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Ford dealers' transition from Model T to Model A


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I've been wondering about something lately. My grandfather bought a brand new Model T for the 1927 model year - the last year they were made - and I can't exactly figure out why. He grew up on a small farm in the Midwest, and worked for the post office all of his life, so (aside from clothing) he wasn't prone to buying anything new, let alone an automobile...even if the Model T Ford had a reputation for being low priced. If you'd ever met him you'd have understood. He'd never bought a new car before then or after that, and he lived until the late 1960's or early '70's.

 

My Dad was only seven years old when Grandpa bought his car, so he wasn't able to provide much insight into his father's buying decision. My main theory is that Ford dealerships had some major closeout promotional deals on Model T's to make room for the much anticipated Model A...and maybe the prices were low enough to lure even him in, but that's just conjecture on my part. I don't know that to be the case. Were the last of the iconic Model T's selling like hotcakes? Or was everyone saving their money to buy a Model A? I know that I've read that in the awkwardly long retooling phase prior to the introduction of the Model A, that many Ford buyers started buying Chevies...and started appreciating what good cars they were.

 

So basically I'm interested in understanding how typical Ford dealers dealt with that awkward transition from T to A. Did they have no product to sell, or have a glut of Model T's? I've read a couple of Ford histories, but don't recall seeing anything about what dealerships went through. It could be my grandfather's decision to buy new instead of used had nothing to do with the Model T to Model A transition. Maybe he inherited some money from his parent's estate. I don't know if he bought the car on time or paid cash outright, per Henry Ford's early philosophy. My strong guess is he paid cash, but again...I don't know that for a fact. Interesting to ponder, anyway.

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6 minutes ago, JamesR said:

So basically I'm interested in understanding how typical Ford dealers dealt with that awkward transition from T to A. Did they have no product to sell, or have a glut of Model T's? I've read a couple of Ford histories, but don't recall seeing anything about what dealerships went through. It could be my grandfather's decision to buy new instead of used had nothing to do with the Model T to Model A transition. Maybe he inherited some money from his parent's estate. I don't know if he bought the car on time or paid cash outright, per Henry Ford's early philosophy. My strong guess is he paid cash, but again...I don't know that for a fact. Interesting to ponder, anyway.

Any history I've read on the transition is there was a six month hiatus from the end of Model T production to Model A production; plenty of time for dealers to move unsold Model T's.  Of course the industry would never do a six month shutdown in this day and age without another product to sell.

 

Craig

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I know some people bought new Model Ts at that time because they liked them  and they were not interested in learning a different clutch, transmission, etc. I heard of one customer who bought two new Model Ts and put them away for this reason. There was a well to do older woman in England who had an expensive custom made town car body built on a Model T chassis because her gardener acted as chauffeur and it was the only car he could drive.

Perhaps your grandfather was a long time T owner and as you say, took advantage of a price discount to get the kind of car he wanted. On the other hand I heard there was a gap of several months when Ford dealers had no new cars to sell because Model T production was suspended and the new Model A was not yet in production. So maybe they did not discount the price much if at all.

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Rusty is correct.  Many people had driven Model T's for so long, they did not how to drive a car with sliding gear transmissions.  Model T's were cheap enough by then that a person of modest means could buy 2 cars and keep one for when the first one wore out.

 

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There was a lot of sentiment for the Model T as illustrated in this piece of sheet music from my collection.

Terry

Poor Lizzie (What'll become of you now).jpg

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All these years, I really haven't read much about that transition myself. I know many dealers kept busy and made a few dollars by focusing on servicing the model Ts they had previously sold.

As previously mentioned, a lot of people realized it was the end of an era (they had no clue what was coming only two years later!). And a lot of people weren't all that happy about that change. Many people really liked the model T, and for many people, it was the only car that they could, or wanted to, drive. Several states even had a separate driver's license for model T drivers only. The end of the model T was not a glad time for everybody.

Another thing. People knew the price for the 'new' model A was going to be considerably higher than the old model T. Some people felt the 'improved' model T with its colors and wire wheels was a fine low priced automobile, and at its old price, a bargain. I suspect a lot of buyers of the last model Ts wanted that new car at a price that they knew in another few months would only get a couple year old used car.

