Ford Model T: The First 2499 Model T's


Henry’s New 1909 Ford

A look at the first 2499 Model T’s

Henry Ford had overwhelming success with the four cylinder Fords built during the 1906 – 1908 model years, with close to 14,000 sold (all models, all years) in Model N, Model R and Model S (or SR). With Ford the #1 automobile maker in the world, his next car was expected to be a good one. No one could have predicted just how successful it would become!

A happy family with their very early 1909 Model T.

model n ford 1906

Piquette assembly plant showing brand new Model N Fords being built

Ford had a relatively new state of the art assembly plant on Piquette Avenue in Detroit. It had many features that made it efficient for automobile production including designated work stations, an elevator capable of carrying cars between floors, and even a built – in 2500 gallon fire suppression system on the roof.

By late 1907 Ford knew that there were many improvements that could be made to increase sales. In particular, the Models N and R were built only as two seaters. The Model S / SR saw a limited number of touring and town car bodies built.  Ford was the leader in car sales world wide. He planned carefully for the launch of his new model, scheduled for 1909 model year.

To improve the design concept and to limit outside interference Ford had a “experimental room” walled off in one corner of the plant. Inside the experimental room only a few key employees were allowed to work full time, and fewer others were allowed to peek inside at the progress. The key employees who worked in the experimental room were engineer / draftsmen Joseph Galamb, Jules Hartenberger, Charles Balough,  and Eugene Farkas. Henry Ford’s right hand man and fairly competent metallurgist / tool maker Childe Harold Wills ( he hated the name Childe and always signed his name C. Harold) was regularly in the room, and C.J Smith who fabricated parts for the new Ford.

joseph galamb model t ford
Joseph Galamb, draftsman and designer of some of the earliest Model T parts.

Equipment inside the third floor experimental room included a few drafting tables, a lathe, mill and other miscellaneous machine tools that ran off a line shaft mounted to the ceiling. There were two large black boards, and a small rocking chair for Henry Ford. The design team of Galamb, Farkas, Balough and Hartenberger were all Hungarian immigrants who frequently discussed the project in their home language. Galamb claimed that some calculations were done in metric and later converted to US measurement standards. Henry Ford was impressed by the group, and apparently did not mind them operating in their native tongue. In fact he is known to have said things like “let’s hear some of that dago talk and get some work done” when he thought they were not moving fast enough!.  In any case their efforts revolutionized the car, and the results speak for themselves today.

The design of the Model T Ford was intended to meet several goals, the end result, of course , was to make the Ford Motor Company lots of money. At this time Ford Motor Company was primarily an auto assembler, not a manufacturer. The Model T design had to be easy to manufacture and assemble, since Ford would be purchasing the majority of the parts from outside manufacturers. Keeping the cost of manufacturing low would ensure that the price of parts and subassemblies was low, which would increase profits. Low cost to build the car meant that the purchase price could be lowered, which would increase the number of potential customers. More potential customers meant increased production volume. All of these factors fed upon themselves to constantly lower the cost of a Model T Ford over its entire production run.

Another key employee involved in the earliest development of the Model T was Charles Sorensen, a big tall Danish fellow who was chief pattern maker. The Model T used many parts made from cast iron including wheel hubs, engine major components, and much of the transmission. None of these parts were cast by Ford Motor Company, but Ford designed them and also designed the tooling to make the parts. Sorensen was very good at making casting patterns that worked well at the foundry, yielding few failed parts and easy machining processes. It is hard to overstate the importance of this; and it was often Sorensen who would go back to the design team in the experimental room to advise them a way to simplify a part to make it easier to produce. Sorensen personally went to the foundries to supervise casting, and worked with machine shops like Dodge Brothers to ensure the final product was high quality and inexpensive.

charles sorensen model t ford

By 1913 Charles Sorensen was the #2 man at Ford Motor Company. He autographed this photo that year. Eventually by the early 1930’s he became the #1 employee in charge of the entire company, under the Ford family of course.

