house … has a right to expect a practical motor car and one which with ordinary usage will withstand the hardest work over rough American roads.
“All these things Henry Ford had in mind during the two years he was working out the designs and the plans for his cherished scheme – a car that would combine all that was best in an automobile and built in such numbers and at a price that would place it within the reach of … men to whom a motor car is a necessity rather than a luxury—and who can pay accordingly.”
The two cars couldn’t have been more different: The Model N was a four cylinder that produced 15 hp, had an 84-inch wheelbase, had a terminal speed of 45 mph, and cost $600. The Model N was a car designed for Henry Ford’s low-budget target market.
The Model N and its variants, the Model R and Model S, preceded and anticipated the Model T which would be introduced in late 1908. These models formed the pathway that led to the Model T, which was Henry’s true vision.
The Model K, in complete contrast, was a large six cylinder that produced 40 hp, rolled on a 120-inch wheelbase had a top speed of 70 mph, and cost $2800. This vehicle appealed to the luxury crowd that Malcomson hobnobbed with and that Henry Ford secretly despised.
The history of the car business is replete with tales of achievers who clawed their way up from nearly nothing, penniless, to transform themselves through sheer willpower into human dynamos, industrial titans, architects of wealth and (literally) the stuff of dime novels. Imagine, however, undertaking that variety of personal transformation when you not only had to scramble over the everyday obstacles of poverty and ignorance, but on top of everything else, you couldn’t even speak the language.
Such was the challenge faced by the man who became officially known as William S. Knudsen, or more colloquially, whether affectionately or not, as simply Big Bill. At his core, he was no different from the millions of immigrants who flooded into the United States, grasping at a little bit of its dream and promise, as the 19th century melted into the 20th. Knudsen, however, had a more expansive vision. He became a giant in the industry, to excavate a much-used phrase, by serving as the ayatollah of mass production at both General Motors and at the Ford Motor Company. He would also wear stars on his shoulders as a leader of the United States’ armed forces, presiding over his industry’s hugely critical contribution to defeating totalitarianism during World War II. How many other halting steps down a gangplank have ended with so much accomplishment?
Like so many newcomers to this country, Knudsen adopted a name other than the one his parents had originally given him. He was born in Denmark in early 1879 and baptized as Signius Wilhelm Poul Knudsen. He emigrated in 1900, at age 21, from his native Copenhagen and landed like untold millions of others at Ellis Island. When he reached the U.S. mainland, Knudsen managed to find employment at a New Jersey shipyard. When that job ended, Knudsen–who had paid pennies to neighborhood youngsters in New Jersey to give him some instruction in rudimentary English–found work with the great Erie Railroad, repairing steam boilers at its locomotive shops in Salamanca, in southwestern New York. By then, Knudsen’s younger brother was also stateside, and had whittled out a sideline of importing Copenhagen-made bicycles for his own employer, John R. Keim Mills of Buffalo, New York. It wasn’t very far from Salamanca, so Knudsen decided to visit. When he did, Keim offered him a job, too.
A big part of the reason why was that Keim made steam engines, and Knudsen’s experience with the Erie made him an attractive prospect. The firm was one of hundreds across the American industrial belt that were also turning into subcontractors for the young auto industry. Just as one example, Keim hammered out one order of brake drums for the Olds Motor Works. That soon led to an order from Henry Ford for sheetmetal subassemblies such as fenders and fuel tanks.
Clearly, Ford liked the product, because he one day showed up and bought the entire Keim operation outright. By this time, the Model T was in production, and Ford moved rapidly to erect a regional assembly plant in Buffalo. Knudsen, who had exhibited clear and proven capabilities in production planning, was tapped by Ford himself to set up the Buffalo plant and get it into the business of turning out new cars. It was 1911, and Knudsen was only in his 30s, but he immediately proved to Ford that he could rapidly make sense of what even then were highly complicated issues of production and time management. To this day, Knudsen is believed to be the first person to propose spray-painting cars to save both money and time, as well as to ensure consistent quality.
Ford responded to his prodigious ability by bringing Knudsen west to his Dearborn stronghold in 1913. The Model T had already exploded in popularity like nothing else in the history of the still-young American auto industry, and Ford tasked Knudsen with ensuring that demand could be sated by setting up 27 regional assembly plants, something that had been beyond conception in the business up until that juncture. Part of that assignment included building 112 Eagle boats for the Navy in 1917, during World War I. Washington would remember Knudsen’s efficiency at getting it done.
The History of Ford Motor Company is filled with larger-than-life figures, starting with the founder himself and continuing right up through Lee Iacocca. So many characters, as it happens, have cropped up in Dearborn history that some have been unfortunately overlooked to a great extent. John Bugas, better known as Jack, was one of them.
Bugas was one of 10 children born to Austro-Hungarian immigrant Andrej Bugos, who adopted the name Andrew Bugas and served six terms in the Wyoming State Legislature. In addition to politics, Andrew was a serial entrepreneur and a rancher. The family ranch, called Eagle’s Nest, would be John Bugas’ home from shortly after his birth in 1908 until he enrolled in the University of Wyoming.
