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Home Car Culture Cleveland museum recalls car shopping 100 years ago

Cleveland museum recalls car shopping 100 years ago

Our weekly roundup of car museum news and notes

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(Editor’s note: The Western Reserve Historical Society, which includes the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum, recently published the following article in its newsletter and we’ve been granted permission to share it with our readers.)

What better way to usher in the coming year than with the purchase of a brand new car? Hypothetically, let’s say you are shopping for a new Ford, for example. Now, to have some fun, let’s say you were shopping for a new Ford exactly 100 years ago. What would be on offer, and what would the experience for today’s consumer be like? Let’s listen in on the conversation between ‘C,’ the customer, and ‘D,’ the dealer.

‘D’: ‘Good morning little lady, what can we do for you?’

‘C’: (With a slight frown), ‘I’m interested in buying a new car, and I see you’ve got plenty on hand.’

‘D’: ‘Sure do Miss, fresh off the assembly line in Detroit. We’ve got whatever you need; a Sedan, a Coupe, a Roadster Pickup, a Runabout, and a top-of-the-line Touring, all courtesy of Mr. Henry Ford.’

‘C’: ‘Are these the famous Model T’s I’ve heard so much about?’

‘D’: ‘Sure are Miss; reliable as the sunrise, comfortable and affordable, too! Why, just since 1908, we’ve sold five million of ‘em. All those customers can’t be wrong!’

‘C’: ‘That little convertible looks very nice over there.’

‘D’: ‘Yep, that’d be the Runabout, a two-seater that has plenty of pep, and even has electric headlights! I hope you’re a pretty good driver, as this little beauty can hit 45 miles per hour, and keep at it all day long!’

‘C’: ‘I think I can manage. The black paint is certainly very shiny, but does it come in any other colors?’

‘D’: ‘Nope!’

‘C’: ‘How about the other models in the line-up?’

‘D’: ‘Nope! Word is that Mr. Ford got a good deal on a volume purchase of black paint!’

At this point in history, most car buyers appreciated value and affordability, regardless of available body colors. In 1921, nearly 57 percent of the automobiles sold worldwide were Ford Model T’s! Ford was a genius at integrated assembly as well. Outside parts suppliers were required to use a certain type of wood for the part’s shipping crates. The wood was recycled into building the wooden framework for the car’s bodies, and the leftovers were turned into charcoal briquettes, marketed under the trade name ‘Kingsford.’

‘C’: ‘The interior looks pretty Spartan. I don’t see any air conditioning’.

‘D’: (Blank look)

‘C’: Well, does it have a heater at least?’

‘D’: ‘Nope’.

‘C’: ‘What do you do in the winter time?’

‘D’: ‘Dress for the weather!’

To reduce overall price, the Model T was pared down to the bare essentials. The options and equipment we consider standard today were just a pipe dream back then. Climate control, heated, cooled, and massaging seats, GPS navigation, radio/stereo, turn signals, electric windshield wipers, tire pressure sensors, remote locking and starting, automatic transmission, leather upholstery; all were unavailable.

‘C’: ‘Well, I guess I’m still interested in the Runabout. What sort of money are we talking about?’

‘D’: ‘Including the electric starter option, which I highly recommend for a young lady like yourself, we are looking at right around $400 out the door. Since West Virginia is still the only state in the union with sales tax, you won’t have to worry about that.’

‘C’: ‘$400 a month seems pretty pricy for that bare bones car’.

‘D’: ‘A month?! Lady, that’s the price for the whole car! I hope you can pay in cash, as we don’t finance here.’

Henry Ford was dead set against buying a car on credit, which he referred to as ‘morally reprehensible.’ Instead, Ford dealers could act almost like a savings bank, accepting regular deposits from customers until they could pay for the vehicle entirely. General Motors, forming their own financial branch for consumer loans, began to chip away at Ford’s near-monopoly of the car market, until Ford was forced to follow suit.

‘D’: ‘Well Miss, it’s been a pleasure! I think you’ll really enjoy your new Ford, and look pretty snazzy behind the wheel! Remember, she’ll run on gasoline, kerosene, or methanol, so you’ll never get stuck on empty!’

The Model T was one of the first true ‘Flex Fuel’ vehicles in America, a real advantage since many were put to use in rural environments, where gas stations were few and far between.

Let’s return to our own time, back to the spacious, modern Ford dealership, where our purchase is being concluded.

‘D’: ‘Thank you and congratulations Ms. Smith for the purchase of your new Ford SUV. I’m sure you’ll love it!’

‘C’: ‘Of course. By the way, I’m interested in one of those factory roof racks. How much extra would that be?’

