The Model T Ford today is unique among collectible automobiles. There are several national club organizations that accept the Model T, and there are local Model T clubs in nearly every major city in the United States. When the Model T was new, the cars that it competed with never sold nearly as well. Nowadays we hardly even think of the fact that there were other cars competing with the Model T for market share and profitability. There are few car clubs for the cars that shared the automotive market with the Model T Ford back then. Let’s take a look at who the competition were back then, and see how they stacked up.
This article is the first in a series. The Model T Ford was very popular for a long period of time. In this article we will look at the competition that existed in the early years of the Model T.
The year 1911 provides a good example of how well Ford was doing in its earliest years. The chart below shows production for the top eight auto manufacturers during the 1911 calendar (not model) year. It is instructive to know that Ford’s output of 32,053 automobiles were all Model T Fords. Meanwhile over at Buick there were a dizzying number of different sized cars at various horsepower ratings and cylinder counts. The only other automobile manufacturer to offer just a single model was Brush.
Studebaker EMF 15020
Above, Ford produced the chart showing some of its competitors in 1911. The Model T Ford was indeed stiff competition for even 30 horsepower cars because the Model T had a better power to weight ratio than the majority of cars in that horsepower range. Only the Model 33 Oakland was similar to the Model T in the power to weight ratio chart above. All the other cars lugged around considerably more weight by comparison. We will examine the competitors to the Model T to see if they offered other advantages that the chart does not talk about.
Above, the Model 10 Buick was the closest thing to Model T Ford size that was offered by Buick. The car above is a touring, Buick also offered the Model 10 as a runabout with two, three, or four seat capacity. The Model 10 Buick was rated at 18 horsepower but the engine was nearly the same size as a Model T Ford at 165 cubic inches. The Buick engine had four cylinders with cylinders cast in pairs, the cylinder head being integral with the cylinder castings, IE not removable. Buick always had overhead valves, and the Model 10 was no exception.
The Buick Model 10 engine featured an accessory drive on the right side of the engine which provided force to operate the water pump and high tension magneto. The Model 10 Buick engine needed to have the rocker arms and valves lubricated before every drive, there was no automatic oiling of the valves.
The Model 10 Buick had a two speed planetary transmission similar in operation to the Model T Ford, however the transmission was connected to the engine by a cone clutch and not fully enclosed like the Model T Ford.
The Buick Model 10 touring cost $1150 and weighed 1800 pounds. As such it was more expensive than a Model T Ford by a factor of 50%, heavier than a Model T Ford by 600 pounds, yet it was less powerful by 10%. The Buick was relatively well constructed and there was a robust dealer network for the time. Buick was one of a dozen or so companies that were part of what was then the largest automotive conglomerate in the world, General Motors. As it existed in 1911, General Motors was nothing like the General Motors of today. It was a group of automobile businesses connected only by fact of ownership. The cars of the various General Motors entities ranged from the ordinary, not too inspired but reliable Model 10 Buick to the odd two stroke Elmore automobiles. General Motors management had a lot to learn.
Anyone comparing a Model T Ford side by side with a Model 10 Buick would be unable to find anything superior on the Buick other than it had more brass trim. The Buick is crudely constructed, in essence years behind a Model T Ford in terms of manufacturing ease and serviceability, performance, and reliability. The Buick Model 10 is slow, heavy, and small.
Next in line of competition to the Model T Ford was the Flanders 20. The Flanders 20 automobile was produced by a division of the Everitt – Metzger – Flanders (EMF) corporation. EMF had begun in 1908 with Walter Flanders providing most of the automotive manufacturing genius behind the venture. Flanders had been production foreman at the Ford Motor Company from 1906 – mid 1908. As such he was well aware of how the Model T Ford was built, as he had been working on the Model T for a year or so prior to his departure from Ford.
The Flanders 20 runabout was available with two, three or four seats. The car above has been equipped with the four seat configuration and has an optional top and windshield. Flanders in 1910 was equipped with a two speed sliding gear transmission which proved to be a poor choice. They also gained a deserved reputation for rear axle failure. Studebaker bought the EMF / Flanders companies in 1911 and proceeded to retrofit all of the earlier cars with three speed transmissions and heavier duty rear axles. The cost of this effort was reportedly more than a million US dollars at that time, a huge sum of money equivalent to perhaps 100 million dollars today.
Above the Flanders 20 was a valid competitor to the Model T Ford. In 1911 there were over 14,000 of the Flanders 20 built which was quite impressive considering that Ford built a little over 34,000 Model T Fords that year. The Flanders was mechanically quite modern, with the now standard three speed transmission and cone clutch. The Flanders 20 weighed 1400 pounds and had an honest 20 horsepower. With its three speed transmission and 4:1 rear axle gearing it was quicker than a Model T Ford in a drag race but had a slightly lower top speed if both cars could have found a stretch of road smooth enough to get above 40 MPH. The Flanders had a list price of $725 which was slightly higher than the Ford which cost $700 in 1911.
The Flanders 20 engine above has the cylinder unit cast as a group of four cylinders with non – removable cylinder head. The cylinder unit bolts to the crankcase. The engine was originally designed to be thermo – syphon cooled like the Model T Ford, however it was soon learned that the engine overheated easily. The production cars were equipped with water pumps. Ignition for the Flanders 20 was dual, there was a Splitdorf high tension magneto and also a battery powered temblor coil ignition used during starting.
