On this day in 1927, the world first saw the Model A, the brainchild of Henry Ford. There’s an anecdote that Henry Ford refused to drive the first Model A off the assembly line for photographers covering the event. Apparently, Ford had never driven a standard stick-shift vehicle. No matter, Ford’s son Edsel did the honors on that memorable day in history.
Henry Ford had been urged by his son, his production manager Charlie Sorenson, and other colleagues to find a replacement for the Model T, first manufactured in 1908. In 1927, Ford finally gave in, halting the production of the Model T. That meant the firing of 60,000 workers. It also meant that Ford dealers had nothing to sell while waiting for whatever would ultimately replace the Model T.
As Ford prepared to make the switchover, the assembly line was moved from the plant in Highland Park’s Woodland Avenue, to a large structure in River Rouge. Gene Farkas was taken off the failed X-8 engine project to work on the Model A with Lawrence Sheldrick and Lincoln chief engineer Frank Johnson.
A Hardworking, Trustworthy Car
Ford’s Model T had revolutionized the car industry. The Model A seemed somewhat conventional by comparison. With its modern four-cylinder L-head engine, the Model T displaced 200.5 cubic inches, delivering 40 hp, not quite double that of the Model T. The Model A also offered coolant and oil pumps, four-wheel mechanical brakes—then novel, and the now standard three-speed manual transmission. The design was beautiful in its simplicity. Until today, the Model A is thought of as one of the most hardworking, trustworthy cars to ever be made in America.
The Model A was a good-looking car, an amazing feat considering the Ford Motor company did not, at that time, have a styling team. Edsel worked with Joe Galamb and Ford body suppliers to create the look of the new vehicle. The car was commonly described as a “baby Lincoln.” In addition to styling the vehicle, Edsel Ford also improved its intake manifold, allowing the vehicle’s engine to exceed its output targets.
Henry Ford was a controversial man who peddled conspiracy theories and antisemitism. Nonetheless, he was gifted at promoting his cars. Ford built up suspense about the upcoming launch of the Model A over several months. Just before the car was introduced to the public, Ford initiated a five-day media blitz, beginning November 28, 1927. The car manufacturer spent $2m on advertising in 2,000 newspapers across the nation.
A Cut Above
On December 2, the public finally got to see the long-anticipated Model A car. Over 9 million Americans flocked to Ford dealerships that same week to get a glance at the brand spanking new vehicle. The new car was a cut above the Model T, offering more features, colors, and nine body styles with the price tag ranging from $480-$600
Ford sales boomed with the launch of the Model A. This led to Ford surpassing Chevrolet for the number-one spot in 1929. Though Ford had predicted this new car would exceed the Model T for total sales, it just didn’t happen. While more than 15 million Model T cars were produced, the Model A sold only some 4.3 million vehicles, which is nonetheless, a respectable number.