ford classic heritage
hooked on classics
What do you think of when you think of the Ford brand? Affordable family cars? Probably. Motorsport and classic car heritage? Perhaps.
The Ford badge may not be the most prestigious on the market but it carries a weight of automotive history with it that's equalled by few rivals. Ford of course, is keen to promote this fact but how much of this message is getting out to the man or woman in the street?
To find out, we asked Ford if we could borrow a couple of representative vehicles from their historical collection, each representing key parts of the brand's classic heritage. We then took the opportunity to put them on show to the public, using the Ultimate Car, Ultimate Life Motorshow in Horsham, Sussex, as a platform from which to get feedback. The results were very interesting.
Before we get to them, a word or two about the two cars we chose. First up was the model that started the whole thing off, the ubiquitous Model T Ford. Announced in 1908, the Model T soon broke every production record, not only within Ford, but world-wide. Simply engineered and sold at incredibly low prices, the Model T put the world on wheels in the next twenty years.
Built in Detroit in huge numbers, the Model T was also assembled at several overseas plants, including from 1911 until 1927 Ford's original Trafford Park factory in Manchester. All Model Ts shared the same simple chassis, with transverse-leaf suspension to the beam axles. Powered by a 20bhp/2.9-litre side-valve four-cylinder engine, they had two-speed epicyclic transmission, with brakes fitted only to the rear wheels. The top speed was a mere 45mph and the price when new was between £110 and £220 depending upon model year.
Model Ts were available with many different body styles, including the open-top two-seater Runabout from 1910 that Ford lent us. This car, made in Detroit, started its life in Ireland. All in all, more than 16 million Model Ts were made, more than 15 million of them in Detroit alone, before production ended in May 1927.
With the vintage car side taken care of, we then turned our attention to a slightly more recent model that would illustrate the way Ford's idea of the ideal family car has changed over the years. Something, if you like, to bridge the gap in thinking between the Model T and today's Focus. We chose a Ford Prefect.
This car has a long and varied history but the first thing that Ford classic buffs remember is that the 1938 Prefect 10hp E93A sidevalve model was the first Ford to be given a name at launch rather than a series letter. When revised in 1949, the Prefect E493A was the least expensive four-door saloon on sale in Britain.
We chose a 1953 example from Ford's collection, this Prefect E493A being one of the last to be built at Dagenham. It differed from earlier models by being offered in four-door form only. It also featured combined head and side lamps mounted into the front wings and a taller radiator grille. The Prefect had a rear-hinged bonnet with a chromed 'aeroplane' bonnet lock similar to the V8 Pilot. The particular vehicle we got to experience was loaned to the Ford Heritage Collection in the early 1990s by Mrs Elsie Hill of London and bequeathed to Ford when she passed away a few years later.
This Prefect E943A was the millionth car to come off the Dagenham production line which, in all, built 237,711 Prefect E93A and E493A models and a further 112,525 in export 'KD' form between October 1938 and September 1953. Prices ranged from £145 in 1938 to £525 in 1953.
On the road, the 1172cc four cylinder side valve engine propelled the car to a modest maximum of 68mph, with a power output of 30bhp being marshaled through a three-speed manual transmission.
Both cars, as you might imagine, caused quite a stir amongst the viewing public when we put them on show. People, it seemed, enjoyed being reminded that the Ford brand was about more than just dealers and discounts. "It's where it all started isn't it," said one visitor, gazing at the Model T.
We'd have loved to be able to get into this old classic and drive it but alas, that wasn't possible. Ford insisted to us that it was a runner, something we'll be taking up with them another time (any chance? - Ed).
Interestingly, these classic models attracted more interest than some of the supercars on display at the event, suggesting that Ford might do well to make a greater play of its automotive heritage in future promotion of the brand. There's certainly plenty of it, after all.
Ford executives with a free afternoon to spare could do worse than take a wander round their own company's heritage collection, if only to remind themselves what the Blue Oval brand really stands for. These cars are a part of our motoring heritage as well as Ford's.