The Flanders 20 was selected as the “Pathfinder” car for the 1911 Glidden tour. This was quite an honor for the fledgling company that had started business only three years prior.
Despite its relatively successful production run, the Flanders and EMF names were discarded by the new owners after 1912. All subsequent production would be using a Studebaker name plate.
In 1911 the Overland automobile was a formidable competitor to many of the automotive brands on the market, Ford included. Overland was owned by John North Willys, a man who knew what he was doing and knew how to do it. Overland cars were well designed, high quality, and competitively priced. Unlike Ford, Overland offered a variety of models in different horsepower ratings and sizes. Three Overland cars were probably competing for Ford Model T customers, the 20 horsepower Overland Model 46 / 47 which sold for $850, the 25 horsepower Model 49 at $875 and the 30 horsepower Overland Model 59 at $900. All of these cars represented good value for the price.
Above, the Model 46 Overland runabout and its touring version the Model 47 were 172 cubic inches, nearly the same as a Model T Ford and rated at 20 horsepower.
Compared to the Overland Model 46, the new for 1911 Model T Ford runabout was not nearly as modern looking, although it was similar in performance and cheaper by more than $100.
Above the Model 46 / 47 Overland 20 horsepower engine has individually cast cylinders bolted to an aluminum crankcase. Design was well executed although not revolutionary. Cylinders were integral with their cylinder head. Cooling was by thermo syphon. Ignition was high tension magneto or battery with temblor coil for starting. The Overland used a sliding gear three speed transmission. The cars were noted for their reliability and quality. Overland built 15,600 cars in 1911, with perhaps 10,000 of that number being the 20 or 25 horsepower models. Heavier than Model T but with three speed transmission, the Overlands were good performers.
Above, the 1911 Maxwell Model Q presents few controls for the operator to worry about. Maxwell was based in Tarrytown, New York and their new for 1910 Model “Q” represented a true competitor for Ford Model T sales. The Maxwell Model Q was priced at $1000 and weighed 1700 pounds.
The Maxwell Model Q was well constructed, if a bit pedestrian. Their rear axles with their straight cut gears were notably noisy and weak, which hurt their reputation and sales.
The Maxwell Model Q engine was a reliable 22.5 horsepower unit. Maxwell used a two speed planetary gearbox like the Model T Ford, with high tension magneto ignition supplemented by a battery and temblor coil starting ignition, as was typical of most cars built in those days.
Maxwell used the E&J Model 66 headlamps on the Model Q.
Maxwell made several models in 1911 ranging from small two cylinder Model AA to the large 30 horsepower Model GA shown in the advertisement above. Maxwell was bought by Walter Chrysler in 1925. In 1926 the company changed its name to Chrysler Corporation.
In 1911 the Brush automobile (above) was on its last legs. The odd little cars were powered by a single cylinder 10 horsepower engine. Frames were made of wood, the axles were made of wood, suspension was a coil spring mounted at each corner of the car. Wheelbase was 80 inches. Base price for the Brush was $475 which was exactly the typical cost of a horse and buggy in 1911. At that price your Brush came as shown above, with no lamps, no top, no windshield, hard rubber tires, and some assembly required.
Brush made the same basic car from 1907 – 1911. What many people do not know about the Brush is that it was the first American car with the steering wheel on the left side, predating the Model T by 2 years. The car above has optional kerosene parking lamps, inflatable 28 X 3″ tires and not much else.
The Brush had a 5 gallon fuel tank mounted to the firewall. Planetary transmission powered the car through a jackshaft and chain drive to each rear wheel.
Brush claimed to have built 10,000 cars in 1911, which may be true. The cars weighed around 800 pounds depending on options. Top speed was around 30 MPH, with a reasonable cruising speed closer to 25 MPH. Quality was lackluster, performance was lackluster, and the company would cease operations in 1912.
Finally we have REO, the name of the company coming from the initials of the founder, Ransom Eli Olds. Olds had started his first car company, Oldsmobile, many years earlier. Eventually he had sold his interest in Oldsmobile and started his new REO company selling one and two cylinder cars and trucks. By 1911 Reo was selling more trucks than cars. One and two cylinder cars were dropped for 1911, but trucks continued to be offered with the sturdy little Reo single cylinder engines.
For the 1911 Reo, quality as always, was top notch. Reo had a great reputation for building good reliable cars, and the new 1911 Reo was no exception. The car had a four cylinder 30 – 35 horsepower engine displacing 245 cubic inches. Steering wheel position moved to the left side for 1911, previous Reo production had the steering wheel on the right side. Transmission was a three speed sliding gear unit. The cars were fairly priced at $1250, which was several hundred dollars more than a Model T Ford.
Fore doors were optional on the 1911 Reo. Most buyers opted for the doors.
Reo had professional stunt drivers using its cars on cross country trips to prove how rugged and dependable their cars were. In 1911 there were trans – Canada runs and coast to coast USA trips that were noteworthy.
Note the extra large fuel tank on the trans – Canada 1911 Reo. Apparently there was a problem that required attention! Reo claimed to produce 6588 cars in 1911, which was a scant fraction compared to Ford’s output that year.