Another frequent visitor to the experimental room was Edward S “Spider” Huff. Huff had been friends with Henry Ford since before Ford built his first car, the Quadricycle, in 1896. Huff’s contribution to the Model T Ford was its most iconic and unique feature, the completely contained “low tension magneto” built in to the engine.

Spider Huff recreating the position he used on Ford’s 1901 race car. He pumped the fuel pump while Henry steered!

While Ford called it a “low tension magneto” electrical engineers of today would call it a variable frequency variable voltage permanent magnet alternator. Huff called his device a “Low Tension Magneto” because unlike the high tension magnetos of the day, Huff’s device provided AC (Alternating Current) voltage to power an individual temblor type spark coil for each cylinder. These temblor coils were common in those days, nearly every gasoline powered car used them with a DC (Direct Current)  storage battery as an ignition power source.

The earliest Huff designed Model T magneto has magnets that spin with the flywheel while the round shaped field coils stay stationary.

Huff’s new device was extraordinary on many levels. First, it completely eliminated the need for a battery. The Model T magneto easily provided a hot spark at cranking speeds. Output of the Ford / Huff magneto ranges from about 6 volts at cranking speed to nearly 30 volts at maximum engine speed. Even more revolutionary is the fact that the Huff magneto provides a spark event that is synchronized to the piston position. It enables each of the four temblor coils to provide spark at exactly the correct time , much more accurate than any other ignition method of the day.

The Model T Ford engine combined all of the latest advancements in one tour – de – force automotive design. The cylinder head was a separate, removable part which allowed maintenance of the valves and pistons without removing the engine from the car. The crank case had all four cylinders cast as one unit, thanks to “Cast Iron Charlie” Sorensen’s ingenious pattern making techniques. The engine and transmission were entirely encased in one long “engine pan” that included the mounting positions that attached the unit to the frame and kept dirt and water out, while keeping lubrication in. This was a major advance from previous Ford designs where the transmission was exposed and needed to be greased every few hundred miles. Earlier Ford engines operated on a “total loss” oiling system where oil from a tank dripped into the main bearings and was slung on the piston walls before falling on the ground under the car.

Another breakthrough in design was the Model T’s “three point” mounting of important components. This included the engine / transmission unit, the front axle, and the rear axle. Previous Ford designs had big problems with brken crank cases due to the rough roads of the day and the tendency of cars to twist and vibrate while driving down the road. The Model T incorporated solid mounting of the engine pan arms on two axis to prevent cracking, yet the nose of the engine pan was mounted in a bearing. This allows the frame to flex without causing breakage of the engine pan or crank case.

The Model T engine has a displacement of 177 cubic inches. Pistons were cast iron with four piston rings, the lowest ring below the piston pin. The crankshaft and connecting rods were forged steel. Rated power is 20 – 22 horsepower which seems low to us today. In fact the Model T Ford is very adequately powered given the car’s light weight and its operating environment of dirt roads.

The first approximately 2499 Model T engines had a water pump integral with the engine. As such we collectors and restorers call cars equipped with these engines “pre – 2500” Model T’s. They are a sort of production prototype that led to a major redesign of the engine for serial numbers 2500 and later.

The water pump was driven by a shaft connected to a water pump drive gear inside the front engine cover.

The water pump drive gear is meshed with the camshaft gear. Here is a look at the pre – 2500 engine block showing where the water pump drive gear lives:

The engine block, cylinder head, and crank ratchet assembly are also unique to the first 2499 cars. We can see in the image above that the crank ratchet female “hook” is riveted to the crankshaft. The cylinder head has its water outlet opening on top of the head, and the water inlet is on the front of the engine block.

The crank ratchet is completely unlike later Model T’s. The crank handle would have been brass plated originally. Note that the crank handle when not in use can be stored locked up or down, the spring forces the crank forward against a lock stop mechanism.

