One Hundred Years of Ford Progress - and Deception
Like many other folks born and raised in the rural south in the 1920s and early 1930s, the first cars or trucks that I recall seeing or riding in were Ford Model Ts. Everyone, including my friends, neighbors, and family members, told me that Henry Ford was the sole inventor of the engine and the automobile and probably the country's smartest man; maybe even smarter than Levi Garrett. Later on, my school bus was a sort of home-built body on an old Ford truck chassis. Then I realized that our "mail rider" also traveled his route in a Ford car. When I was about eight there would be some sawmill workers come by our house twice daily in their Model T and I had such an interest in cars that I would go down and stand by the road to hear and see it go by. Sixty years later, I can still hear the square cut gears whining in that "T Mammy." My entire small world revolved around Ford and I was an ardent Ford fan.
Then in my early teens my Ford dream world began to collapse when an older friend of mine told me he had wrecked his dad's mid-thirties Ford pickup due to the mechanical brakes failing. This puzzled me because I knew that my dad's mid-thirties International had hydraulic brakes. Later on, I learned that Fords did not have hydraulic brakes until 1939, while many other cars had four wheel hydraulics in the early twenties. In fact, I learned that until 1928 the Ford cars essentially had only a one wheel brake, considering the brake band in the Ts was located in the transmission and the differential, effectively divided the braking between the rear wheels. That's why in the old movies you may see one rear wheel rolling forward while the other is spinning backward.
Along about this same time I began to notice that some of the 1934 GM cars began to show up with what was referred to as "knee action" or independent front wheel suspension and later on I learned that all the millions of Ford cars before 1949 had plain straight front axles with only two springs on the entire car, one in front and one in the rear, both mounted crossways. Each end of each spring was attached to an axle near a wheel with the spring arch up and the car body attached at the midpoint of the spring. It's small wonder there was a perception of high speed in these cars, since they were designed in such an awkward fashion. It might be analogous to riding a bicycle with a square bale of hay across your shoulders.
In my mid teens I became engrossed in the inner workings of engines, the location of the valves, the manifolds, and the roles all this played in engine breathing ability, which I believed to be the limiting factor in power production. At this time I realized that the highly lauded Ford flat head V8 was of the poorest possible design for breathing ability, mainly because it did not have overhead valves. Ford finally realized the necessity of OHV (overhead valves) and in 1954 produced their first engines with these.
In 1929 or so, when it was apparent the Chevy with its inline 6 cylinder engine was outselling the Ford 4 cylinder cars, someone suggested to Henry that maybe he should consider the 6 cylinder engine, to which he replied: "Due to the extra length of the crankshaft, the 6 cylinder engine will never be successful."
Wow, what a mechanical genius this man must have been.
Soon I began to study the history of the engine and automobile and learned that Lenoir, of France, is credited with a patent for the internal combustion engine in 1861, before Henry was born; in 1862, Lenoir installed his engine in a vehicle which he called a "hydrocarbon" wagon. The Lenoir engine and cycle did not feature a compression stroke, but simply ignited the incoming charge when the piston was about half way down on the intake stroke.
D. B. Wise revealed in his Encyclopedia of the Automobile that in 1903, Henry built a car using an engine based on the Lenoir design. Henry engaged the Dodge brothers, John and Horace, to redesign his engine and car. They had previously been building engines, frames and running gear for Ransom E. Olds autos and had widespread fame as engineers and machinists. For a 10% interest in Ford, they built the most important parts of the Ford cars until 1913.
Then, in 1914, the Dodge brothers built their first car bearing the Dodge name. And what an improvement over what they were previously forced to build! This new car came equipped with a starter, clutch, and multiple gear transmission as well as brakes on both rear wheels. Ford would not have all of this until 1928.
The Dodge men were strong and hardworking types who could trace the Dodge family back to 1629 in America. In the 1850s, Ezekiel Dodge ran a successful machine shop on the banks of the St. Joseph River in Niles, Michigan. Ezekiel was a good machinist who repaired the local fishermen’s marine steam engines. Ezekiel and his wife Anna had 2 daughters and 11 sons including Daniel Rugg Dodge. Despite the success of Ezekiel's machine shop, times were hard and all the Dodge children had a tough life ahead of them. Daniel's father taught the young man to be a machinist and Daniel took over the business when the time came. Daniel married Maria Duval Casto and, as was the custom, provided Daniel with children.
