The most extraordinary American automotive innovation of the 1920s

Print article.. Ford’s Model A had to learn to adapt fast. The original Model A was introduced in 1925 and hit the market in 1926. More than a dozen competitors had launched before the…

The most extraordinary American automotive innovation of the 1920s

Print article..

Ford’s Model A had to learn to adapt fast. The original Model A was introduced in 1925 and hit the market in 1926. More than a dozen competitors had launched before the Model A, all with only modest success. But the Model A was unique among them. For a start, it was the world’s first pickup, and it had room for many more passengers. In fact, the Model A’s gas tank was larger than almost any other pickup and carried 22 gallons of gas. Despite all this, the Model A was no good for long-distance driving. To get around, people had to use a steam engine that idled during long trips, a handy device for getting the car past a town or business. As far as driving style, the Model A was not up to much either. Ford built an optional hardtop version that made the car look more like a roadster. But as the Model A was sold locally in many states, not enough people had the luxury of owning a hardtop to make it any more desirable. So Ford introduced the Model A with a four-speed automatic transmission, which drove the back wheels. Moving up to a four-speed manual transmission made sense at the time. But moving to a four-speed automatic transmission a year later seemed weird. By December 1922, Ford had started to increase production of the Model A, and the brakes had failed at the limit of 45,000 brake horsepower. So a fuel injection system had to be introduced. The new system was a complicated one, requiring a good deal of skilled installation, and faced several design flaws that were reported to a regulatory body called the National Automobile Manufacturers’ Association. In addition, a mistake in the electrical wiring made the car unable to drive properly in cold weather. In a stroke of brilliant management, the regulatory body added two stations to a round trip of 1,500 miles that was at the time the equivalent of a trip around the world. Those two stations ensured that only the Model A made it. The NAMA realized that the solution to those problems was to get a wind deflector with a waterproof coating, something that could easily be done by an experienced Ford technician. The new design included the outdoor exhaust hood, and a mean look that would become a trademark of the Model A.

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