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Group Aims to Save Historic Ford Model T Plant

Launches $5-a-Day crowd-source fund raiser.

by on Aug.20, 2013

Workers outside the Ford Highland Park Model T plant during the factory's boom years.

It may be one of the most important sites in automotive history — the home of the first moving assembly line and the place where workers first were offered $5-a-day wages — but today, there are few signs to show the significance of the old Ford plant in the struggling Detroit suburb Highland Park beyond the Model T name on an adjacent shopping center.

That could change if a Motor City community and economic development group has its way. The Woodward Avenue Action Association is launching a new crowd-source fundraiser intended to not only save the historic factory but help turn it into a tourist and learning center.

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Designed by legendary architect Albert Kahn and once known as the Crystal Palace because of its large windows and abundant natural light, the Highland Park Assembly Plant was actually the third Ford Motor Co. factory and the second to produce the Model T. But with huge demand for his “Tin Lizzie,” Henry Ford desperately needed to increase production.


Happy Birthday, Dear Henry

Ford founder would be 150 today – but other big anniversaries are a year away.

by on Jul.30, 2013

The man and machine that changed the world. Henry Ford and the Model T.

He died much as he was born, by lamplight on the Fairlane Estate near the farm where he was raised. But much changed during his 83 years, and Henry Ford had a hand in much of that transformation.

His name can still be found on millions of automobiles produced in plants around the world, from Beijing to Britain and, of course, Detroit.  And while the assembly line concept he pioneered has gone through major updates it remains the heart of modern manufacturing. He was a global visionary and an advocate for peace who also helped supply the American military machine through two world wars.

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Henry Ford might have helped put America on wheels and helped make modern consumerism possible, but he also tinkered with social engineering during an era when millions of Americans moved from farms to factories. Henry Ford’s grand goals were tarnished, in the eyes of many by his naiveté and anti-Semitism.

“Henry Ford was a very complex man and someone who was very contradictory in many ways,” says Bill Chapin, head of the Automotive Hall of Fame which is located near Ford Motor Co. headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan and on the campus of the Henry Ford, a museum devoted to Americana and American ingenuity.


All in the Family: The Ford’s Get Back World’s Oldest Ford

Third car off the line returns home after 109 years.

by on Dec.17, 2012

Henry Ford's great-grandson Ford Chairman Bill Ford with a 1903 Ford Model A.

While the Model T is perhaps the best-known product ever built by the Ford Motor Co. – and voted the “Car of the Century” by a group of automotive media and experts from around the world, it was actually the Model A that put the company in gear.

And a 1903 Model A Rear Entry Tonneau recently returned home after a circuitous, 109-year journey. Purchased at auction last October but only being displayed by the maker, it’s the oldest known surviving Ford vehicle.

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“The timing was perfect to bring this key part of Ford heritage back to the family as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of my great-grandfather’s birth and his vision to improve people’s lives by making cars affordable for the average family,” said Bill Ford, the great-grandson of Henry Ford and the family firm’s current chairman. “His vision to build cars that are reasonably priced, reliable and efficient still resonates and defines our vision today as well.”


Ford Produces Milestone 350 Millionth Vehicle

Thai-made Focus symbolic of maker's big transformation.

by on Aug.31, 2012

Ford's 350 millionth vehicles, a red Focus sedan, rolls down the assembly line in Rayong, Thailand today.

It looked pretty much like any other Ford Focus as it rolled down the maker’s assembly line in the Bangkok suburb of Rayong early Friday morning.  But the compact sedan marked a major milestone for the automaker – as the 350 millionth vehicle has produced in its nearly 110-year history.

The event was significant for more than just the raw numbers.  The sedan symbolizes the dramatic transformation that has been shaking up Ford as it evolves from a worldwide network of regional fiefdoms into an integrated system producing global products like the Focus.

Equally noteworthy is the fact that the Rayong plant was chosen to mark the occasion.  The Asian market has become increasingly important to Ford – and its rivals.  The maker will soon operate nine plants in the region – including the newest of six in China for which Ford CEO Alan Mulally helped break ground earlier this week.

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“Producing 350 million vehicles is equivalent to producing one vehicle every 10 seconds for our 109-year history. If placed end to end, the vehicles would stretch to the moon and back – twice,” said John Fleming, Ford executive vice president of global manufacturing, in a statement.