I doubt that dealers needed to discount the last model Ts very much. But that much is speculation.

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The last Model T Fords must have been an OK car. There seems to be a lot  of them that have survived. You can still buy one well below the market value of other makes, and know that even after nearly 100 years that parts are still available to keep it running and driving. Simply amazing when you stop and think about it. There are cars that get run though the body shop I hang out at that are not that old, and parts are not available new, or difficult to find at salvage yard. Nick, the parts guy complains all the time. I've been working on a 1930 model A Tudor and can get about anything I need and have it in a few days. The Model A Ford is 91 one years old. Nick is amazed. 

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If he was a rural carrier, he probably bought it for mail delivery. There were advantages to using a Model T as such. The transmission was easier to operate while delivering mail. No clutch pedal to pump. Zeke

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33 minutes ago, zeke01 said:

If he was a rural carrier, he probably bought it for mail delivery. There were advantages to using a Model T as such.

 

Good point, but he was never a mail carrier that I was aware of, and had moved to a larger city by that time. Now that my Dad's gone, however, I can't really verify some of  these things for sure.

 

That's a good lesson for all of us: be sure and ask questions about "the old days" of family elders before they're gone, and record what they tell you. I've found that most older folks love talking about that stuff (I know I do ☺️.)  Some younger people are disconnected with the general history of their country, and with their even more important familial history. I personally think this is why many revisionist historians are able to evangelize others to an erroneous view of the way the world was - people are too ignorant of what even their own families went through, so how can they refute the larger flawed narratives?

 

I was able to get a recording of my Dad relating his WW2 experience, but I can now think of other stuff I wished I'd asked him...like about that old '27 T.

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Posted (edited)

I remember reading an article about the

very unusual transition from Model T to Model A.

It might have been in an old issue of Automobile Quarterly;

perhaps it was a chapter in a Ford history book.

 

According to the article, the thought at Ford Motor was

essentially, "Well, we finished Model T production.

What do we do now?"  Only then did they begin the

development of the next model.

 

Can Ford experts recall that article and explain more?

 

Edited by John_S_in_Penna (see edit history)
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I don't recall the article, but it was with great hesitation the Henry Ford stopped the production of the Model T. It was only after sales fell below Chevrolet in 1927 that Edsel convinced Henry to abandon the T.  Because the entire production line was geared towards the Model T, the entire line had to be re-tooled to produce the Model A.  

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5 hours ago, JamesR said:

That's a good lesson for all of us: be sure and ask questions about "the old days" of family elders before they're gone, and record what they tell you.

 

Yep.

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18 hours ago, JamesR said:

Some younger people are disconnected with the general history of their country, and with their even more important familial history. I personally think this is why many revisionist historians are able to evangelize others to an erroneous view of the way the world was - people are too ignorant of what even their own families went through, so how can they refute the larger flawed narratives?

I think some younger people are discouraged by it; especially when an older one, be it within the family or not, piles on them how 'easy' they have it today compared to what they went through.  I got that lecture from older ones who were forced to 'scrape by' during the Great Depression when I was younger, more times than I care to remember.   I was fortunate to have a great-uncle & great-aunt who did live well during that era, and received some straightforward accounts on how their life was during that time.  One thing I do recall was when he purchased a used Packard during the war when the Canadian version of the OPA established a ceiling on used car prices. Like several others, he did have to pay an additional amount 'under the table' as used cars were in demand with no new cars being available.

 

Craig

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7 hours ago, 8E45E said:

I got that lecture from older ones....

 

I did too. Probably most kids did. I'm not referring to lectures as a form of admonishment...that's not history. I'm talking about recorded accounts kept in some sort of family archive, large or small. Sometimes they're letters, sometimes books, sometimes official documents. The affordable audio technology of the last half century could add immeasurably to those sources. I didn't take advantage of it anything like I could've/should've. 

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My 24 year-old grandfather had owned several Model Ts and in 1927 ordered a new one from the Ford dealer in Jersey City, NJ.  A little while later they sent him a letter saying Model Ts were no longer available, and his order would be converted to a Model A.  The letter said there would be at least a 6-month wait.  He went back to the dealer, cancelled the order, and bought a new Dodge instead.  