Della, the oldest child, was born in 1863, John Francis was born in 1864, and Horace followed in 1868. The boys grew up on the dusty streets of Niles and played along the river's edge. Two red haired, dirty faced urchins, who spent many hours at their Father's side learning the skills of the machinists trade. John was the quieter of the two and the better machinist. Horace was the leader, making sure the no one took advantage of the pair. The brothers were inseparable.
Detroit was already the machine capital of America when the brothers moved there as partners in a bicycle manufacturing business. The bicycles were top quality and dependable due mostly to a sealed ball bearing the two men developed. When the bike business was sold the brothers received $3,700, which they used to open the first Dodge Brothers machine shop. One of their first customers was Ransom E. Olds, who needed engines for his "Merry Oldsmobile." The curved dash Oldsmobile was the first successful production car in America (Olds also was the first to use an assembly line to build cars), and the Dodge Brothers used the profits to expand their shop.
By the time Henry Ford approached the brothers in 1902, they were one of the largest automotive concerns in Detroit. Since the Ford Motor Company had little capital, the Dodge Brothers became major stockholders when they bought equipment to produce the first 650 Model A Fords in 1903. An early Ford car was assembled in the factory from a complete chassis made by the Dodge Brothers plus wheels and a body from other subcontractors. Ford designed it, but it was the skill of the Dodge Brothers that made it work. And work it did! The Ford Motor Company sold millions of cars during the next ten years and the Dodges became rich.
Using the millions they made producing Ford cars, the two Dodge Brothers began production of their own, upscale car line in 1914. The Dodge Brother's auto was made to the best standards of workmanship, materials and design. The design had the dependability of the Ford Model T but with modern refinements of the day. The Dodge cars had electric starters, sliding gear transmissions and rear wheel brakes. The Dodge Brothers also collaborated with Edward Budd to produce one of the earliest all steel bodies in mass production. The cars were an immediate success.
The Brothers both died in 1920 leaving a successful car line, a prosperous company, and an engineering legacy. When Dodge Brothers Inc. was sold to Dillon, Read and Co. in 1925 for $146 million, it was the largest cash transaction that had ever occurred.
The Dodge cars, designed in 1914, remained essentially unchanged until Chrysler Corporation bought the Dodge Brother's company on July 31, 1928. Public demand for the cars always exceeded the supply because of the Dodge Brother's reputation for quality and dependability.
When the Dodges began production of cars in 1914 they were an immediate success. Many of the Dodge Brothers’ cars were cut down to make dependable light trucks even in those early years. The public and the Dodge dealers repeatedly asked the Brothers to produce a truck. After extensive testing, the Dodge Boys determined that a light "Commercial Car" could be made on the existing car chassis and assembly line without disrupting the car production. Finally, in October 1917, the first commercial body style emerged from the Hamtramck factory into the waiting arms of the public and the US Army. Thousands of Dodge Brothers trucks, with ambulance bodies, were sold to the U.S. Army for the war in Europe.
The first Dodge Brothers truck was a pick up with heavy screens between the bed sides and the roof. The truck had a 1/2 ton capacity and was built on the successful 114 inch wheel base car chassis. The trucks were for light delivery only and a fully enclosed panel version soon followed the screenside. From the dash forward the trucks were indistinguishable from the autos using the same dependable four cylinder engine, wood spoke wheels and even intermixed serial numbers.
Just like the Dodge Brothers cars, there were no model years for the trucks, but they have spotting features to help identify approximate construction dates. The spotting feature for the earliest trucks, from 1917 to 1922, is the low hood which dips down from the dashboard out to the radiator. The truck cab has roadster style doors with no outside handles and the spare tire is mounted on the drivers side. In 1922 major changes were made to the car and truck line including a taller radiator making the hood line almost straight out from the top of the dash. The panel and screenside trucks were still built on the 114 inch wheel base and limited to 1/2 ton loads. Outside door handles were added to the doors. In 1923 the wheel base was increased to 116 inches which allowed a larger cargo area and increased capacity up to 3/4 ton. Even though fully enclosed cars had been in production for several years, the trucks still had the half height doors and a roll down curtain to keep out the rain. Finally in 1925 the trucks were given full size steel doors with roll-up windows. The side mounted spare was moved to a rack under the rear of the bed. These were the last major external changes until the production of Chrysler design trucks replaced those of the original Dodge Brothers, inc.