The Great Automotive “What If”

What if Henry Ford sold out to General Motors?

by on Sep.20, 2011

The man and machine that changed the world. Henry Ford and the Model T.

As an “Ol’ Kentucky Story-teller” and, here, an automotive historian, I have always been fascinated by “What If” interpretations of history. To cite just a couple of examples:

In modern terms, “what if, after its invasion, the U.S. had discovered that Iraq indeed was armed with Weapons of Mass Destructions ‘good to go’?” Or conversely, “what if the Iraqis did have such weapons and unleashed them, and the US had NOT pre-empted their use?” Our political discourse, such as it is, would have been far different.

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Or, dialing back in time, “what if the U.S. had discovered Japanese plans to attack Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and had been able to ambush the enemy task force first?”

But for automotive enthusiasts, there is a particularly apt and little known “what if” with Chevrolet’s 100th Anniversary in early November approaching. What if Henry Ford wound up a part of General Motors. Yes, it was a very real possibility this time a century ago.

On September 15, 1909—not quite a year after introduction of the Ford Model T—Judge Charles M. Hough of the Federal Circuit of the Southern District of New York issued his decision on the infamous Selden Patent case: against Ford Motor Company (and also Panhard of France, the other defendant).

His decision meant that henceforth Ford and all other automobile manufacturers, importers and “unlicensed” users would have to pay license or royalty fees to the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (A. L. A. M.), owner of the Selden patent for an internal-combustion-powered automobile. Henry Ford opposed the patent for reasons both financial and of principle. But Billy Durant, the super salesman dealmaker who had put together General Motors during the preceding year, had reluctantly joined the “club” and already paid in $1 million “dues” for GM cars.

According to one account in Columbia University History Professor Allan Nevins’ 1954 Ford The Times the Man the Company, even before losing the Selden patent suit, Henry Ford and his right-hand-man, James Couzens–secretary and quarter-owner of Ford Motor Company–had been approached by Benjamin Briscoe about joining General Motors as it was being formed. But Henry and Couzens wanted $3 million each for a total of $6 million–more than Durant could raise–and nothing further came of it at that time.

Now a year or so later, Durant acted quickly on news of Ford’s loss of the Selden suit. Hearing that Henry Ford and Couzens were staying at the Belmont Hotel in New York, Durant decided to invite Ford again to join his new company. Like a lot of history that is not clearly recorded at the time because no one knows or thinks it has any significance, there are differing versions, recorded years later, of what transpired.

For a Detroit newspaper article in 1921, Briscoe—no longer associated with Durant after 1909–reported that Henry had an upset stomach from bad food consumed on the train from Detroit the night before. In an undated memo evidently dictated later to a secretary, Durant recalled likewise that Henry was suffering from intestinal problems. But, according to Nevins, Durant also reported in a 1926 court hearing that Henry had been disabled with lumbago (lower back pain) and was lying on his hotel room floor in discomfort.

In either case, Couzens met with Durant, either at Durant’s New York office or in the hotel lobby—recollections differ–to discuss the proposition. Disheartened by the loss of the patent suit and the impact it would have on Ford’s skinny finances at the time, Couzens told Durant that Ford was willing to sell his stock in Ford Motor Company for $8,000,000—but Henry wanted $2,000,000 in cash up front as part of the deal.

Thus, on October 26, 1909, Durant received authorization from GM’s board of directors to buy Ford for $8 million, including the $2 million cash. However, when Durant approached his New York bankers for a loan for the money, they turned the deal down.

It took more than a year, until November 22, 1910, for Ford to file its appeal against Judge Hough’s September 1909 ruling in the Selden case. By that time in 1910, Durant had been forced out of General Motors’ leadership, though he remained a large stockholder and director.

The year 1911 was a stupendous one for both Ford and, as it turned out, General Motors.

On January 9, a three-judge Federal Appeals Court overruled Judge Hough’s Selden decision. The panel’s decision was so firm that the A.L.A.M. decided against litigating the case further, freeing the auto industry from having to pay royalties for every car produced or imported. Ford, GM and the industry flourished.

And on November 8, 1911, Durant incorporated Chevrolet Motor Car Company, to compete in the low-priced field with Ford and its Model T-driven large volume sales.