In college, Bugas was an outstanding athlete. He studied law and supported himself by working jobs as diverse as forest ranger and trucker. Upon graduation, in 1934, he went to work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
It was the height of the Public Enemies era, and the brave and capable Bugas was a valued asset to the Bureau. In 1938, he was appointed to head the Detroit office. There he would liaison with the auto industry, something the federal government was already viewing as a strategic asset as totalitarian regimes in Europe and the Far East made no secret of their territorial ambitions.
Even as he proved adept at fighting more mundane crimes like kidnapping and bank robbery, Bugas was particularly renowned for the work he did protecting Detroit’s defense plants from espionage. He broke up a Nazi spy ring centered on Canadian socialite “Countess” Grace Dineen, and could boast that no sabotage occurred in the Arsenal of Democracy while he was in charge.
Naturally, Bugas met many of the Motor City’s leading lights at this time. Henry Ford, apparently still fearing that his grandchildren might be kidnapped like the unfortunate Charles Lindbergh Jr., hired away Bugas to work under the notorious Harry Bennett, head of Ford’s euphemistically named Service Department— essentially, a private army answerable only to Henry.
The tough westerner was not overawed by the ex-boxer to whom Henry was so inexplicably devoted, but had been impressed with the cultured, sensitive Edsel, whom he had met before Edsel’s untimely death in 1943. A self-described “Edsel loyalist,” Bugas determined to carry out the younger Ford’s wishes rather than those of the thuggish Bennett.
This book is a real addition to anyone with an interest in the early history of Ford Motor Company. I concur with the review from Good Reads below.
No one, but no one, tells the story of the Ford Motor Company like Garet Garrett. He loved machines and technology, and the markets that create and distribute them. He loved the car and its transforming effect on society. And he lived through it all and knows what he is talking about.
Here he sees Henry Ford for the genius that he was, as an entrepreneur who saw the possibilities and seized on them. He tells of how Ford faced and overcame incredible obstacles on his way to becoming one of the great capitalists of all time.
Garrett doesn’t stop there. He chronicles Ford’s battles with the government and, in particular, the unions that ended up robbing the company and turning it to their own selfish ends. This was in the 1950s when he was writing, but he could see the future of one long slow decline. And how right he was!
This isn’t just a great business history for the regular person, one that provides a window into the making of a great company. Garrett has written a book that will interest people of all ages. It is a wonderful read for the young person who cares about cars. It shows that they are not somehow built into the fabric of society but rather came from the productive system of capitalism, a result of marvelous human ingenuity working within an atmosphere of freedom.
Garet Garrett was a talented writer, researcher, and story teller who knew how markets work. This is a book for all times – a capitalist classic
In the 1920s, Henry Ford created a utopia in the middle of the Amazon jungle. The plan was to produce enough rubber to feed his auto empire, but the dream soon turned into a nightmare. Disease, riots, mud – and caterpillars – were too much for Ford’s millions.
Really useful Ford Flathead V8 specification reference page from VanPelt Sales
The Flathead V8 engines produced by Ford Motor Company included basically three versions. The most popular being the 85-125hp that was first produced in 1932, and continued until 1953 (except for Canadian and Australian production which ended in 1954). Ford also designed and produced a smaller 60hp flathead V8 engine from 1937 until 1940. Lastly, the big 337 cubic inch flathead V8 engine, which was produced mainly for truck use and for Lincoln cars from 1948 to 1951. Ford’s flathead V8 engines when introduced in 1932 were the first mass-production V8’s where the block and cylinder assembly were poured as one single casting.
Click on the links below for general descriptions, general specifications, and tune-up specifications on each series engine. Horsepower and torque curves are available on some
This week in automotive history, GM tries to acquire Ford. Here’s why it didn’t happen
Imagine General Motors owning Ford. It nearly happened, until it didn’t. TheDetroitBureau.com looks at what nearly happened, and why it didn’t.
William Crapo Durant — Billy to his friends — became President of the Buick Motor Co., after its founder, David Buick, left the company, along with $100,000. All was going well at Buick, and Durant soon left the office to have dinner with his daughter, Margery, when he was called to the phone. It was Benjamin Briscoe Jr., president of the Maxwell-Briscoe Co.
The conversation was recalled by Durant in notes for a never published autobiography and later recounted by Buick historian Lawrence Gustin in his book, “Billy Durant.”
“Hello, Billy, I have a most important matter to discuss with you and want you to take the first train to Chicago.”
Durant answered, “What’s the big idea, Ben?”
“Don’t ask me to explain; it’s the biggest thing in the country. There’s millions in it. Can you come?”
“Impossible, too busy, sorry,” Durant said. “But I can see you here. Why don’t you take the 10 o’clock Grand Trunk arriving at 7 o’clock tomorrow morning? I will meet you at the station and we will have breakfast together.”
Briscoe agreed, and boarded the train later that night.