Back to the water pump – in theory this was an improvement over the NRS Fords which had a water pump mounted in the bottom of the radiator. In practice it did not function too well. There are three places on the water pump shaft notorious for leaks. Oil leaks from the place where the water pump drive shaft passes through the engine front cover. Water leaks from both ends of the water pump where there are asbestos crush seals riding on the shaft. It all ends up making a biig mess of the engine compartment. The timer, being mounted slightly to the right and below the water pump is constantly being doused with water droplets. The water pump inlet is a brass elbow with a crush seal where the elbow connects to the water pump. Meanwhile the other end of the water pump attaches to the front of the engine block with yet another crush seal. All of these crush seals tend to drip a bit. Not good.

Arrow points at the engine oil pan “dam” behind the #3 main bearing found on the earliest Model T’s.

The engine pan was a manufacturing and design success. The pre – 2500 cars had an engine pan that had no access door in the bottom. Ford would not figure out that was a necessary thing until well into 1911 model year production. Also, the earliest Model T’s have a “dam” that keeps oil in the forward part of the crankcase quite deep, it has an overflow hole about 4″ from the bottom. This made the early engines leak a lot of oil and burn a lot of oil, as Henry Ford himself was about to discover.

This is the earliest known Model T photograph, taken in the courtyard adjacent to the Piquette Avenue Ford Assembly Plant in the summer of 1908. This car has been branded “T #1” by Dr. Trent Boggess, and we think the title is appropriate.  While this car is not likely to be serial number 1, it is certainly the first T to be photographed, and very significant in that Henry took it on a hunting trip to Iron Mountain, Michigan in 1908. According to the account in “Tin Lizzie” by Philip van Doren Stern, the drive was 1357 miles round trip. The Ford used 68 gallons of gasoline for an average MPG of  19.95 MPG. Not too bad, but the oil consumption is listed as 11.5 GALLONS OF OIL.  Needless to say there was room for improvement.

Side view shows typical features of the first 2499 Model T’s – flat front fenders, two pedals, two levers. This car is not equipped with a top, however top irons are standard and you can see them poking out from the front and rear seat. The car is equipped with Atwood Castle Lamps. Notice the position of the door handle, much lower than seen on later 1909 production.

Upon its announcement the Model T was to be produced in several body styles including the Touring, Coupe, Landaulet, Town Car, and Roadster. Kerosene cowl lamps and tail light were standard across the product line.

A very early 1909 Model T Ford. Notice the low position of the door handle, E&J three tier side lamps, E & J headlamps and carbide generator, square front fenders, and typical “American” top. The horn is a double twist Rubes or Non Pariel. The car has two levers and two pedals, typical of serial numbers below 900.  

Headlamps and top were optional on the 1909 Fords. Windshields were also optional at extra cost. Other options available from the factory were Weed brand tire chains, speedometers, and a Prestolite carbide tank to replace the carbide generator.

Running boards on the early 1909 Model T’s were made from lumber, covered on the top side by battleship grey linoleum trimmed on the side with brass. The brass trim was secured to the lumber by a row of screws.

The front fenders on the 1909’s made until about May 1909 were flat on the front with no “bill” as seen on later front fenders. The door handles on touring rear doors are much lower than seen on later cars.  Horns are sourced from several makers including Non Pariel, Rubes, and Dragon.

The build sheet from Model T #1. The engine was replaced with #31 prior to shipment. The car was shipped to New York for export to England. Note the headlamps are “E&J 6” and the horn is “Dragon” while the top is made by “American”.


The first Model T Fords used what T collectors today call the “No Rivet” rear axle assembly. Ford made the two main pieces of the axle housing from deep drawn steel sheet. It was an engineering gamble to drive down the cost of manufacture.

no rivet axle 1909 model t ford
No Rivet Rear Axle 1909 Model T Ford

The 1909 axle assembly had Babbitt bearings cast and inserted into the housing on each side of the differential. The drive shaft has a Babbitt bearing cast into the rear end of the drive shaft housing to support the pinion gear and act as a thrust bearing. It is cheap to manufacture but it presented many problems in service. First, the inboard bearings were impossible to replace without special tooling. Second, the housings tended to crack and bend easily. Third, because the assembly was not too strong, the bends and cracks led to leakage of the lubricant in a short period of time.

model t ford pre 2500 rear axle
Inside the No Rivet rear axle showing the poured Babbitt bearing

The drive shaft used an early version of the “two piece drive shaft” construction that Ford used until late 1913. The U – joint ball and the radius rod attachment are removable from the front of the drive shaft. This makes for easy installation and removal of the pinion bearing. The pre – 2500 parts are somewhat different from later assemblies.