So, “What If” Durant’s deal to fold Ford into General Motors had been successful?

And “What If” the bankers in 1909 had come up with $2 million for Henry? The automotive world would have evolved very differently.

It seems unlikely that strong-minded Henry Ford would have gone to work for GM or Durant, and that the moving assembly line and mass production would have been so readily accomplished as it was with Ford’s impetuous vision in 1913.

Henry would not have become the “first billionaire.” Ford’s legendary philanthropy—Company, Foundation and Family–thus would have been relatively meager.

Durant likely would not have developed Chevrolet, the early success of which enabled him to regain control of General Motors before the decade was over.

The intense rivalry driving sales of Ford and Chevrolet for nearly the last 90 years—ever since former Ford manufacturing executive Big Bill Knudsen joined GM to build up Chevrolet production capacity to match that of Ford—would not have developed.

The ubiquitous Model T Ford, which alone at one time in the 1920s—1923 was its peak vs rivals– accounted for half the world’s auto sales and 57% of U.S. production. Otherwise Ford might not have been credited with “putting the world on wheels.” However, Ford was overtaken by Chevy in 1927, the year Model T production ended and Ford plants were shut down for six months for changeover to the Model A. Since then, sales leadership between Ford and Chevy has seesawed back and forth with Chevy ahead most years.

Today, we wouldn’t have “Ford people” and “Chevy people” among car fans, not to mention monthly, quarterly and annual print, broadcast and internet stories on the greatest of industrial rivalries.

Sure, you can speculate about other alternatives, “would’ve beens.” Henry Ford might have joined forces with his major suppliers, the Dodge Brothers, to mass-produce motor cars. Then Dodge would have been the Model T.

Or the talented Ford Motor Company staff, no longer under Henry’s thumb, might have gone ahead developing the moving assembly line under General Motors’ auspices.

Or there could still be dozens or hundreds of American automobile companies, each producing only a few hundred or thousand bench-built cars a year, none very successful. And their prices would be even higher because “economies of scale” would be few.

This Edsel Would Set You Back Nearly $2 Million

A long-lost speedster re-emerges in time for the annual Pebble Beach Concours.

by on Aug.19, 2011

From barn find to well-restored classic, the 1924 Edsel Ford Speedster.

It’s become a cliché: the “barn find,” a rare car re-discovered after years hidden away in some old garage or barn.  But like many a cliché, there’s a bit of truth, as the folks at the Ford House are only too glad to talk about.

The mansion-come museum, along Lake St. Clair near Detroit, will soon be the home for the 1934 Model 40 Special Speedster that was the personal project of Edsel B. Ford, one-time president of Ford Motor Co. and the son of founder Henry Ford.  But first, the strikingly advanced 2-seater will be competing for the coveted trophies to be handed out over the weekend at the annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

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The Speedster – which strongly influenced some of the most important designs to come out of Ford and its Lincoln brand in the years before World War II – was designed by legendary Ford stylist E.T. “Bob” Gregorie, but Edsel Ford was actively involved in its development.  It was just slightly longer than the classic 1934 Ford Roadster, but appeared longer and lower due to a number of technical and visual tricks – such as moving the cockpit rearward and then extending the boat tail.  The Speedster was hand-built out of aluminum and equipped with a stock Ford Flathead V-8 making 75 horsepower.


Auto Hall of Fame Head Wants to Build Tourism

Grandson of Hudson Motor founder says hall needs do more.

by on Sep.15, 2010

Bill Chapin takes a spin on the 1893 replica of the Benz three-wheeler, which normally sits in the Automotive Hall of Fame, but was recently taken out and operated. “That was really exciting,” Chapin said.

Americans have a love affair with their cars that goes back to the creation of the auto industry more than 100 years ago. So it would make sense that they would want to visit the cradle  the automotive industry, Detroit.

But far too many people only think about crime, auto bailouts and bad football when they think of Detroit. They don’t realize Detroit’s role in putting the world on wheels.

That’s where Bill Chapin comes in. As the new president of the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Chapin has some ideas about how to get the general public to share his passion for Detroit’s automotive heritage.

Click here to visit the Automotive Hall of Fame’s Web site.