Later on, the Dodge would become one of the first with an all steel body. At this point we should take note that Dodge in 1939 was second only to Mack to produce a diesel truck with their own engine. And please give credit to Don Bunn's very fine book, Dodge Trucks, Crestline edition, in which we find the engine was an inline 6, 331 cubic inches, 96 hp and 225 lb-ft torque. To prove the truck's performance, dependabilty and economy a 4-man crew drove it 6,378 miles with a GVW of 20,000 lb and used only 627 gallons of fuel.
On reviewing Mr. Bunn's book we find Dodge in the leadership of innovation for light and even heavy duty trucks with a 4 ton truck as far back as 1934, the 1946 4WD Power Wagon and then in 1950 a 4 ton with a 154 hp-330 lb ft engine and in 1953 the first 1/2 ton with long wheelbase as well as automatic transmission. The 1954 Dodge trucks were the first ever to feature the production "Hemi" engines and may have been the first utterance of the question "Has that thang got a hemi in it?"
In 1956 a very great looking "Town Wagon" model appeared; did anyone say Suburban? In 1961 the first ever 4 door "Crew Cabs" were sold by Dodge, but it would not be until 1973 when the first ever "Club Cab" would appear and sold by Dodge. Meanwhile in the mid-sixties Dodge built some very heavy duty trucks including a fifty-wheeler known as the Michigan Centipede. Many, if not all these heavy duty trucks featured a 743 cu. in. Cummins diesel and up to 12 speed Spicer transmissions. My all time favorite 18-wheeler highway-class truck would be the classic early 1970s Dodge long nose "Big Horn," powered by the Cummins 855 cubic inch diesel engine.
Today, Dodge is still at the forefront with their newest 380 horsepower Hemis and the class leading Cummins diesel with 325 hp and 600 lb. ft. torque, but when you know their history where would you expect them to be? In 1989 I took delivery on the first 3/4 T, Std. Shift Dodge/Cummins diesel sold from a dealer in the state of Texas. It has only had minor maintenance and is routinely grossed to 22-24,000 pounds pulling a hay trailer out of fields. Where does "built Ford tough" fit in this? As usual, standing on the sidelines saying "me too."
Historically, we can find that Ford was dead last or at least close to last in nearly all of the significant aspects of safety, performance and convenience of the engine and automobile - including but not limited to:
- four wheel brakes
- a door at the driver's side
- clutch and selective gear transmission
- battery/distributor ignition and lights
- self starter
- hydraulic brakes
- a spring at each wheel
- independent front wheel suspension
- automatic transmission
- overhead valve engine.
Perhaps one of the longest standing automotive myths is that Henry Ford had the original idea for the V8 type engine, but Cadillac (1914), Oldsmobile (1916 and 1929), and Chevrolet (1917) all had V8 engines before Ford had their first in 1932. As the general public became more automotively educated and the various makes starting to boast of their accomplishments, the word began "leaking" out that Ford had been the first to figure out how to cast the V8 engine block as a "one piece" casting and referred to as a mono-block. Then as the masses get even better educated, it is remembered that the Oldsmobile Viking of 1929 had a V8 with a mono-block type engine.
What all this boils down to is that perhaps Henry did introduce a cheap mono-block V8 in 1932, but it was by no means his original idea. Some V8 history.
Another automotive myth is that Henry and Ford Motor Co. has always been the leader in automobile innovation, technology and engineering, when nothing could be further from the truth. I can not name a single Ford significant innovation with respect to the safety, performance or convenience of the automobile, but historically, we can find that Ford was dead last or at least close to last in nearly all of the significant aspects of safety, performance and convenience of the engine and automobile (see above).
Over the years I have read many places stating that Henry Ford and the Model T deserve credit for the planetary gearing used in automatic transmissions of today. Maybe so, but here's a more believeable view and a link with lots more info. Alanson P. Brush held the patents on the copper water jacket, variable lift intake valve, mixer, planetary transmission, and adjustable rack and pinion steering. By 1906, the impact of the Brush patents would start a drastic change in Cadillac design. Link. Brush’s transmission is the real origin of the planetary gearing - not Ford.
Now, after the above remarks who then is responsible for the major achievements in the development of the automobile? The number one person on my list is a little known genius named Charles Kettering.
