The History of Model A Ford
The Model A Ford was the successor to the Model T Ford. For some time Henry Ford had been reluctant to develop a new model. He regarded the Model T as the ideal car for the masses and did not see any need to replace it. However, by the mid-1920s the Model T had in production for over 15 years and was showing its age when compared to other cars of the period. The Ford Motor Company was losing market share as consumers opted for the products of Ford’s competitors which offered more features and modern styling and engineering. Finally, Henry was convinced of the need to develop a new model. In May of 1927, it was officially announced that the Model T was to be replaced.
The development and production of the new model Ford was a major undertaking for the company. When the decision to develop the new model was finally made the creation of the model A occurred with remarkable speed. This haste was necessary to minimize the downtime for the company as it retooled and prepared the plants to manufacture the Model A. Many workers were idle during this period and Ford dealers had no new cars for many months and were forced to survive by providing parts and servicing to Model T owners. Some of the plant layout and new machine tools were designed simultaneously with the specific parts for the Model A.
There was some disagreement and debate about the design and engineering of this new model. Henry’s son Edsel advocated for a modern, well-appointed car that offered similar features to those found in the cars of Ford’s competitors, particularly the Chevrolet. Henry did not want to be seen as imitating others and favored the development of a car that would be clearly identified as a Ford car. This debate was apparent in the discussion of the type of transmission to be used. Edsel wanted a sliding gear transmission while Henry favored the planetary transmission that had been used on the Model T. Henry even had some discussions about the potential application of a form of automatic planetary transmission. However, when it was pointed out that there would be enormous amount of work required to develop such a transmission Henry finally conceded to using a sliding gear transmission. The type finally used was a smaller version of that used in the Lincoln.
Launch of the Model A Ford
With the considerable reputation and trust that the Ford Motor Company had developed with the venerable Model T, the new Ford Car was eagerly awaited by the general public. The company worked hard to retain a cloak of secrecy about the new car. This strategy served to enhance the sense of anticipation and curiosity. In late November of 1927, Ford ran a series of five daily advertisments in thousands of newspapers across the USA. On the fifth day the Model A was shown.
At the public launch of the new car held at Madison Square Garden in New York there was a huge turnout with mounted police called out to control the crowd of 200,000. There were mass demonstrations of the first showings of the Model A held all over the USA. These carefully planned simultaneous demonstrations and carefully crafted publicity campaign resulted in one of the most successful product launches in the history of the automobile industry.
Features of the Model A Ford
The Model A differed from the Model T in almost all aspects. The styling was far more modern and well received by the general public – reflected in the common nick name used at the time “the baby Lincoln”.
Mechanically there was little carryover from the Model T. The transverse leaf springs remained but the engine, transmission, brakes and steering were all updated. The engine was still a side-valve four cylinder. But it was now a larger engine (200.5 cu in) and produced 40 horsepower. This was substantially more than the 20 hp output of the old Model T engine and was largely due to the work done by Harold Hicks. He enhanced the original design which had been delivering 22 hp in initial testing. His choice of carburetor was a Zenith. And despite some reluctance within the company due to the close relationship with Holley, he was able to demonstrate the superiority of the Zenith carburetor over the Holley, Kingston and Stromberg alternatives. Within 3 weeks of commencing work on the engine Hicks had increased the power output to 40 horsepower.
As a result the performance of the Model A was a considerable improvement over the preceding model. While the Model T struggled to reach 45 mph the Model A had a top speed of around 60 mph and had impressive acceleration for the period.
The Model A Ford brakes were a considerable improvement over the set-up used in the Model T. It had four-wheel mechanical brakes instead of a brake band on the transmission. Similarly the other components were far more modern than those used in the preceding model. The Model A had a three-speed sliding-gear transmission rather than a two-speed planetary transmission operated using a foot pedal. It features a proper steering box rather than a planetary gearset in the steering wheel hub and had a conventional battery and coil ignition rather than the flywheel-mounted magneto as used in the Model T Ford.
Production figures for the Model A in the USA were: 1928 – 633, 594, 1929 – 1,507,132, 1930 – 1,155, 162 and 1931 – 541, 615. The considerable drop that occured in 1931 has been attributed to a combination of the effect of the Great Depression and the strong competition from competitors such as Chevrolet with their 6 cylinder car. It is also likely that some potential buyers were holding off and waiting for the new 8 cylinder Ford that was launched in the following year.
Although the Model A Ford was only built for four years, it was a very popular and highly regarded car. It is still popular among automobile enthusiasts and many Model A Fords and there is a very active community of Model A restorers and enthusiasts. It has also been a favorite among hot rodders.