Curbside Classic: 1911 Ford Model T • Any Colour They Want

About a century before notorious blowhard Elon Musk put out the Model S and took to mouthing around on Twitter, notorious blowhard Henry Ford put out the Model T and, in a 1909 meeting, said any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants, so long as it is black. Sticking to one paint colour would be an economy measure on its own, plus black paint was the cheapest, most durable, and –fastest-drying– (Update: I’m informed that last one isn’t true), so goes the explanation.

But Ford’s black-only policy didn’t take effect until 1914, so none of that matters to this what I saw parked—just like any and every other car—at the actual, real curbside a few days before Halloween this past. It antedates all but my most basic automotive expertise by about fifty years, so I only knew I was photographing a very old, highly excellent Ford.

This Ford is painted not-black. Almost all 1911 Fords were painted blue, but official records are dependably said to note a number of red open runabouts and green town cars built in early April, 1911. So I guess this is one of those, and/or that description of those records doesn’t apply to other-than-U.S. markets. Now, I can’t claim to have seen very many cars this old up close—Fords or any others—but for me this car looks absolutely right in this red.

With heaps of brass…

gas headlamps that run on acetylene piped in from a “generator” consisting of an enclosed pan of calcium carbide with water drizzled on it…

(matter o’ fact, these are brass Ford headlamps of the beast!)

There’s an oil-wick lantern on either side of the cowl. Windowpanes front and outboard, and a jewelled red lens to the rear…

…and another oil lantern at the back of the car. Rear lamps of that time used red and green light, like the nautical navigation lamps and railway priority signals whence they sprang. A red lens faced rear; a colourless lens faced right (to show the licence plate)…

…and a blue lens, to make the yellow oil flame look green, faced to the left—the idea being to advertise the vehicle’s direction of travel:

Unlike the railway and nautical lighting conventions, there were no uniform standards for car lighting. This from the March 1902 ‘Motor Review’ publication gives a glimpse of the extreme regionality of early vehicle lighting practice:

This ’11 T has nifty details everywhere. There’s a Moto Meter temperature gauge built into the radiator cap…

…and a Stewart (forebear of Stewart-Warner?) speedometer-odometer. Trip, I get. Season? And, um, 60?

There’s a surprisingly prominent clock on the dashboard.

Here’s where to switch between battery and magneto ignition (or neither):

Four pedals and two levers. Let’s see here: one of the levers is a kind of brake-and-clutch stick, and Paul N informs me the lever with the round knob is for the optional Ruckstell 2-speed rear axle. Brake pedal, reversing pedal, and…uh…uncle. This page explains the controls, but I’m still clueless after reading through it; I’d do a better learning job by watching from the passenger seat. That left pedal is a sort of gearchange, but I (still) don’t know what that small pedal nearest the seat is.

There’s a squeeze-bulb horn that sounds remarkably cowlike (no, I didn’t touch it, let alone squeeze it):

This is classy, not like those hosey “Body by Fisher” sill plates GM were still putting on cars in the 1980s:

Speaking of plates, here’s this car’s ID plate. It’s on the dashboard below another mystery-to-me lever:

This is a Canadian Ford, bearing the name of a town that’s now, if I’m not mistaken, part of Windsor:

The dashboard is…a board!

I do not understand these cogworks inboard of the right front wheel…

…with no counterpart on the left:

Firestone Gum-Dipped tires, in something called an ex-size of 30 × 3½ (will there be an ex-size tax, then?):

Just as I took the last of these pictures, the owner returned from his errands. He handled the small crowd round his car with good humour, and patiently answered questions—that’s how I know this is a 1911. He explained the pedals, but I forget the explanation. I apologise for having held my phone vertically to shoot this movie; I know I should’ve turned it horizontally. Nevertheless, here’s what I got. Once again I invoke the Consumer Reports of the past; the engine started immediately and ran flawlessly:

If the movie doesn’t load/play for you, see it Here.

(it only just now occurred to me, but…Any Colour You Like…? H’m.)