In 2001 we were being bombarded with hype from Ford and the willing media about Ford's purported 100 years of racing fame. If we look at the history of Ford's so-called accomplishments we find that a great deal of it stinks. In the highly lauded 1901 race (and only race Henry ever ran) between Henry and Winton, the Ford account indicates that it was billed and promoted as a race between only these two and drew a crowd of many thousand spectators. The truth is that it was promoted as a race among some 16 different auto manufacturers and at that time Henry was not one, his previous attempts having failed. My guess is that Henry heard about it and showed up with his car, hoping to get in the race. There were several preliminary or heat races before the main event that Henry did not race in, and many of the cars in the heats were damaged or had mechanical problems so that only three, including Henry’s, appeared for the main event. One of the three dropped out, leaving Henry and Winton, and due to the extra time the heats had taken the main was shortened from 25 to 10 laps. Henry won the 10 lap event when the Winton car had engine problems.
In the Ford account it is mentioned that Henry's car ignition was the forerunner of today's spark plugs, but we know that Lenoir's engine of 1861 was spark ignited. Also, they claim that Henry's car set the stage for the Porsche due to its lightweight construction. It takes gall to drag down one of the highest respected names in performance automobiles into this cesspool of deceit, whose only real claim to fame is the "Flivver" or "Tin Lizzie."
The Stock Car Racing Encyclopedia edited by Golenbock and Fielden lists the first NASCAR race as being held at Charlotte, N.C. on 6-19-49 and won by Jim Roper in a Lincoln which he had driven from Halstead, Kansas to Charlotte. In the 2001 Autoweek Racing Guide on the inside front cover there is a Ford ad which states that in 1948 Red Byron became the first Nascar winner in a 1939 Ford. So which is it, 1948 or 1949? Truth is the flathead Ford V8 won only one NASCAR race. Red Byron did win races and a championship in 1949 in an Oldsmobile.
Consider that the inline 6 cylinder Plymouth won ten NASCAR races, one of which was the first ever Southern 500 at Darlington in 1950 — the second place car was 9 laps down. Lee Petty would have won the championship in a 6 cylinder Plymouth had not NASCAR deducted points as punishment for him racing in a different series.
Ford fans and the pushover media love to brag about Ford's usual 15-18 race lead over Chevy in all time NASCAR races won. The rest of the story follows.
In 1957, a young boy spectator was killed during a NASCAR race wreck and shortly the AMA, Chrysler, Ford, and GM all agreed on a self imposed exile which lasted until 1962, when Ford announced, "We're back into racing." If you believe Ford has been sitting on their hands all this time and not preparing for this comeback then your first name has got to be Edsel. Chrysler came back shortly, but GM/Chevy stayed out for several years. In an 8 year span Ford won 173 races to Chevy's 15. But fordracing.com doesn't tell us this.
During this 8 year span, Ford drivers won their first ever championship and two of their total of six. That's right, in 54 years Ford drivers have won six championships [this was written in 2002]. Whoop tee do. And by the way, Chrysler Corporation cars have not done badly; in the 22 year span from the year of their first until their last championship they won a total of 11 or 50% of the time, despite being, by far, the smallest of the Big Three.
Open wheel racing, under different names such as USAC, AAA, Indy-Car, CART, F1, Le Mans, IRL, etc., has long been a hotbed of Ford racing claims of victory and superiority. If we look closely and remove the ingenuity contributed by names like Foyt, Gurney, Weslake, Coyote, Cosworth, Lola, Mclaren, March, and Penske, there's nothing left for Ford to brag about. Until 1998, when Ford bought out Cosworth, Ford was nothing more than Cosworth's largest customer.
In the late sixties, Ford laid claim to victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans after previous unsuccessful attempts using a moderate size 289 engine which they had copied from the small block Chevy. After the failed attempts, Ford reached in their storehouse of ingenuity and pulled out their best weapon; the oversized, big block 400 plus cu. in. monster, with all the performance characteristics of a tractor engine, and won it easy enough.
With Ford's penchant for claiming victory at the expense of others’ ingenuity I've never understood why they never attempted to claim credit for the Chevrolet brothers’ back to back wins of the Indy 500 in 1920 and 1921. Louis Chevrolet and brothers Arthur and Gaston built some of the finest and fastest race cars of that era under the name of Frontenac, with Gaston winning in 1920 and Tommy Milton in 1921. They used discarded Model Ts as a starting point for their cars. Years ago I recall seeing pictures of the engines, which were things of beauty with cast bronze cylinder head, double overhead cams, multiple carbs and exhaust. Why use the Model T? Simply the availability, there was at least one under every shade tree. The Chevrolet brothers knew more about race cars and performance engines than all of Ford put together. (Details.)
