By on September 11, 2014

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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

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9 Comments on “Watch A Model T Get Assembled in Less Than Five Minutes and Two Historic Replicas Drive at the Old Car Festival...”

  • avatar

    How about this for an antique car show:
    The Reading Eagle, 26 June 1907, pg.1, ROUTE OF AUTO PARADE, The Reading Automobile Association has completed arrangements for its second annual race meet to be held at the Fair Grounds, on Saturday afternoon. Arrangements have been perfected for the parade to be held at 10:30 a.m., Saturday. Formation will take place on South Fifth street below Chestnut and no less than 25 autos will be in line. Thus far there have been 15 acceptances. … The route of the parade will be over paved streets as follows: Up Fifth street to Penn, to Fourth, countermarch to Eleventh, to Buttonwood to Ninth, to Penn, to Fifth and dismiss. The racing cars will not participate in the parade for the reason that they may carbonize their cylinders or spark plugs.

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve never messed with it in an automobile, but am well familiar with it in motorcycles having owned a 1930 Indian 101 Scout for 5-6 years. Motorcycle technology lagged behind automotive technology for quite a few years in the US, not becoming anything resembling modern until the 1934 Indian, and 1936 Harley Knucklehead.

      Total loss oiling is just what it says. Oil goes from the oil tank (in the Indian, a divided-off section of the right hand fuel tank) and drips down into the crankcase. You’ve heard the term “splash oiling”? Just what it says. The oil level is allowed to get high enough for the crankshaft to splash the oil all over the place inside the crankcase halves. And that lubricates the engine.

      Now, this oil isn’t necessarily burned up at a set rate like a 70’s Japanese two stroke. Rather it is stored in the crankcase, being used up by a combination of friction, leakage (thru the case joints) and burned as part of combustion (not by intent). So you have a valve ensuring a constant drip into the crankcase at a controlled rate keeping the oil level to the desired height. Usually, there’s a glass so you can actually see the drip, and some form of adjustment to control the rate of drip.

      On the Indian, this works just fine until you’re running at about 45mph (a heady speed for a motorcycle on dirt roads in those days), at which point you’re using up the oil faster than its dripping in. To counteract that, there’s a hand pump on the fuel tank body which will put oil in at a much faster rate.

      Of course, this brings the questions,”How do you know when to start pumping?” and “How often should you be pumping.” When he turned the bike over to my late wife and myself (we took it from him at age 86 to stop him riding before he killed himself), my father-in-law’s advice was, “watch the exhaust.” Period. Nothing more. How cryptic can you get?

      Fortunately, on the way home from the family digs in Bangor, we stopped at the Indian museum in Springfield, MA and met another twenties Indian owner. His answer at least gave me some parameters to work with.

      “If you’re throwing smoke out of the exhaust like a WWII destroyer on convoy duty, stop pumping. You’ll burn the overage off shortly. If you start to hear the main bearings rattle, you’ve got 30 seconds to get some oil pumped into the engine before you trash the bottom end.”

      No, that’s not a joke. He was serious, and years of riding the bike showed me that the limits worked. By the way, the bike used 60 weight oil. Anything thinner would have leaked through the cases as fast as I would have put it in. And the oil control valve wasn’t absolutely fluid tight. Let the bike sit for a few days, and you go underneath to a rotary valve which you open to let the oil over the proper level drain out, close the valve, and then go thru the starting routine.

      Which is another story by itself. Yes, if you don’t retard the spark properly, the kicker will toss you over the handlebars when it backfires in mid kick.

      I never really got comfortable with the bike. It was a hoot to ride, and the mere fact that I rode it in to the local chopper shows guaranteed a trophy anytime I competed, but my lack of mechanical ability, plus my mindset being able to handle a 50’s or 60’s British vertical twin, but not a heck of a lot older technology led us to sell the bike once Patti’s dad had died – and the money immediately went into her ever-climbing medical bills in the few years that she had remaining.

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      Detroit Edison doesn’t bury their cables. Power outages are a fact of life around here. Also, if I’m not mistaken, the street lights and traffic lights in the city of Detroit are powered by a municipally owned utility, not DTE or Consumers Power and the city has had trouble supplying enough electricity for its needs. So that might explain the area near the Piquette plant. In Dearborn it was likely downed wires.

    • 0 avatar

      “why were so many traffic signals off?”

      The signals around the Piquette Ave Plant don’t always work. Last time I was there (May), they weren’t working either. Welcome to the City of Detroit. Piquette is in the PLD (Detroit Public Lighting Dept)area, so that could be the cause. Eventually, the PLD won’t be supplying power to anyone as DTE takes over.

      The storms that went through on Friday night knocked out power for around 400k people. That is most likely the issue in Dearborn on Saturday.

      At least the freeways weren’t flooded like last month :)

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