Paint it black

Ford Model T

2008 looks like being a memorable year for many reasons.

For starters it’s the year that most of my colleagues decided to postpone their retirement because of the disastrous stock market crash.

More importantly it was also the year that I turned fifty.

It was also sixty years since John Cade had first trialled the use of lithium carbonate which transformed the lives of Bipolar Disorder sufferers forever more.

It’s been seventy years since the Italian neurologist Cerletti first trialled ECT on a population which would forever stigmatize a valuable and potentially life-saving treatment.

And it was eighty years ago that Charles Jules Henri Nicolle won the Nobel prize for medicine for discovering that human lice spread typhus.

It’s been ninety years since the Spanish Flu pandemic killed up to 100 million people, as many as the Black Death and it left survivors immune to the flu virus for up to nine decades thereafter courtesy of their B cell memory.

But in 2008 it’s been one hundred years since the first Model T Ford was manufactured at the Piquette plant in Detroit, Michigan.

Whilst only 11 cars were produced in the first month, Ford would become famous for developing an assembly line system of mass production which by 1915 would see more than half a million Model T’s roll off the production line annually, one every three minutes.

By the time Henry Ford had made his ten millionth automobile, 9 out of 10 cars in the world were Fords.

In a triumph of recycling Ford designed the wooden crates used by outside suppliers to ship parts in such a way that the timber was re-used in the bodies of the Model T.

Whilst originally intended to run on ethanol and scarce gasoline, prohibition introduced in 1920 meant that benzene rings rather than carbon chains would provide the momentum.

It’s worth remembering that there were also very few roads back in those days.

It was only in 1903 that a US physician, H Nelson Jackson, made the first trans-continental crossing of the United States in 63 days in a Winton.

Road conditions at the time were not too dissimilar to those encountered by Ewan McGregor in his recent crossing of Siberia televised in the program Long Way Round.

Quite a lot of skill was required to start the Model T with the timing needing to be retarded lest the risk of a forearm fracture from the hand crank kicking back.

The choke was placed conveniently near the radiator and thankfully electric starting came along in 1919.

As the fuel was gravity fed Model T’s weren’t capable of driving up steep hills when the ten gallon fuel tank was low, but this could usually be overcome by reversing uphill instead.

More than 15 million Model T’s had been built when production finally ceased in 1927, whilst the engines remained in production until 1941.

Although cars were only originally affordable for the very wealthy, by the 1920’s the price of a Model T had dropped to $300 US which in inflation adjusted figures is about one tenth of the price of a current base model Commodore.

Back in 1908 it could not have been foreseen that thousands of Model T’s would remarkably survive one hundred years as many of their parts were made from vanadium steel.

Safe motoring,
Dr Clive Fraser


Simple, practical, the world’s first mass-produced car.


Slow, hard to start and won’t go up steep hills.

This car would suit:

Geriatricians because they like old things.

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    Medical Motoring is an online record of the articles written by Dr Clive Fraser and published in the Australian Medicine magazine by the Australian Medical Association.