What Is It?

T he photograph shown the past couple of weeks was of the oldest surviving car manufactured by the Ford Motor Co. – a Model A from 1903.


In fact, this particular car is the third car assembled on the first day of manufacture by the fledgling company in Detroit during the year Henry Ford and a handful of others founded the company.

Ford’s great-grandson, William Clay Ford Jr., bought this car at auction in October as part of this year’s sesquicentennial celebration of Henry Ford’s birth in 1863. He died in 1947.

We thought we would fool you with this 110-year-old car, but were we wrong! Several people guessed the photo showed a 1903 Cadillac, but that was understandable, because Cadillac was formed after Henry pulled out of the second of his three auto companies, the Henry Ford Co., and moved on with new plans.

Ford then formed Ford Motor Co., selling the Model A that first year, along with larger vehicles. Although his investors liked the larger models because they made more money, Ford eventually got his way and concentrated on smaller, less expensive cars.

Over the years, the alphabet progressed as he brought out better cars. In 1908, the Model T became the best-selling car, a record that would stand for decades.

Incidentally, Ford put the steering wheel on the left in the T, and other automakers quickly followed suit.

In 1927, the Tin Lizzie was replaced by a new Model A, the one you might be more familiar with.

Enough of the past; back to the present. Chosen randomly from the correct entries was the name of Curt Berg Jr., of North Augusta, who wrote:

“It is a 1903/1904 Ford Model A tonneau. I had and put together a plastic model of this car when I was a boy almost 60 years ago. I confirmed my recall by Googling the car and Wikipedia gives all of the details. Seventeen hundred were built during its two years in production. It had an opposed two-cylinder, 8-horsepower engine.”

Berg wins a prize from The Augusta Chronicle. Other readers correctly identifying the vehicle were:

AUGUSTA: Carolyn Ogles wrote: “The photo is the oldest Ford car known to be in existence. This was the third vehicle to be built on the first day of production. Bill Ford Jr. recently purchased it for $264,000.”

Douglas Graves was of similar mind: “This 1903 Model A was the third vehicle built on the first day of production. It’s the oldest Ford car known to be in existence.”

CANTON, GA.: David Anderson wrote: “The significance of this car is that it is Ford’s first production vehicle. Most everyone is aware of the first assembly line-produced vehicle, the Ford Model T, and its successor, the more familiar Ford Model A, but not everyone is aware of this Ford Model A.

“This iteration was hand-built from 1903 to 1905 and sold for around $750. As shown in the teaser shot, optional rear seat and headlights would have added around $100. The full production run was approximately 1,750 units.

“The Model T came along in 1908 and was originally hand-built. The assembly line did not come along until 1914. At that point, workers could assemble a Model T from start to finish in 90 minutes.

“The second generation Model A began production on a revamped version of that Model T assembly in late 1927 and sold for more than $300 less than this 1903 Model A because of cost-cutting measures put in place by Henry Ford.

“One of those measures was to instruct vendors and suppliers on the exact dimensions of the wooden crates used to ship parts to the factories. The wooden crates were disassembled and the wood was used in the building of the cars!

“With this assembly line, Henry built 4,320,446 second-generation Model A’s from 1927 to 1931.

“Now here is your history lesson for the day. Henry Ford’s first automotive venture was as an employee of the Detroit Automobile Co., which went out of business in 1901. His second venture was forming the Henry Ford Co., but a rift developed between him and his board of directors.

“He left the company before any car production began. So with the rights to his own name intact, some designs and $900, he formed the Ford Motor Co.

“But, as Paul Harvey would say, ‘Now for the rest of the story…’ That second company, the Henry Ford Co., was recapitalized and renamed – Cadillac! Look up pictures of the 1903 Cadillac Model A runabout; the similarities are remarkable!”

HARLEM: Jean Russeth said her husband, Gary, has constructed a Model A, in addition to other automobiles, from wood.

KEYSVILLE, GA.: Glenn Widner wrote: “1903 Ford Model A. Four-seat tonneau body, 8-horsepower engine. Of three cars sold on July 13, 1903, this is the only survivor. The three cars sold on that day kept Ford Motor Co. solvent.”

MARTINEZ: Jim Muraski wrote: “This week’s car is a 1903 Ford Model A rear-entry tonneau. This original Model A was the first car produced by the Ford Motor Co.

“Seventeen hundred and fifty of these were built through 1904, when they were replaced by the Model C. This production total also included a two-seater called a runabout.

“Both models came with a horizontally mounted flat two-cylinder engine that produced eight horsepower and propelled this 1,250-pound machine to a top speed of 28 mph.”

PERRY, FLA.: Larry Anderson: “The car is an original 1903 Model A tonneau. The first auto that Henry Ford produced.

It had a two-cylinder, 10-horsepower rear engine. The first inline four-cylinder front engine Ford made was the Model B with 24 horsepower, but it sold for $2,000, almost three times as much at the Model A.

“The Model C was basically the Model A with a front engine and a updated carriage and sold for around $500.

“What people don’t realize is that Ford made many cars before the success of the Model T (of which 15 million were sold).

“Ford started out naming his models with the letters of the alphabet starting with A and so on until the Model S, then started mass-producing the Model T in 1908.

“The original Model A was made in a converted old wagon company in Detroit; that is where Ford made his early automobiles.

“This car is not to be confused with the 1928 Model A. After the success with the Model T and his assembly line way of producing autos, Henry Ford restarted the model letter over to A again to produce the new Fords of the future.”


WOODFIELD, OHIO: Aurora Block guessed the Ford after she and her husband, Francis, picked up an Augusta Chronicle in Warrenton, Ga. They had driven down to Georgia to buy and transport old cars home as part of their hobby.

The couple’s collection includes a 1939 Plymouth, two 1957 Ford Thunderbirds and a 1965 Pontiac GTO.

She likes to driver her 1963 Chevrolet Corvair Spyder with a four-speed manual transmission. His favorite vehicle from their collection is a 1964 Pontiac Catalina 2+2, a sporty version of Pontiac’s full-size line.

NO CITY LISTED: Mike Walker wrote: “1903 Ford Model A rear-entry tonneau.”

Also, Steve Redd said it was a “1903 Ford A Model.”


While we’re on the subject of old cars, take a look at this massive chrome grille and tell us what car it adorns – the year and make. Leave a message with your guess at (706) 823-3419 or e-mail glynn.moore@augustachronicle.com.

Please tell us your name and telephone number and the city you live in. It helps if you spell your name for us so we can include your response along with everybody else’s.

You have until noon Wednesday to respond. A winner will be chosen randomly. If you win, let us know when you would like to pick up your prize.

– Glynn Moore, staff writer