Market Spotlight

Ever popular, the Model T keeps chugging along

by Kyle Smith
16 August 2023 5 min read
Gilmore Car Museum

Few American cars have influenced history like the Model T Ford. This is the car that in its day was much more than a car: it put the U.S. on wheels and at one point had 61% of the overall automotive market. Times change though, and while more than 15 million Model Ts permanently altered how Americans went about their travel, the Model T faces a new challenge 115 years after its introduction: maintaining its relevance in the collector car world.

The Model T was born after a string of what is now known as the “alphabet cars.” Henry Ford and his team were innovating quickly, so naming convention may well not have been at the top of the list as they tested and evolved the automobile in search of the recipe that would put Ford on the map. Henry Ford was personally involved in the iterative process, and it was only after he put a Model T to the test on a hunting trip to Wisconsin and northern Michigan that it got his seal of approval. With the T, they finally had the right product, and deliveries began in October of 1908. To the consumer, who up to that point had been cautiously getting a taste of the automobile, the Model T was the perfect porridge: affordable, simple, and comparatively reliable.

gilmore-car-museum-drive blur pan
Gilmore Car Museum

The Model T’s overwhelming success enabled its longevity, even in the face of competition that was swiftly catching up. It’s long been recounted that Henry Ford put up a stiff fight to the idea that Ford Motor Company should leave the Model T behind and advance to a new car, resulting in a long 1908-1927 production run. 1920s auto market dynamics aside, the result for the collector is a still-healthy array of Model Ts in a variety of configurations.

The T chassis accommodated multiple body styles, ranging from multi-row open touring cars to enclosed two-seat coupes, and even pickup trucks. Each has its use-based differences—the trucks are sprung for heavy loads while the cab used for the touring models prioritizes seating area. Any model is perfect for parades or tours on secondary roads, but the touring does offer the most versatility and usable space. Over six million touring-bodied Model Ts were produced—more than any other body style—but its popularity today matches its popularity from the roaring ’20s, and as a result the open touring still commands a premium.

Considering the length of its production run and the body styles available, the relative few changes made over the Model T's life can feel surprising. The notion that all Model T's were painted black, stemming from the famous Henry Ford quote was true, at least from 1914-25. It was in fact an effort to simplify the production process. However, Model Ts made before or after that window had color options including green, red, gray, and blue. Another change during Model T production was the addition of an electric starter. A "standard" T required the driver or passenger to stand in front of the car and use a crank start to turn the crankshaft manually till the engine started. According to varying sources, the electric starter became an option for open cars and standard in closed-cab Model Ts in 1919.

That electric start makes the car sound more modern, but the experience of driving what many call a Tin Lizzie is radically different than any vehicle produced after the invasion of Normandy. There are three pedals, but they don't operate in the way you're accustomed to. In order from left to right you have the high/low clutch, reverse pedal, and then the brake pedal. Two stalks placed on either side of the steering wheel control the ignition timing and throttle. The high/low pedal is set up to allow the driver to "float neutral" by holding the pedal in the center of its range. From there pressing down engages first gear in the planetary transmission, and releasing it completely engages high gear. It's not that much different from some garden tractors today, except a Model T will putter down the road at 35mph.

Brett Lirones

Driving a T feels overwhelming at first, with an abundance of controls that seem to require attention. In reality, it's relatively straightforward—the timing lever is more or less set-and-forget once started, and your left foot controls forward motion while your right tends to the brakes and reverse. Most drivers familiar with driving a manual transmission can pick up the process and become competent in a short time. Henry Ford's original design brief of being simple to operate still holds true even in an era where drivers have been increasingly disconnected from the car.

The steering is a quick ratio and the chassis is designed to flex, so the amount of body roll can be disconcerting at first. Once you're used to that and offer the T smooth inputs, you're rewarded with a capable, old-time treat as a mellow chuff, chuff, chuff comes from the single small exhaust under the car.

Thanks to the sheer volume of Model Ts out there, prices have long been relatively flat, though recent history has disrupted that. The momentary uptick in values during the pandemic has receded, and while #1 (concours) and #2 (excellent) condition cars appear to have found their footing slightly below their prior plateau, #3 (good) and #4 (fair) condition Model Ts currently sit slightly above 2020 values. The Model T is one of those collector vehicles with enough examples out there at any given time that if the prices start to trend up there will always be sellers primed to take advantage and thus drive the price back down.