 

In 1983 he and I saw one for sale alongside the road in Charleston, SC.  He said he still remembered how to drive it.  I considered buying it just so he could teach me.  Sadly I didn't as I was in the military, headed overseas in several months with a wife, 2 small children, and another on the way.  Big mistake on my part.  He passed away 2 years later.  

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Such interesting times, and what one wouldn’t give for a time machine.

 

As stated, literally millions of car owners were familiar with Model T.  I write that intentionally, if one studies period articles, it’s not “the Model T”, it’s simply Model T.  As in, Ford introduced Model A this week, a totally redesigned automobile, different than Model T.  No “the” required.

 

So, I can understand that many may have jumped on close out pricing in 1927, when rumors of something different were published.  In 1927, the middle class was fairly affluent, relatively speaking, and buying a T or two might be a stretch, but not crazy.   A couple of years later, of course, the same would not apply...

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Looking up Pricing. A New model T Ford runabout was $360 in 1927. A Model A Ford Tudor was $495-$525. A Roadster, which is basically the next generation of a Model T runabout, was $435 in it's cheapest form to $520 with it loaded with all the bells and whistles at the time.. To put it in perspective, $360 in 1927 is $5,525.25 in 2021. The cheapest Model A Roadster was $435 which is $6,793.48 in 2021 Dollars. That's a difference of $1,268.23 more for the cheapest Model A of the time above the Model T runabout. $495 equals $7,730.51 today. $525 equals $8,199.03. in 2021. That is a $2,205.26 to $2673.78 difference in todays money for a new Model A Tudor in 1928.   

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Posted (edited)
15 hours ago, trimacar said:

Such interesting times, and what one wouldn’t give for a time machine.

...So, I can understand that many may have jumped on close out pricing in 1927, when rumors of something different were published.  In 1927, the middle class was fairly affluent...  

 

Living back then would give interesting insights.

 

According to the book, Ford: The Men and the Machine,

the Model T was increasingly outdated toward the end

of its long life.  More and more, people saw it as an

anachronism.  Its market share was declining markedly--

from 57% to 34% in a few short years.  "A Ford will take

you anywhere except into Society," Henry Ford had said

proudly, but increasingly prosperous Americans wanted more.

 

So, not many people may have jumped at the chance to

buy the last Model T's.  Did many jump at the chance to

buy the last economical Chevettes when they were to be

discontinued?

 

The book says that, once the Model T was gone, 

people became sentimental, remembering life's moments

with the once-ubiquitous but now discontinued model.

Despite the sentimentality, though, the public looked forward

with great interest to the introduction of the Ford Model A.

 

Edited by John_S_in_Penna (see edit history)
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8 minutes ago, John_S_in_Penna said:

Did many jump at the chance to

buy the last economical Chevettes when they were to be

discontinued?

My mom did!   

 

But it was the dealer's incentive that made the sale.  They were so anxious to rid themselves of their stock of T-body cars and replace the inventory with the 'Toyolet'; the NUMMI-assembled Corolla-based Chevrolet Nova.  As I recall, they offered a $1500 minimum trade-in for anything that ran, including my mom's 1981 Lada 1500S that she paid $5280 for in cash seven years earlier.  Along with the year-end markdowns and the trade incentive, she was able to drive away in a brand new car with full warranty for just under $5K.  She kept that Chevette until 2003, when she traded it in on a brand new Hyundai Accent.

 

Craig

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5 hours ago, 8E45E said:

They were so anxious to rid themselves of their stock of T-body cars and replace the inventory with the 'Toyolet'; the NUMMI-assembled Corolla-based Chevrolet Nova. 

 

Wow, I didn't know that about the Novas of that era. Thanks for the education.

 

I've actually grown to like Chevettes, and always remark when I see one...which is very rarely. I see way more '55 Chevies and 1st gen Mustangs on the road nowadays than Chevettes. They're hardly ever on eBay, either, and I don't even recall seeing one in a salvage yard over the last 20 years.

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5 hours ago, John_S_in_Penna said:

 

Living back then would give interesting insights.

