Watch A Model T Get Assembled in Less Than Five Minutes and Two Historic Replicas Drive at the Old Car Festival

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber

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Every year, Greenfield Village hosts two large car shows, the Motor Muster for cars built from 1933 to 1976 and the Old Car Festival, for vehicles from the start of the motor age until the introduction of the 1932 Ford. The Henry Ford institutions claim that the Old Car Festival is the longest running antique car show in America, having started in 1955. It’s a charming event, with many of the cars’ owners dressing in period clothing and since folks are encouraged to drive their cars around the Village (with traffic “cops” in period uniforms at the intersections) there’s a “back in time” look and feel to the event. There aren’t many places were you can see a parade of 90 year old cars drive through an authentic covered wooden bridge.

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It’s a unique car event. Where else can you see a drag race between a 1909 air-cooled Franklin and a ninety year old Hupmobile?

In addition to races and field exercises on the Village parade grounds there are also demonstrations like the one put on by the Canadian Model T Assembly Team. As you can probably guess from their name, the team shows how Model Ts went together, using a 1927 chassis as an example. After some preparation laying out part was done, the clock started running and the team started putting the major assemblies together. It took them just under five minutes to everything put together and filled with fluids, ready to be crank started. Now admittedly, they didn’t mount a body, but still five minutes to assemble any kind of automotive rolling chassis is pretty impressive.

While the Model T is famous for Ford’s use of an assembly line to put it together at the Highland Park plant, the Canadian Model T Assembly Team’s process is a bit more like the “station assembly” process used a the previous Piquette Avenue factory.

Apparently, putting together a team to put together a Model T has become a bit of a thing with T enthusiasts. This group in Florida can do it in less than three minutes:

As mentioned, the Old Car Festival celebrates the earliest days of the automobile. The oldest vintage car that I saw on display, which was also driven around the Village, was a 1902 Columbus electric car. I spotted at least three curved dash Oldsmobiles puttering around and there were also a couple of original Ford Model As being driven. That was the first model produced by the Ford Motor Company when it was started up in 1903.

Two years earlier Henry Ford’s first attempt to start a car company, the Detroit Automobile Company, failed. Things were not going well for the entrepreneur. He had given up a good job as chief operating engineer of the Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit to pursue his dream and instead it had the makings of a nightmare. He had a wife, Clara, and a son, Edsel. Ford himself was not a young man, already 38 years old, and he and Clara had to move in with her parents.

To gain credibility with the public but even more important, with potential investors, Henry decided to enter a motorcar race called a sweepstakes that was to be held at a Grosse Pointe horse racing track. With a team of associates including riding mechanic Edward “Spider” Huff who is said to have invented the ceramic spark plug insulator for the car using dental supplies, Ford built what he referred to as the Sweepstakes car. It’s two cylinder engine displaced over 500 cubic inches and was said to have a top speed of at least 70 mph. Though Ford would later hire professional drivers like Barney Oldfield to drive later racing specials like the 999, for the 10 laps around the one mile horse track Henry decided to take the wheel himself. Huff’s role wasn’t just to provide an extra pair of hands. He rode on the running board, shifting his weight like a sidehack rider to keep the Sweepstakes’ wheels on the ground.

Ford’s competition was Alexander Winton, then the most successful American automaker. Winton was an experienced racer, the best known race driver in the country. Ford had never raced a car before, nor would he ever race one again. The Winton automobile was faster and Winton took the lead but the Ford Sweepstakes was more reliable, passing to take the lead and hold it on the main straight, much to the pleasure of the local crowd.

While it’s tempting to say that it was a case of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday”, to begin with Ford didn’t then operate a car company so he would have had nothing to sell to potential customers. Also, the race took place on Oct. 10, 1901, a Thursday. Ford won $1,000. There are sources that say that he would later use some of that money to start Ford Motor Company in 1903, but in the short term it gave him sufficient credibility to find backers for his second venture, the Henry Ford Company. Though it was more successful than the Detroit Automobile Co., Ford would quickly butt heads with his investors and within months he was out of the company. Those investors brought in Henry Leland, Detroit’s most respected machinist and a supplier of engines and other components to Ransom Olds and other early automakers, to put a value on the assets, so they could be liquidated. Instead he convinced them that there were the makings of a going concern. That’s how Cadillac was started.

The original Sweepstakes car is in the collection of the Henry Ford Museum. For a long time it was thought by curators that it was a replica made for Henry Ford in the early 1930s but during a restoration it was proven to be the actual car.

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The old saying said that behind every successful man there is a woman encouraging him to succeed. Had Bertha Benz not believed in her husband Karl’s invention, perhaps even more than he did, the automotive world might be a different place. Bertha (nee Ringer) was already a teenager when Henry Ford was born. As a young woman she invested money in her fiancé Karl Benz’s workshop. That money is said to have allowed him to develop what is widely considered to be the first practical automobile, a three wheeler known as the Patent Motorwagen, often called the Patentwagen.