As might be expected for a car of this vintage, boomers and pre-boomers are just under 60 percent of active buyers of the Ford Model T, as measured by Hagerty's insurance quotes. Gen-X holds a 28 percent share, but perhaps most compelling is the growing level of interest from millennials and Gen-Z. In 2020, the two youngest cohorts of collectors made up 9.27 percent of quotes sought for Model Ts. Today, that number stands at 13.25 percent. While not dramatic, any indication that younger generations are gravitating toward the Tin Lizzie bodes well, not just for values, but for continuing to see these cars on the road.

A Model T rarely makes sense as one's only vintage vehicle, but when added to a collection it can become a novelty that is fun, dependable, easy to repair, and has benefit of a community with tons of knowledge and support to keep it running and on the road. The Model T is the perfect car on which to tinker and learn, and to take out on special occasions. Though it's not as functional as a more modern classic, to think of it that way misses the appeal of its altogether different driving experience.

Events for cars like the Model T are another part of the ownership draw. Whether it's more traditional like the Old Car Festival at the Henry Ford Museum, or a mustachioed revival of old-timey racing put on at The Race of Gentlemen, there are plenty of get-togethers enticing younger buyers to search for aging iron.

Baby Boomer and pre-boomer generations still hold nearly 75% of all Model Ts, but with younger generations moving in, the Model T's place—not just in history, but on the road, where it belongs—remains safe for the foreseeable future.


  • Bob Coté says:

    Back in the mid 60’s, my grandfather took my little brother and me to a local putt putt golf course where the owner of the course proudly displayed his Model T. Eventually, we gravitated over to the car and while we were admiring it, the owner walked up to my grandfather and asked “Do you remember how to drive one of these?” With that “invitation “, my grandfather climbed in, sat down, and thought for a moment. Then, without missing a beat, he went through all the required steps and fired the engine right up. A broad smile slowly appeared across his aged face. Without a doubt one of my fondest childhood memories.

  • Doug Leithauser says:

    I was able to learn to drive a Model T at the Gilmore museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan. It was a great experience that I would recommend to anyone who has an interest in the cars. I believe I drove 3 different cars that day. It is not terribly expensive, and you probably can get your SO to pay for it as a gift!

  • paul s murray says:

    Where I grew up there was a little section in the woods with a bunch of old cars, mostly Buick’s and Olds from the fifties, where I’d take my dog and sneak off to have a smoke. The old farmer who put them there after they’d been used up had ; in one of the barns where the stray dogs that he fed with industrial sized bags of Purina lived , a Fordson , a Farm All and a T touring . The T his father had bought second hand and was original with the exception of the usual replacement parts. Even a lot of the original specially designed vendor packing crates that became floors ( a bit of trivia ) were still in tact. Every once and a while he’d take it out for a spin and every once and a while I’d hear it chugging along behind me and he never failed to stop and ask if I wanted a lift. Simpler times and simple car that anyone with just a bit of know how, the tools provided ( fit US and Metric sizes I believe ) and a little file work could fix. So with the ease of maintenance and relative inexpensive cost it’s no wonder that the proceeding gens would take them to heart. Like an old go-cart with a 5 horse Briggs, how can you say no.

  • Gary Bechtold says:

    It’s always fun to see a Model T show up at a car meet and park next to some muscle car.

  • Paul Weiler says:

    As a member of gen x, I never really had that much interest in Model T’s, as I preferred muscle and sports cars. I recently however added a 1918 Model T roadster to my collection, and my wife, kids and I are having the time of our life! Just watching them learn to drive it evokes a smile. I would highly encourage anyone on the fence about buying one to go ahead and take the plunge, you won’t regret it.

  • George Loforte says:

    What most people don’t realize is the running boards floor and even the coil box were were made using vendor boxes.

  • Paul Flora says:

    They are really Fun to Drive and Cheap to maintain. It doesn’t get any better

  • RMN says:

    I’m a member of the Model T club (I don’t own one I own the competition a 1909 Buick). A few years ago we had Henry Ford III at a gathering and afterwords we invited him to come out and drive the cars. Imagine our surprise when he told us he had never driven a Model T (???). We took him out and taught Henry Ford how to drive a Model T. It was a very memorable experience for everyone.

  • paul s murray says:

    Current Ford CEO Jim Farley’s grandfather worked at the River Rouge Plant building Model T,s in 1918. He finished 12th in the IMSA Sports Challenge at Daytona in a GT 4 Mustang. Brand loyalty still matters.

  • Jim Rosenthal says:

    How do you put it in neutral at a stop light?

    • RMN says:

      To put the car in “neutral” with the engine running push the left pedal approximately halfway down. Interestingly GMs of that time are different😄

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