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1931 Ford Model A: Its Impact on Ford’s History

By Lars-Göran Lindgren Sweden (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy – Lars-Göran Lindgren – Wikimedia Commons
The Model T may have put America on wheels, but by the mid-20s, superior products from competitors were eating into Ford’s sales. Its successor, the Model A, managed to keep the T’s bargain price while offering all the amenities shoppers expected in a car, keeping the company in business through the Great Depression.


Begrudgingly Building a Normal Car

Henry Ford thought the Model T was the only car his company should build, even after repeated attempts by his employees to introduce a new vehicle. He even went so far as to kick in the windshield of a prototype presented to him after he returned from vacation.

Ford was finally forced to replace the car in the wake of the new Chevrolet. Although higher in price, it offered features that made it much easier to live with. Model T sales plummeted, and production was shut down on May 27, 1927. There was no car ready to take its place, forcing designers to rush a design into production.


Model A – A Crash Course in Design

The Model A was launched just six months after the shutdown, pulling together concept work done during the previous decade. The result was thoroughly modern, giving Ford something that could go compete with Chevy.

The fuel tank, mounted in front of the firewall, now had a gas gauge. Instead of an awkward foot-operated transmission and hand-operated throttle, the controls used the pedal and lever arrangement we use today. Four wheel brakes and hydraulic shock absorbers helped bring the design into the modern era, while prices were kept in line with its predecessor.

The exterior was based on concept sketches drawn by Ford’s son, Edsel. He gave the car body-length lines that made it look sporty and less cobbled together. That styling was backed by a new 201 cubic inch (3.3 liter) flathead four-cylinder engine producing 40 hp and a three-speed manual. This combination was enough to reach a top speed of 65 mph, a whopping 20 mph faster than the Model T.

By 1931, the A covered the entire market with 16 body styles ranging from a roadster to commercial chassis.


Helping Ford Survive the Great Depression

Had Ford continued with the faltering T, his company probably would have closed in the wake of the stock market crash. Model A sales fell by 50% in 1931, but with over 600,000 units changing hands, it was enough to ensure the company’s profitability. As hundreds of American automakers shut down, Ford emerged from the depression as the largest of 41 remaining manufacturers.


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