TBT: Model T Time Machine: Ford Builds 1909 ‘Tin Lizzie’ for Car’s 50th Anniversary

Oct 26, 2023

While 15 million Model Ts were built during the “universal car’s” nearly two-decade production run, a plan to reproduce one from the car’s first model year proved more challenging. Ford embarked on a plan to build a 1909 Model T on a modern assembly line in 1958 – alongside then-new 1959 models – to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the car. 

Despite putting the world on wheels with millions of the ubiquitous “Tin Lizzies,” the rebuild project faced a challenge in securing all of the necessary parts. The 1909 Model T came several years before the moving assembly line was implemented, and only 10,607 were built that year. Of those, only the first thousand units out of the plant featured two levers. 

An intensive search was needed, since fewer than a dozen of the two-lever Model Ts Ford intended to re-create in 1958 were known to exist by the time of its Golden Anniversary. After a nationwide search with the help of antique auto shops, the bulk of a 1909 Model T – No. 839 – was purchased from an antique car hobbyist in Flint, Michigan. 

The car had been originally purchased by a family in Richmond, Virginia, who drove it for more than two decades before it was parked in a shed for a quarter-century. It was discovered in 1955 and changed ownership a couple times before coming back to Ford. A team from Ford worked to source the remaining parts and materials, but some, such as the wheels, fenders and upholstery, had to be custom made for the 50th anniversary build. 

Finally, the two-lever 1909 Model T was reassembled at Ford’s Mahwah Assembly Plant in New Jersey on Oct. 23, 1958 – behind a 1959 Ford Fairlane 500 and ahead of a 1959 Ford Custom 300. Plant employees who had assembled the original Model T, including the plant manager, were on hand for ceremonies marking its modern-day cameo reappearance.

Promotional materials note the 1909 Model T was more than two feet taller and six feet shorter than the 1959 Ford. It also weighed 1,200 pounds and featured a four-cylinder engine capable of producing only 22 horsepower. The Model T reproduction, at the time valued at $5,000, went on to be displayed at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn. 

This would not be the last modern-day Model T assembly, though. A series of six Model Ts were hand built to mark Ford’s Centennial in 2003. Ironically, the cars were based off the 1914 model, the first to be built on the moving assembly line, and featured new parts.

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