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AHF is the place to go to learn about the people whose names are on the cars we drive. Ford, Chevrolet, Chrysler, they’re all there, but so are Honda, Peugeot, Daimler and Ferrari. It’s not as much about the cars as it is about the people who created the automobile, then made it better over the course of history. You can also learn about The Driving Spirit, a theme that describes the unseen force that pushed inventors to think of something better.

Milestones: Koç and Ford Motor 50th Anniversary

The Turkish joint venture now builds and exports Transits.

by on Jun.28, 2010

Ford's first pan-European product replaced two unrelated van models in Britain and Germany.

Ford Otosan, an automotive joint venture that traces its roots back to industrial pioneers Henry Ford and Vehbi Koç marked its 50th anniversary today with a celebration in Istanbul.

During the past five decades, Ford Otosan has been an integral part of Ford Motor Company’s international operations, most recently building successful vehicles such as the Ford Transit, Ford Transit Connect and Cargo commercial vehicles. Koç links to Ford go back eighty years to Henry I.

More than 500 guests joined the celebration, including Rahmi M. K Koç, honorary president and chairman of Ford Otosan, Bill Ford, Ford executive chairman, John Fleming, chairman and CEO, Ford of Europe and Lewis Booth, Ford chief financial officer. The celebration also included Turkish federal, state and local government officials and cultural leaders.

Ford Otosan is a fully integrated operation, including sales, marketing, engineering, manufacturing and parts distribution.

Ford Otosan is a fully integrated operation, including sales, marketing, engineering, manufacturing and parts distribution. Ford Motor Company and the Koç Group each hold a 41% stake in the joint venture with the remaining 18% held publicly on the Istanbul Stock Exchange. It employs about 7,600 employees at its manufacturing operations in Kocaeli and Inönü, its parts distribution center in Kartal and its engineering center in Gebze.

“The foundation of what became Ford Otosan grew out of the drive and vision of Henry Ford, and Vehbi Koç,” said Rahmi M. K Koç. “Their passion and commitment continues to drive the Ford Otosan business forward today. We’re proud that Turkish automotive industry started with Ford Otosan.”

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Otosan was founded in 1959, and in 1977, the company signed a license agreement with then-Ford Chairman Henry Ford II and the company’s name was changed to Ford Otosan. In 1997, Ford increased its share of ownership to 30% growing to 41% in 1997.


“Racing In America” Gets the Green Flag at The Henry Ford

$15 million exhibition will cover all aspects of auto racing

by on Jun.11, 2010

The Henry Ford's new Racing in America exhibition will honor all forms of racing, from dragsters to Formula One.

It’s already the home to everything from some of the earliest sewing machines to the largest steam locomotives, but soon, The Henry Ford Museum, in Dearborn, Michigan, will add a $15 million, 22,000 square-foot permanent addition to its Hall of Innovation, to be called Racing In America.

Museum president Patricia Mooradian said that the exhibition would combine a number of significant race cars the museum already owns, as well as a variety of donated and loaned items from various team owners, drivers, racing teams and other museums.

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“The Henry Ford,” as it has come to be known, will be the first to cover all forms of racing in one collection, she noted, along with the “risk-takers, problem-solvers and people who dared,” who made their names and fortunes in racing.


The Factory that Built the American Dream

Henry Ford’s Highland Park Assembly Plant 100 Years Later.

by on Jan.04, 2010

A machine that changed the world. Henry Ford and the Model T.

On New Year’s Day of 1910, Henry Ford started producing Model T’s at what was then the world’s largest auto factory – the Highland Park Ford Plant. It was an airy complex that would change the world with his new ideas – the moving assembly line, and more than doubling his workers’ pay to the unheard of sum of $5.00 a day.

The assembly line made mass production possible and the unexpected result of boosting his workers’ paychecks meant they could buy his cars and everything else under the sun. Other companies had to compete for the same workers and his employee’s twofold pay increase drove wages up around the country, which stimulated demand.

This true “trickle down” phenomenon gave birth to the modern American Dream of home ownership, plentiful high paying jobs, decent schools and a pathway to citizenship for those willing to do a hard day’s work. There are still lessons to be learned.


“Mass production and the $5.00 day gave the country an enormous boost; it simply made consumers out of almost everyone, in terms of automobiles. The automobile industry was so important to the economy that as it went, the economy seemed to go,” said David Lewis, professor of Business History at the University of Michigan.