There’s no two ways about it. Ford is absolutely dominating the off-road game these days. In just 10 short years they’ve pivoted their focus from go-fast sedan’s to 4X4s and got themselves right at the pointy end of the field. The biggest motors in their class, the most off-road features, the best towing capabilities. The only thing they’re lacking locally is a competitor to the unrivalled Wrangler, although stateside the Bronco is taking the fight there too. But what most people don’t realise is Ford near enough invented the off-road game over 100 years ago, way back with the original Model T. Confused? Let’s take a journey back in time together.
The early days
People often look at early vehicles like the Model T and think they’re fragile, but that’s not really the case. While their skinny wheels, open bodies, and primitive drivetrains are nowhere near as robust as modern 4X4s, their use was very similar. Back in 1908 when the first Model T rolled off the production line, roads were only in their infancy. Sure, the Main Street of Sydney would have likely been asphalt, anything out of the Main Street of most towns would have been dirt roads at best. Bridges in the back country were few and far between. Thing of most touring style firetrails and that’s the terrain brand new Model Ts were travelling on just to get their owners into town.
From the factory
Old mate Mr Henry Ford was painfully aware he was building a machine to travel where horses dominated. As a result the Model T was designed with this in mind. Sure, there was no 4X4, no mud tyres, and certainly no 12v winch to get you out of strife if you got a little out of hand. But there was huge amounts of ground clearance. From the production line the Model T was fitted with 30in tyres allowing them to bounce up steps and ledges. They were skinny too, as the top layer of dirt on tracks would turn to mud after a little rain, the tall skinny tyres would push through to the solid ground below. They were far lighter than modern vehicles too, as little as 540kg, that made them far less likely to sink in soft terrain. Their unique buggy leaf suspension made them flex like a comp truck too. Not bad for for something 114 years old right?
Can’t leave good enough alone
Just like today, people were mad about modifying their rigs back in 1908 too. Sure, there was no shortage of modifications to make a Model T faster, but making them more capable was common too. Aftermarket transmissions were available, as were two speed diffs. The result not only bumped top speed up from a little over 70km/h up to 100km/h. It’d also give a crawl speed of under 2km/h giving huge off road capability. Engine mods were common too. Bigger cams, fancy carbs, bigger radiators and even aftermarket heads were all options. With a few hours in the barn owners could double their horsepower. Of course that wasn’t all there was either. Bigger tyres, heavy duty wheels, bigger brakes. Owners even worked out they could climb steeper hills in reverse, the gravity fed fuel system struggling when the engine was higher than the tank. Sure. These modifications don’t directly translate to today’s vehicles. But it is amazing seeing the off-road ingenuity of today is something we shared with our ancestors. If you’re keen to see something truly out there, check out the video below from the Ford Europe YouTube channel to see these majestic beasts still in action.