Comparing the First Ford Ever Made to the Most Famous Ford Ever Made

Ford has some pretty iconic cars in its lineup, some of which are being revived with a modern flair. The Bronco is a compact off-roader, and the Mustang has made the leap to electric. But the two cars I want to compare today come from the early days of the Ford Motor Company: The Model A and the Model T. One was the first Ford ever built, and the other was the first automotive sales hit.

1903 Ford Model A
1903 Ford Model A | Stan Honda/AFP via Getty Images

The Ford Model A was the very first Ford

The first order for a Ford Model A was made on July 15th, 1903. Ernst Pfenning, a dentist in Chicago, bought the car for $850. His trim was a four-seater “tonneau” model, though the Model A was also built as a two-seater.

This runabout car packed eight horsepower from a two-cylinder, 1.7-liter gasoline engine. Paired with a two-speed manual, it was no screamer, with a top speed of 28 mph. But it could get people from A to B in comfort and style. After all, owning a car in the dawn of the 1900s was a symbol of status in a world where horses were commonplace.

Henry Ford had tried and failed at starting two other automotive businesses, and spent most of his $28,000 budget developing the Model A. But there was enough interest for the new company to make a profit. Other cars like the model AC were built, which boasted 10 horsepower rather than eight.

But the Model A wasn’t what you would consider an affordable car. While $850 doesn’t sound that expensive, consider that the average wage of 1903 was $489 a year. It took most people over a year and a half to earn enough money to buy one. But Ford got enough customers to turn a profit, leading to the development of the reliable and cheap Model T

The Ford Model T was the first sales success

1927 Ford Model T | National Motor Museum/Heritage Images via Getty Images

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There’s no denying the Ford Model T’s significance in automotive history. It killed the original electric car, proving that gas power was cheaper and more effective. But to achieve that, the entire process of the assembly line and interchangeable parts had to be revolutionized. And after many efforts, the first Ford Model T rolled off the line in 1908, four years after the Model A was discontinued.

Building a Model T was divided into 84 different tasks, and because of this, one could be built in just 93 minutes. Every three minutes, a Model T could roll off the production line, far outpacing any other car builder of the day.

Back in 1908, a Ford Model T cost anywhere from $260 to $850, making it a universally affordable car. And by the 1920s, over half the cars registered in the world were Fords. Over 15 million of them were sold through its production, serving as a testimony to the rising middle class of the early 1900s.

The Model T packed 20 horsepower, thanks to a much larger 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine. It was a simple car, built as cheap as possible, and marketed through wild stunts. It climbed Pikes Peak, could navigate up stairs, and was all-around durable in an era where most cars weren’t. The first Model A was also marketed as a reliable vehicle, but after a while, they developed far more defects than the Model T did.

The Model T stayed in production until 1927, almost 20 years, before being retired. However, the infamous roadster was replaced by a familiar nameplate.

The Model A name returned in 1928

Ford Model A
Ford Model A | Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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This era of the Ford Model A is more popular than the original, even though this iteration of the name only ran from 1928 to 1931. It was bigger than the Ford Model T, and had far more trims available. You could have it as a tuck, a station wagon, a roadster or coupe, even a taxi cab variant was built. And it soon became the second most successful Ford ever built.

By 1929, the Model A already sold a million cars, and by the time production ended, almost 5 million cars had been built. While that’s only a third of how many Model Ts were sold, it is only a third of the time. That means it was right on pace.

With a 3.3 liter four-cylinder engine and a more modern three-speed transmission, the Ford Model A packed 40 horsepower. With a top speed of 65 mph, it could handle highways that didn’t even exist yet.

In just 25 years, Henry Ford went from a single runabout car first bought by a dentist to conquering both domestic and international car markets. Without the Model A turning a profit at the turn of the century, there would be no Model T. And if there were no Model T, the Model A wouldn’t have come back to replace it. In other words, these two cars were the origins of automobiles, and history wouldn’t be the same without them.

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