‘D’: ‘Right around $400, plus tax.’

Today, we are living in something of a new ‘Golden Age’ of automobile production, from 300 mph hyper-cars to a mind-boggling array of sport utility vehicles, available to consumers across the financial spectrum. In the early 1920s, Cleveland’s car buyers were also afforded a wealth of choices from domestic and foreign automakers. 

Around fifty American automobile companies (down from 253 in 1908) provided everything from utility to pure luxury vehicles. Detroit had surpassed Cleveland as the epicenter of automobile manufacturing, but names like Jordan, Cleveland, Peerless, Chandler, and Winton kept the flame alive in the Western Reserve.

Gilmore sets Winter Lecture Series

The Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan, has announced the schedule for its annual Winter Lecture Series, which launches January 17 at 3 p.m. (Eastern) with “Passenger Train Travel in 1916” by railroad historian Mark Tomlonson. 

Most of the presentations, starting at 3 p.m. Sundays (except April 4) through April 25, will be shared via Facebook Live.

Among the upcoming topics are “Buying and Restoring Your Own Antique Car,” February 21 with Kevin Fleck and John Hansen; “MG – An Interdisciplinary Education,” February 28 with John Twist; “Ford Icons: The Thunderbird Story,” March 14 with John Clor; “The Design and Build of the 1969 & 70 Shelby Mustang,” March 21 with Chris Engleman; and “Minature Models in Motion,” March 28 with John Lacko.

‘Bash’ registration opens

Registration is open for the annual Michelin NCM Bash, scheduled for April 22-24 at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The event includes time at the museum’s Motorsports Park, seminars with technician Paul Koerner, product demonstrations, road tours, visits to car museums and the Dueling Grounds distillery.

The museum also announced that after 19 months as chief executive, Sean Preston is leaving. Former board of directors’ chairman Jack Matukas will serve as interim CEO, the museum has announced.

Gallery founder passes

William ‘Red’ Lewis | Automobile Gallery photos

William “Red” Lewis, founder of The Automobile Gallery & Event Center in Green Bay, Wisconsin, has died. He was 78. Lewis owned several PDQ Car Wash outlets and was the founder of the Touchless Car Wash system, which he started in 1984 after having to repair so many antennas and mirrors damaged by typical car-wash equipment.

Launched in 2016 in a historic former Cadillac dealership building, the facility is a non-profit car museum and event space. 

Special events this weekend

The Brumos Collection in Jacksonville, Florida, re-opens to the public this weekend after being closed by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The museum will be open Thursdays through Sundays with tickets purchased on the museum website.

Although known for its extensive collection of Porsches, featured as part of the re-opening are a 1935 Bugatti Type 35 recently restored by the museum staff and a 1923 Locomobile Model 48 Series 8 Sportif.

Also re-opening is the LeMay Collections museum at Marymount in Washington State. Advance registration is required and can be done through the museum website.

Mark your calendar

The National Packard Museum in Warren, Ohio, re-opens January 19 after being closed since December 8, 2020, because of the resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Canadian Automotive Museum in Oshawa, Ontario, presents on Zoom its Third Thursday Talk at 7 p.m. on January 21 with Ron Foss presenting “Fossmobile — Then & Now.”

The San Diego Automotive Museum will feature an electric vehicle exhibit from January 22 to May 22, 2021. Among the vehicles on display will be a 1914 Galt gas-electric roadster that has been on loan and on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. The Galt’s regular home is the Canadian Automotive Museum in Oshawa, Ontario, where the car is scheduled to return after its San Diego pit stop.

The Canadian Automotive Museum offers its Third Thursday Talk at 7 p.m. on February 18 with Dale Johnson presenting “When GM headed West.”

Does your local car museum have special events or exhibitions planned? Let us know. Email larrye@classiccars.com

Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

1 COMMENT

  1. Great story about the Model T —- Kingsford —
    Keep up the good work — lets hope we are all “On the Road Again” soon
    Chuck Clarke

  2. I grew up in Cleveland and fondly remember visiting the Crawford Auto Museum located on University Circle. It was there that I caught the automotive bug, especially for such classics as the Duesenberg, Cord and Packards. My great grand parents had one of the early Cadillacs and always swore by them over the years.

  3. Excellent story. I actually have a steel 1923 T Bucket that I drive on a regular basis. It’s definitely not looking like the original truck did and runs, looks and sounds so much better. Thinking about doing some sort of a 100 year old birthday celebration in 2023 for the car shows. Maybe a display showing a original unmodified 23 T with a write up on costs, options and pictures?

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