COBWEB CORNERS: Model T ads didnít talk about this
By Mel McFarland
Just before World War I, there were some serious changes going on. One of them had to do with cars. The most amazing car in the country was the Ford Model T. It was introduced in 1908 and each year saw more of them on the road. They were easy to drive, as compared to other cars. But they had an unusual problem: They were really easy to steal!
Who was stealing Fords? School boys mainly! Starting an old car was not easy. I am sure you have seen how it was done, and maybe have even done it. There were no electric starters on most cars back then. You had to set the spark on the ignition, then crank the engine from the front of the motor. Hopefully you also remembered to take it out of gear.
The cranking usually started the motor running. You had to return to the driver's seat and adjust the ignition and sometimes the fuel before the motor ran smoothly. A young man somewhere figured out another way to start it. The word spread, and this was before electronic communications!
The trick was to find a Ford, or even a similar car, on a hill and depress the clutch to start it rolling. This was before two developments: emergency brakes and locks on ignitions. Once the car was rolling at a reasonable speed and the ignition was ready, the motor could be started by releasing the clutch.
All around, Fords were being reported stolen. This was usually in the afternoon, just after school. They were usually found later, sometimes out of gas, not far away. It did not take the police, and even car owners, long to figure out how this was happening. It did take a while for the solution to be invented: the key ignition switch.
The newspapers of the day were full of ideas as to how to stop these thefts, but we still see stolen cars today! The other big complaint back then is also still around: speeding!