 

According to the book, Ford: The Men and the Machine,

the Model T was increasingly outdated toward the end

of its long life.  More and more, people saw it as an

anachronism.  Its market share was declining markedly--

from 57% to 34% in a few short years.  "A Ford will take

you anywhere except into Society," Henry Ford had said

proudly, but increasingly prosperous Americans wanted more.

 

So, not many people may have jumped at the chance to

buy the last Model T's.  Did many jump at the chance to

buy the last economical Chevettes when they were to be

discontinued?

 

The book says that, once the Model T was gone, 

people became sentimental, remembering life's moments

with the once-ubiquitous but now discontinued model.

Despite the sentimentality, though, the public looked forward

with great interest to the introduction of the Ford Model A.

 

 

Great insights.

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Like all things of change with people? Some percentage will lean this way, and some percentage will lean that way. Some amount will lead a little, and others will drag their feet a lot!

When Henry switched from acetylene gas headlamps to electric for 1915? Even though Edison's electric lamps had been around for a couple decades, a lot of people still still did not trust them. Coal gas and acetylene gas lamps had been around for half a century, or for all of most people's lifetimes! Even though we today know the electric light to be so much safer and reliable, many people in 1915 were much more comfortable with gas lamps. When ford switched to the electric headlamps, they were not offered as an option! All new Fords came from the factory with the electric headlamps! However, as I study era photographs, I am often amazed by how many era photographs show 1915/'16 and even black era Fords of the late 1910s with acetylene headlamps! 

When Ford switched from the model T to the model A, millions of people waited anxiously for its debut! Meanwhile, another few million wished the model T would continue. Thousands of them rushed out to buy their last new T.

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2 hours ago, wayne sheldon said:

Thousands of them rushed out to buy their last new T.

 

Wayne, do you have any historical information 

about people rushing to buy the last Model T's?

Truly rushing?  There are always some hard-core

bargain hunters, and if so, those accounts would be

interesting to read.

 

From accounts I've read, it was the opposite.

As other low-priced cars became more advanced

than the Model T, many, many people switched to

Chevrolets, Essexes, and the like.  The sudden and

tremendous loss of market share is likely what drove

Henry Ford finally to discontinue the model.

 

One joke making the rounds at the end of the Model T era was:

"How is a Model T like an affinity [a mistress]?"

"You don't dare be seen with one!"

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Posted (edited)
13 hours ago, John_S_in_Penna said:

 

Wayne, do you have any historical information 

about people rushing to buy the last Model T's?

Truly rushing?  There are always some hard-core

bargain hunters, and if so, those accounts would be

interesting to read.

 

From accounts I've read, it was the opposite.

As other low-priced cars became more advanced

than the Model T, many, many people switched to

Chevrolets, Essexes, and the like.  The sudden and

tremendous loss of market share is likely what drove

Henry Ford finally to discontinue the model.

I tend to believe this was the case as well. I will equate it with the sudden falling out of popularity with the (original) Volkswagen Beetle in the 1970's. It was still the #1 import car in 1971, but by 1977, it was about finished in North America, save for the convertible.  I sure don't remember any 'mad rush' of buyers lining up at VW dealerships wanting to buy one.  It was the much more refined and up to date Rabbit (Golf) that VW buyers wanted, just as Ford buyers wanted Henry's Model A when it was released.

 

Craig

Edited by 8E45E (see edit history)
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20 hours ago, John_S_in_Penna said:

Wayne, do you have any historical information 

about people rushing to buy the last Model T's?

Truly rushing?  There are always some hard-core

bargain hunters, and if so, those accounts would be

interesting to read.

 

 

Been a long time. There used to be more 'first person reminiscences' in hobby magazines. And what I always loved, and so very much miss today, actually meeting people that had been there and done that!  I personally knew people that built and raced model T Fords back in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Driving my first model T speedster all over town enabled me to meet and listen to stories of many others. The same holds true for the change from model T to model A. I met people fifty years ago that had bought one of the last model Ts. Or, they had a family member that did so when they themselves were younger. The local club newsletters often had such stories by older club members. 

I probably personally spoke with a half dozen to maybe ten people that either themselves or their aunt/uncle bought one of the last model Ts so they could have a Ford ready to last the rest of their lives.

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