In early 2003, you may have seen the Ford TV ads showing a couple of weekend warriors pushing what appears to be the family car to the starting line of a race event which could imply a drag race. Drag racing in the U.S. has turned into a money gobbling sport requiring multimillions to be spent per car in the top professional ranks. Again Ford would have us believe their cars/engines are king of the hill in drag racing as well as other forms. A quick look at nhra.com entry list will show that only about 5% of all entries are Ford powered and a look at the results will show that hardly ever is a class won with Ford power. In the top two classes, Top Fuel and Funny Car, where the cars cover the standing start quarter mile in 4.5 seconds at 325 + MPH, all engines in both classes are the same automotive type engine which is the much loved and despised Chrysler Hemi which first appeared in 1951. (Details: see here - and, in more detail, here)
John Force and his stable of three Mustangs are the leaders in Funny Car. Here's a direct quote from John: "We can show just how much muscle Ford packs into the 7,000-horsepower Castrol GTX Ford Mustang Funny Car engine. Since 1997, Ford has been an essential part of John Force Racing. I am pleased and honored that we can bring my hot rod to the LA Auto Show and highlight Ford Racing's success." But, John, it is a CHRYSLER, not a Ford, engine. If you can convince me there is a bigger hypocrite than John Force then I'll kiss your butt and give you a week to draw a crowd. I can't imagine a person prostituting his integrity and morality to such as this cutthroat bunch.
Following is another example of buying a championship. But it was much cheaper back then; Force may be getting $30-40 million/year. But this is how Ford bought their championships in the older days.
In 1954, Ford Motor Sports Division hired Jack Clifford to beat the Chevaire race team at the NHRA world cup meet. Ford flew Jack and towed his 1945 Hudson-Hornet-powered 6 cylinder car to the meet. Ford knew they could not beat the Chevy race team without Jack's help since he held the class record too. He did indeed beat the Chevy, allowing Ford to be #1 in the manufacturers' class. (See http://cliffordperformance.net/).
Lets drop back to the sixties again and we'll note that Chrysler Hemi and Chevy small blocks were dominating Top Fuel and Funny Car racing. There might have been couple of Ford diehards showing up, but they hardly ever qualified and never won. Ford knew this and decided to build all-out racing engines to stop this once and for all. Keep in mind the Hemi and the Chevy were used as production-line performance engines; the two Ford engines were intended as all out race engines and never intended as production line passenger car engines. The two engines were in the 427-29 cubic inch size with one being Ford's version of a Hemi being called the "shotgun" which I've always thought was a poor copy of Chrysler’s "polyspherical" engines. The other Ford "killer" engine was known as the "cammer" with overhead cams driven by the infamous 9 foot long bicycle type roller chain that either broke or stretched if driven in competition. Where are these great engines today? In the Ford museum where they are ogled by unsuspecting and uninformed Ford fans.
This or any similar story would not be complete without at least a glimpse at the personal history of the man honored for putting the world on wheels, check this out.
Quotes about Henry Ford
“It was Henry Ford who in the 1930s built the Soviet Union's first modern automobile plant (located at Gorki) and which in the 1950s and 1960s produced the trucks used by the North Vietnamese to carry weapons and munitions for use against Americans. At about the same time, Henry Ford was also the most famous of Hitler's foreign backers, and he was rewarded in the 1930s for this long-lasting support with the highest Nazi decoration for foreigners.” — reformation.org, which also described, in detail, how Ford supplied war materials to Nazi Germany even through the early 1940s.
“The wall behind his desk in Hitler's private office is decorated with a large picture of Henry Ford. In the antechamber there is a large table covered with books, nearly all of which are a translation of a book written and published by Henry Ford.” — The New York Times, 1922
“The Bavarian Diet [legislative body] has long had the information that the Hitler movement was partly financed by an American anti-Semitic chief, who is Henry Ford. Mr. Ford's interest in the Bavarian anti-Semitic movement began a year ago when one of Mr. Ford's agents, seeking to sell tractors, came in contact with Diedrich Eichart, the notorious Pan-German. Shortly after, Herr Eichart asked Mr. Ford's agent for financial aid. The agent returned to America and immediately Mr. Ford's money began coming to Munich. Herr Hitler openly boasts of Mr. Ford's support and praises Mr. Ford as a great individualist and a great anti-Semite.” — Vice President of the Bavarian Diet, 1923