(first posted 9/26/2016) A gigantic red roadster from the first decade of the 20th century is not typical fodder for this website, but I was so bowled over by its whole presentation that omitting it altogether would be tantamount to automotive heresy. This is a 1907 Ford Model K, a car that is only a year or so removed from the Model T, one of the most famous and revered pieces of rolling sociology known to man. How is this gigantic force of nature nearly forgotten?
It’s largely because of this man, Alexander Malcomson. Henry Ford, for all his fame, had a knack for alienating people, and sometimes downright doublecrossing them. Malcomson was a prominent Detroit coal magnate who largely bankrolled Ford’s third try at an automobile company, the one that would finally stick. By 1906, Ford and Malcomson were at odds over the company’s direction, Ford wanting mass production for the masses, Malcomson wanting higher prices and profits. In an industrial coup (the rest of Ford’s shareholders must not have liked Malcomson very much either), Malcomson was forced out of the company he backed, well before the insane profits really manifested themselves.
In a way, Malcomson was like the Pete Best of the automotive industry, forced out before the wheels of success really started to roll. Don’t feel too bad for him, however, as he doubled down on coal and passed away at 59 with a fortune of about two million dollars.
Thus, the Model K was Alexander Malcomson’s last stand with Ford Motor Company, a 405 cubic inch six-cylinder behemoth that was an orphan before it even got a chance to make something of itself in the world. While you can find dozens and dozens of tomes related to the history of the Model T, and car shows like Greenfield Village’s “Old Car Festival” reinforce the Model T’s continuing popularity, the Model K is almost unknown today. In my substantial automotive library, I only found a few lines of facts about a car that figuratively knocked me out, a big red tour de force that comparatively few people wanted.
The Model K’s 40 horsepower (same as a 1928 Model A, which had half the displacement) was routed through Ford’s favorite planetary transmission, which was not yet an anachronism, but was perhaps not the most sporting of choices for a fairly high priced vehicle (around $2500). Contrary to popular belief, however, the Model K wasn’t an abject failure. Apparently, much of Ford’s profits in those heady last days before the Model T were funneled straight from Model K sales, although the facts are a little cloudy. So maybe Malcomson wasn’t too wrong after all.
Either way, it would be a while before a Ford was this rakish again, arguably almost 30 years, until the debut of the swoopy 1933 models, if you don’t count the numerous garage-built Model T specials and Deuce hot rods. Even the popular Model A was fairly upright and conservative compared to this monster. Just look at that long hood; could this Model K have influenced later Fords like the Continental and Mustang? Probably not, but I’d like to think that someone in Ford Design checked out the Model K in profile at one time or another.
Long hood, short, uh, back seats? It’s the design language that made a lot of sporty cars sporty.
And while this little buggy may have had a lot more influence on America as a sociological unit, the Model K is the one I’d rather take for a Sunday drive.