100 Years Ago

Sort of ungainly, with wooden wheels and available in any shade of black you might desire, the
Ford Model T was unveiled to the world on October 1st 1908. It was produced with only minimal changes through 1927 until it's successor, the Model A, was introduced.

In 1913, Ford opened a manufacturing plant in Memphis that produced wheels and wooden body foundations for the popular car. The Model T was now the first automobile being produced on a moving assembly line, and Memphis was a part of the equation, supplying parts to the factory in Detroit. Memphis has a long history with Ford. First as a parts supplier, and later as a production site of commercial vehicles. Ford moved it's plant from Union avenue to South Parkway in 1924. Thus giving rise to the commercial vehicle plant, and to an entirely new neighborhood that came to be know as Fordhurst. As a notorious side note, the Union avenue plant was the site of one of the most daring and deadly crimes in our city's history. In 1921, an attempted
payroll robbery resulted in three deaths and several injuries during the ensuing shoot out and chase.

Not coincidentally, the simplicity of the Model T lent itself to some creative modifications as the 20th century went forward. In short order, they became the foundation for hot rods. Note that one of Ray Godman's earliest Tennessee Bo Weevil racers in the photo above is based on a heavily modified T roadster.

Here, a Model T coupe is repurposed into a drag racer at the Halls, TN airstrip.

And when hot rods became street rods, Memphians were still setting trends. Vernon Walker's Jaguar suspended T sedan drew many admiring glances in the late 60's.

And of course. the once ubiquitous "T-Bucket" may have singlehandedly been responsible for the growth trend in street rodding that occurred during the late 60's and the early 70's. Available in "kit" form from several sources for relatively low cost, these cars were fast and possessed an appropriately hot rod appearance. They did not require special skills to assemble, and hunting for parts through junkyards was minimized. Net result was that a bunch of these cars appeared on the highways and introduced numerous people to the street rod world.

I was never hugely impressed with some of the over-the-top T bucket builds that were standard fare through much of the 70's, but the look seen in the trendsetting
Norm Grabowski & Tommy Ivo cars a decade earlier fits real well among today's nostalgia driven retro rods. Maybe it's time for some renewed interest in the Model T. Just in time for it's second century as an automotive icon.