The 1911 Model T Ford – Part 1 the New Runabouts

Ford planned and implemented extensive changes for the 1911 model year. The cars of 1909- 1910 were relatively unchanged during their run, and with good reason. Ford had an extraordinary success on its hands. Any changes that were made in those early years were to fix design flaws or to streamline assembly and production. The first of the new “1911” Fords to be released to the public were the new Torpedo Runabout body style introduced on October 5, 1910. The new Torpedo Runabout had a steel paneled body and curved fenders front and rear. Both of these features were unheard of in previous Model T production. The hood was lengthened, and the steering column, longer to compensate for the lengthened hood, was placed at a lower angle to give a more “racy” appearance. A sporty Model T Ford was being built.

Upon its introduction the Model T Torpedo Runabout of 1911 had a rectangular or “square” shaped fuel tank mounted behind the seat. The fuel tank had to be mounted there in order to lower the seat position, giving the Torpedo its racy appearance. At $725 the Torpedo Runabout was fully equipped with carbide headlights, kerosene parking lamps and tail lamp, windshield and folding top. Side curtains were included. Notice in the price list above there are no prices or mention of “unequipped cars”. 1910 model year was the last time that Ford offered to sell Model T’s without top, windshield, side curtains and gas lamps. In 1911 and all subsequent model years the cars all were sold “fully equipped”.

Above we see the interior of a Right Hand Drive 1911 Torpedo Runabout restored in the current owner’s choice of colors, in this case red exterior and tan leather interior. In 1911 model year the Torpedo Runabouts were always painted dark blue with black leather interior and grey pin stripe. This body style is noteworthy as Ford’s first Model T to be offered with a fully enclosed driver’s compartment.

A photo from the 1911 color catalogue shows an early Torpedo Runabout equipped with the standard sized bulb horn and carbide generator. The bulb horn was downsized for Torpedos later in the model year to allow more room to open the hood. The carbide generator also was made smaller to allow a more graceful entry and exit for the driver.

Electric headlamps were becoming popular by 1911, yet Ford still did not offer them even as an option. The aftermarket filled the need. The car above likely has the square fuel tank. We can tell it is an early 1911 Torpedo Runabout from the full sized horn and the front axle with one piece spindles.  Notice the rear view mirror, another popular accessory.

Above we see a later example of the 1911 Model T Torpedo Runabout. This car is equipped with the later “Torpedo” horn, made smaller to allow the hood to be opened without scraping the horn. The car has the later round fuel tank, and a Prestolite carbide tank mounted on the running board. Headlamps are E & J Model 666, Cowl lamps are also E & J.

Above, this photo is notable for several reasons. The torpedo runabout body style that began in October 1910 was built well into 1912 model year. This car is equipped with black and brass cowl lamps. Were they like that from the factory? Maybe they were an owner installed attempt at modernization. The other interesting thing is that women could not vote yet they are often seen as the driver in period torpedo photographs. Headlamps on this car are again E & J model 666.

A third person took the photo – we don’t think they were riding in the Torpedo. With two seat capacity the Torpedo Runabout was not for everybody. Sales were not impressive compared to the Touring body style. There were three Runabout body styles offered in 1911 model year. There was a “Commercial Runabout,” the “Torpedo Runabout” shown in our photos above, and the “Open Runabout”.

Somehow three people have squeezed into the 1911 Torpedo Runabout above.

Must have been quite a contest for the Open Runabout to have been only the Fourth place prize. Prices varied depending on the cost of shipping from Dearborn. The Open Runabout shared the same gas tank design as the Torpedo Runabout. The early cars used the “square” gas tank, later cars got the same round tank as the Torpedo.

Above, a brand new Open Runabout with the “Torpedo Horn” and the smaller carbide tank used in later production. Standard color on these cars was “Dark Blue” which was so dark that it appears to be black in photographs. Striping is extensive in French Grey.

Above another 1911 Open Runabout is having a bad day.

Here we see a later Open Runabout. The car is equipped with E &J lamps, the “Torpedo Horn” and has a trunk mounted to the left running board. You can just glimpse a Prestolite carbide tank mounted behind the fuel tank on the rear deck. These ladies have very fancy hats don’t they?

Architectural tastes have changed in the past 106 years, as we see here with a brand new 1911 Torpedo Runabout posing next to a doctor’s office in suburban Detroit Michigan.

Above, another photo showing the unique “Torpedo Horn” used in later 1911 production of the Torpedo Runabout and Open Runabout. This car is equipped with JNO Brown #85 cowl lamps and JNO Brown Model 19 headlamps. The carbide generator appears to be the standard size JNO Brown unit.

Another photo of what appears to be a nearly new 1911 Torpedo Runabout. Surviving photos of the “commercial” runabout are quite rare leading us to believe that the Torpedo Runabout was the most popular version during the 1911 model year. The gentleman above has quite a stylish broad brimmed hat that suggests that this photo was taken in the southern part of the United States. Once again we see the car is equipped with the typical E & J lamps.

Perhaps it was spring time in Washington DC when this photo was taken. The car has had a “fender bender” on the left rear. Notice the standard 1911 double twist horn with the later round gas tank. The car has E &J lamps all around. No evidence of a carbide tank or a carbide generator, perhaps the box on the rear deck contains a battery for electric headlights?

Above, brand new 1911 Model T’s are unloaded on a railroad siding for delivery to the local dealer. The Torpedo Runabout in front is of course equipped with E & J lamps, as are all of the cars seen to the rear.

Above, the third version of runabout / roadster offered in 1911 model year is shown above. The car was participating in the 1911 Glidden Tour. This is the more conventional “Roadster with Rumble seat” as described in Ford advertising. This body style looks similar to that car as offered in 1909 – 1910, yet it is an entirely new body. For 1911 the roadster bodies, like all the other 1911 bodies except the town cars, was a wood framed construction with metal skin. This was a big improvement over the earlier Model T bodies, as the metal skin was both stronger and more durable. The gas tank was under the seat in the Roadster, and a “Rumble” seat was on the rear deck. This was often referred to as the “mother in law” seat by wags of the day. Often the third seat was removed to make room for a pickup bed or other commercial equipment.

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