1909 model t ford drive shaft

Forward end of the two piece drive shaft 1909

Rear of the drive shaft shows no pinion bearing housing as found on later Model T’s. The pinion bearing is poured in the drive shaft and machined in place.

1909 model t ford axle shaftThe outer backing plate on the rear axle provides a place to mount the brake shoe, attach point for the radius rod, and the brake actuating cam at the top. In 1909 this plate was flat and plain on both sides. Not that this photo shows a later tapered axle. The early cars did use a Hyatt roller bearing at the outboard ends of the axle.

1909 axle shaft Model T Ford

The axle shafts used in 1909 are 1.0625″ diameter forged vanadium steel machined the full length. It uses a keyway to transmit driving motion to the wheel hubs. The wheel is retained by a pin. The pin is held in place by the hub cap. All in all not a very good design. The cast iron hubs tend to wear in the pin holes and key ways, leading to a loose wobbly wheel.

The above photo shows a 1909 – early 1910 Model T Ford rear wheel hub compared to a late 1911 – 1927 wood wheel hub.  Notice the rear hub is styled like a front hub. The outer flange of the 1909 hub is only 5 1/2″ in diameter. The 1909 hub used 5/16″ diameter wheel bolts that did not have a square shank.

View showing the inboard side of the 1909 – early 1910 5 1/2″ diameter rear wheel hub.

The front wheel hubs (above) in 1909 were 5 1/2″ diameter and used the same 5/16″ diameter bolts as the rear hubs. Note the early “block” Ford script hub cap used in 1909 – 10.

The chassis parts of the early 1909 Model T Ford were the beginning of 15 million other Model T’s. Yet in nearly every component there is a difference from what came later. Let’s take a closer look at them to see what happened and maybe understand why it happened too.

This early postcard shows a pre – 2500 Model T Ford with brass plated hand crank, flat “no bill” front fenders, and early front axle assembly. Note that this is a runabout that has an additional runabout rear seat added, making it a “tourabout” which was not officially offered in 1909 model year but was obviously possible. Also note the linoleum covered brass trimmed running board.

The front axle used in 1909 – 1911 Model T’s is heavier than those made for later Model T’s. The shape of the axle ends is noticeably different than later axles. Compare the early axle (top two photos) to the later one (bottom photo).

model t ford front axle 1911 to 1927
Model T Ford Front Axle late 1911 to 1927 – Note the different shape of the recess in the axle forging

The front spindles also were entirely different. Ford used a so called “One Piece” front spindle in 1909 through early 1911 model year. The spindle and the steering arm were forged as a single piece of steel, which was plenty strng but required some rather complex machining operations.


Typical 1909 to 1911 one piece spindle, tie rod, and speedometer drive installation

The front steering tie rod had the adjustment on the driver side, with a non – replaceable ball on the passenger side. There is no oiler on the pivots at either end of the tie rod, it is a simple slotted head screw that must be periodically disassembled for lubrication. The steering arm is not drilled for a speedometer drive, that feature was never used on the one piece spindle assembly.

The front spring is the taper leaf design that would be used through mid – 1916, however the leaves are much thinner and more delicate on the ends than later front springs. The spring perches are heavier than the later versions, and have no machining fixture on top to center in a lathe as found on later spring perches. Note that the second leaf is not tapered and is square cut on the ends.

