100 years on the move, with Ford
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.