100 years on the move, with Ford

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODDRIVING - BREN­DAN SEERY

THE two cars sit nose to nose on the tar­mac – one sparkling in gold metal­lic paint, an­other in the only colour op­tion at the time – black. They are rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent, yet have so many sim­i­lar­i­ties.

Up­right and stern, with the ghost of Henry Ford be­hind the wood-rimmed steer­ing wheel, is a 1917 Ford Model T.

The 2015 Ford Fi­esta 1.0 Ecoboost Am­bi­ente has not been in Ford’s lo­cal me­dia fleet for any­thing like 98 days, never mind the 98 years the “Tin Lizzie” has been pop­ping and splut­ter­ing.

But the two cars have more in com­mon than you would think.

In its day, the Model T – the first mass-pro­duced car in history and one of the best-sell­ers, too – was at the cut­ting edge of au­to­mo­tive tech­nol­ogy. The T’s four-cylin­der, in­line, 2.9-litre side-valve en­gine was, in the sec­ond decade of the 20th cen­tury, an amaz­ing piece of kit.

The lit­tle Fi­esta is, like­wise, an au­to­mo­tive talk­ing point be­cause of its en­gine, a 998cc, three-cylin­der tur­bocharged petrol unit. Many peo­ple (es­pe­cially in South Africa) have said such a tiny mo­tor is not up to the job.

But it cer­tainly is – push­ing out 74kW. That’s the equiv­a­lent of 100 horse­power in the old mea­sure­ments. The Model T churned out 20 horse­power.

Then there are the driv­e­trains – again, cut­ting edge for their times. The T’s is a sys­tem of bands which con­verted en­gine torque to ro­ta­tional speed. It was said to be a “three speed”– two for­ward ra­tios and one re­verse.

The Fi­esta has Ford’s clever dual-clutch Pow­erShift tech­nol­ogy which of­fers six speeds.

The first part of the test – con­vened at the James Hall Mu­seum of Trans­port in La Rochelle in Johannesburg – in­volved start­ing the T.

One of its keep­ers, young Ford fa­natic Shawn Venter, shows me how to turn over the crankhan­dle, which is just be­low the ra­di­a­tor. It’s tough!

Shawn, who helps care for two of the Model Ts in the col­lec­tion, then gin­gerly heads out for a spin around the adjacent park, forc­ing me re-learn ev­ery­thing about driv­ing to mas­ter the ve­hi­cle.

First, the throt­tle is on the steer­ing wheel – and you ad­just en­gine speed with a lever. You set the en­gine tim­ing con­stantly, us­ing an­other lever on the other side of the wheel. There are three ped­als on the floor – the left one is the gear lever or ac­tu­a­tor, the cen­tre one is the re­verse en­gage­ment and the one to the right is the brake.

What you do is in­crease en­gine revs with the throt­tle and then en­gage the drive by push­ing for­ward with the left pedal – the op­po­site of what you do with a clutch.

Then, he asks me if I would like a go at driv­ing the T.

We take the older, 1912, white coupé version. Shawn takes the first stint be­fore pulling over and swop­ping seats.

The wooden wheel, al­though large, feels just right; the hand throt­tle less so. But once the revs have been di­alled in and the hand­brake re­leased, push­ing the gear pedal for­ward starts us off.

It’s a bit jerky and progress is slow, but it doesn’t take long be­fore we’re bounc­ing along. The tinyengined Fi­esta starts first time, its elec­tronic sys­tems, multi-valve lay­out and turbo-charger work­ing in uni­son. Flick the lever from Park into Drive or Sport, take your foot off the brake, squeeze the ac­cel­er­a­tor and away you go. And a lot quicker than the Model T, thanks to that turbo. The Model T has a top speed about just un­der 80km/h, reck­ons Shawn, but if you do that you have to be acutely aware of other mo­torists.

“They love this car so they of­ten pull over in front of you and stop to take pho­tos, not re­al­is­ing the brakes on this car are aw­ful!”

An­other is­sue with the old car is over­heat­ing and Shawn tells me that af­ter short runs like th­ese, with no fast rush­ing air to cool the ra­di­a­tor, the cap will soon start spew­ing steam.

There is a lot of lit­er­a­ture out there which says the Tin Lizzie would give be­tween 11 and 18 litres per 100km. By con­trast, the Fi­esta re­turned 5.3 litres per 100km on a 1 300km round trip to the Lowveld.

So, in ac­tual terms, you can­not com­pare the two cars. As a piece of trans­port, the Fi­esta does ev­ery­thing bet­ter, but the T is an icon.

A cen­tury later, the Fi­esta still de­liv­ers on the orig­i­nal prom­ise of Henry Ford of pro­vid­ing af­ford­able mo­tor­ing for the peo­ple.

GEN­ER­A­TIONS: The 2015 Ford Fi­esta 1.0 Ecoboost Am­bi­ente and the 1917 Ford Model T have more in com­mon than you would think.

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