The front spring perch / motor mount assembly differs from later Model T’s in that it is quite dainty and exceptionally well finished. The nuts used to secure it on the first 2500 cars are crude and not castellated like those on later cars.

model t ford pre 2500 1909
1909 early pre 2500 Model T Ford

The frames on the first 2499 Model T Fords were made of a thinner gage steel than serial number 2500 and subsequent cars. Ford realized this after the frames of prototype cars started to crack during testing. To make use of the frames that had been received from the vendor, Ford designed a reinforcement plate that could be riveted inside the frames to make them strong enough to survive normal use. Collectors call this the “fish plate” today.

Rivets on the outside of the “fish plate” frame of a pre – 2500 Model T.

The “fish plate” doubler can be seen inside the frame of this “two lever / two pedal” Model T from early 1909 model year.

The steering column of the early Model T Fords is much shorter than later cars. It is also mounted at a more extreme angle to the firewall. This makes the steering bracket a different angle than later cars, and the steering bracket holes in the frame are in a different location than later cars. The steering bracket itself is noticeably different in that it has no provision for a grease fitting. It must be periodically disassembled for lubrication if the car is driven.

1908 model s ford 1909 model t ford dealer photo

1909 Model T and 1908 Model S in a dealer showroom


The control system of the 1909 Model T Ford was different than all previous Fords, and different from all other cars on the road. First of all Ford placed the steering wheel on the left side of the vehicle, an unusual feature not shared with many other automobiles, certainly not the same as any of Ford’s top competitors. Fords reasoning was sound on this change; Americans drove on the right side of the road. Typically driver and passengers would enter and exit the car from the curb side, thus they would not be stepping out into traffic or into a muddy road. Also the left position of the driver meant a better view when passing a slower moving horse drawn vehicle, something that was more common than encountering another motorist.

Fords initial arrangement had the customary spark and gas control levers mounted to the steering column. Two pedals were marked “B” and “C” for Brake (on the right) and Clutch (on the left) respectively. There was a parking brake lever which if pulled only halfway back would place the car in “neutral” without applying the parking brake. Finally there was a lever which controlled the reverse band in the transmission.

A close look at the transmission cover of an early 1909 Model T. The transmission cover was drawn steel with riveted and brazed fittings. The stamped steel design proved to be difficult to produce, the design was modified several times by Ford in attempts to solve issues with cracking and high rejection rates during manufacture.

Both control levers were brass plated steel. Notice the dainty wood sill board used on the 1909 – early 1911 bodies.

Two Lever town car seen at the January 1909 New York Auto Show.

A pre – 2500 engine showing the water pump and early block style “Ford Motor CO” lettering on the cylinder head. Note that this engine has non – original style oil filler and spark plug wires.

Another early pre – 2500 Model T Ford seen at the Barrett Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Arizona a few years ago. This car was restored using a coil box from an earlier Ford, thus it has an odd / non original configuration of spark plug wire routing and support. The oil filler is one of the correct styles used by Ford. Restorers of these cars argue about engine finish and paint.

The engine compartment of serial number 220, restored by Harrah’s in the 1970’s and currently on display at the Ford Piquette assembly plant, Detroit Michigan.

About serial number 850 Ford decided to modify the control system to make driving easier and to improve manufacturing processes. A cast aluminum transmission cover proved to be simpler to manufacture. The second control lever was eliminated. There were now three pedals on the floor marked C R and B for Clutch, Reverse, and Brake respectively left to right. The single control lever was for the parking brake; if pulled back only half way it placed the transmission in neutral without applying the parking brake.

Serial number 904 was one of the first Model T’s to receive the new control system. This system continued to be used on all Model T’s built until the end of production in 1927 (Model T cars) or 1928 (Model TT Trucks).

Early 1920’s post card from a Texas Ford dealer brags about the legendary Model T Ford reliability.

904 is a typical Model T as produced in the spring of 1909. The car is red with an “old style” top. Original lamps were Atwood Castle. Coil unit is Kingston. Horn is a double twist Rubes with screen front.

This style of Model T continued to be built until about serial number 2500. Ford realized that the water pump was causing unnecessary reliability problems and added cost to the manufacture process. A major redesign would begin before the dawn of the new year in 1909. Consumers would see the revised 1909 Fords in March of 1909.