A meeting begets a big idea
The next day, the two meet, with Briscoe telling Durant that a J.P. Morgan partner and Maxwell-Briscoe financier was toying with the idea of a large merger of automakers, nearly two dozen. Durant had his doubts.
The plan involved too many companies and would take too much to resolve any differences. Durant countered with another proposal, one involving fewer automakers that would sell medium-priced cars in large numbers, such as Ford, Reo, Buick and Maxwell-Briscoe.
Upon further discussion, they contacted Ransom E. Olds, who ran Reo, and Henry Ford, who agreed to meet with Briscoe and Durant at Durant’s suite in the Pontchartrain Hotel in Detroit.
Briscoe opened the meeting, stating he wanted the group to formulate a consolidation plan the could be presented to J.P. Morgan. But Ford and Olds wanted cash for their companies, at least $3 million each.
This proved to be a big hurdle. With the chances of success fading, the final straw proved to be a short item in the New York Times, stating that the first large consolidation of automakers was coming, and would be named International Motor Co. and capitalized at $25 million.
Morgan withdrew its support. The big idea was dead.
Durant carries on
Morgan may not have liked the idea, but Durant did.
Before long, he contacted the Olds Motor Works in Lansing, Michigan about consolidating Buick and Olds, with both companies owned by a holding company to be named General Motors.
Olds had fallen on hard times after the departure of their founder, Ransom Olds, several years before, and were anxious to consolidate. On Sept. 16 1908, General Motors was incorporated, starting an acquisition spree that led Durant to acquire the Albert Champion Co., the Oakland Motor Car Co., and Cadillac Automobile Co. among dozens of others.But one prize still eluded him: Ford Motor Co
Durant tries again
In 1909, Durant approached Ford’s business manager James Couzens about General Motors’ interest in acquiring Ford Motor Co. Couzens said he would talk it over with Mr. Ford. At the time, Ford was fighting George Selden, a patent lawyer who was granted a patent for the automobile.
Selden formed the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers and began collecting a 0.75% royalty on all cars sold. But automakers had to get a license from the ALAM. Having been refused one by the ALAM, Ford built cars anyway. Selden sued, and the case dragged on for years. Ford was still battling Selden when Durant’s offer arrived. With victory uncertain, and huge costs being incurred with the installation of the automobile industry’s first assembly line, Ford couldn’t help but be swayed by the offer.
“I had reason to believe that if we were successful, General Motors would not require any more motor car companies,” Durant writes.
Ford agreed to sell his company to General Motors for $8 million. His terms: $2 million in cash, $2 million in stock, and the remaining $4 million paid during the next three years at 5% interest. But Durant’s acquisition fee left GM short on cash. Durant turned to the National City Bank of New York to ask for a $2 million loan, even as GM’s board of directors gives Durant the authority to buy Ford on Oct. 26, 1909. But the bank was unwilling to take a risk on the fledgling industry, let alone Durant’s new company.
The answer was no.
Ultimately, Ford would prove victorious over Selden upon appeal, and the assembly line proved a wise innovation. By the 1920s, Ford would control half the U.S. automobile market with a single vehicle, the Model T. Ultimately, through a combination of factors, GM would surpass Ford, become the top seller of automobiles in the U.S. for decades.
However, one wonders what might have been had things turned out differently in 1909.
While those same bankers later admitted they made a mistake, Durant harbored no regrets. “I never would have built up that business the way Ford did,” he recalled. “The Ford business would never have been what it is without Henry Ford, who has done more for America than any other man — more for the world.”
Buried deep into the Brazilian jungle sit the remains of what was once Henry Ford’s utopian city. A place where one of the richest and most influential men on the planet wanted not to make money, but to – quote – help develop that wonderful and fertile land. And I can tell you right now that Henry Ford definitely didn’t make any money out of his dream city. In fact, it turned out to be one of his biggest failures – but we’ll get to that later. So stick around until the end of this video to find out the story of Fordlandia, an American attempt at making an American rubber factory and an American-style community in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon.
The Henry Ford Digitization Project Hits a Milestone
The Henry Ford has announced a milestone in the massive effort to digitize its enormous collection of artifacts. Last week, the museum staff scanned its 100,000th artifact, a photograph of the 100,000th Fordson Tractor. To celebrate, The Henry Ford has been giving guests behind-the-scenes looks at the digitization process.“If you’ve visited our website, read a blog post, shared a social media story from our channels, or simply walked through the museum, you’ve encountered the work of our digitization team.” said Patricia Mooradian, president and CEO, The Henry Ford.
“Digitization has opened our doors to guests far beyond what we could have ever imagined. People can now view the Rosa Parks bus, the Wright Cycle Shop or Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory from anywhere in the world at any time they choose.”The process is very detailed, requiring many steps such as cleaning, special handling, or the application of other extensive treatments before digitization. Artifacts are either photographed or scanned, while the curatorial team drafts a summary giving an overview of the item’s significance.
When completed, each is catalogued in the Digital Collections for viewing. With more than 26 million artifacts in the collection, expect many more milestones over the coming year