Bertha was a savvy woman and a very smart wife as well. Without her husband’s knowledge (or at least that’s how the story goes) she took one of his newly built Patentwagens for a 66 mile trip to visit her mother, returning back home with no serious mechanical issues, or at least none that she couldn’t resolve. Though her purpose was ostensibly to take her sons to visit their grandmother, her real reasons were to prove to Karl that his invention had genuine commercial potential and to expose the vehicle to the public so they could exploit that potential. She succeeded on both fronts.

Karl Benz’s 1896 patent drawings for the Motorwagen.

Apparently Bertha was a bit of a gear head. On the journey she repaired the brakes in a manner that some say invented brake linings, found a blacksmith to repair a broken chain, and used her hatpin to remove a blockage in the fuel line and her garter to insulate an exposed wire. The trip from Mannheim to Pforzheim took all the daylight hours, leaving at dawn and arriving at her destination in the evening. She sent Karl a telegram when she arrived in Pforzheim and she and the boys drove back the following day.

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To celebrate the pioneering contributions of the Benzes and Henry Ford, replicas of the Sweepstakes car and the Patentwagen were driven past the reviewing stand. The Sweepstakes replica is one of two that Ford Motor Company had fabricated on the centennial of Henry’s race victory. It’s fairly accurate, though to keep oil from flying everywhere for the original car’s “total loss” oiling system, the engine has a sealed, recycling lubrication system. The Patentwagen is one of a run of a number of accurate replicas that John Bentley Engineering of the UK started building to commemorate the first practical automobile’s centennial in 1986. Over the next decade they would go on to build about 100, in cooperation with Mercedes-Benz. That’s about four times as many Patent Motorwagens as Karl Benz made himself. This particular replica was assembled by Mercedes-Benz interns.

You can see a photo gallery of the Benz Patent Motorwagen at the Automotive Hall of Fame, which owns it, here. Photos of the original Ford Sweepstakes car, which is on display in the Racing in America exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum, can be seen here.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

Ronnie Schreiber
Ronnie Schreiber

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, the original 3D car site.

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8 of 9 comments
  • Beemernator Beemernator on Sep 11, 2014

    That total loss oil system sounds fascinating. Does it mean that you fill up the oil at regular intervals and never change it? Cars have come a long way since then. Then again, I once had a Golf that burned oil at quite a rate, but replacing the valve stem seals fixed it.

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    • DC Bruce DC Bruce on Sep 11, 2014

      @Syke This is a bittersweet story. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  • Haroldingpatrick Haroldingpatrick on Sep 11, 2014

    I attended on Saturday for the first time and was in old car Nirvana. I't was worth the 675 miles from SC. Definitely going back as often as I can. I checked out the Ford Piquette Ave plant as well on Friday, very cool. The Henry Ford Museum is always a treat as well. Question for the locals - why were so many traffic signals off? None worked around the Piquette Ave plant and half the ones were out in Dearborn Saturday. I only ask because I'm a civil engineer / road guy. Our phones ring off the hook if one goes in flash and folks call 911 if one loses power and goes completely off. Chaos breaks out if they have to treat it like a four way stop.

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    • Haroldingpatrick Haroldingpatrick on Sep 11, 2014

      @bball40dtw I gotcha. I'm an early to bed / early to rise person, I was busy sleeping during the storm . . . LOL.

  • ToolGuy The other day I attempted to check the engine oil in one of my old embarrassing vehicles and I guess the red shop towel I used wasn't genuine Snap-on (lots of counterfeits floating around) plus my driveway isn't completely level and long story short, the engine seized 3 minutes later.No more used cars for me, and nothing but dealer service from here on in (the journalists were right).
  • Doughboy Wow, Merc knocks it out of the park with their naming convention… again. /s
  • Doughboy I’ve seen car bras before, but never car beards. ZZ Top would be proud.
  • Bkojote Allright, actual person who knows trucks here, the article gets it a bit wrong.First off, the Maverick is not at all comparable to a Tacoma just because they're both Hybrids. Or lemme be blunt, the butch-est non-hybrid Maverick Tremor is suitable for 2/10 difficulty trails, a Trailhunter is for about 5/10 or maybe 6/10, just about the upper end of any stock vehicle you're buying from the factory. Aside from a Sasquatch Bronco or Rubicon Jeep Wrangler you're looking at something you're towing back if you want more capability (or perhaps something you /wish/ you were towing back.)Now, where the real world difference should play out is on the trail, where a lot of low speed crawling usually saps efficiency, especially when loaded to the gills. Real world MPG from a 4Runner is about 12-13mpg, So if this loaded-with-overlander-catalog Trailhunter is still pulling in the 20's - or even 18-19, that's a massive improvement.
  • Lou_BC "That’s expensive for a midsize pickup" All of the "offroad" midsize trucks fall in that 65k USD range. The ZR2 is probably the cheapest ( without Bison option).