Ford Model K

Anyone taking the time to read this likely knows that Henry Ford’s story did not begin with the Model T.  Indeed, there was nearly an alphabet’s worth of automobiles leading up to the famous Tin Lizzie.  One world record-setting example was the Model K.  This is a picture of a Model K found at one of our nearby museums, Pioneer Village, which you really should visit if you have an interest in the history of transportation in America:


The Model K was the result of a partnership between Henry Ford and Alexander Young Malcomson, a successful coal merchant.  According to the book The Cars That Henry Ford Built by Beverly Rae Kimes, the two went into business together in 1902, with Malcomson supplying the financing.  Their goal was to develop a marketable automobile, but the two argued over what type of cars to build.  Ford wanted to build light, inexpensive cars and didn’t care for the big Model K.

The Model K had a 6-cylinder, vertical, 4 ½” bore x 4 ¼” stroke, 40 hp engine.  It had a 114” wheel base and weighed 2400 pounds.  It had a pressed steel frame and a 15-gallon gas tank under the seat that was good for 250 miles.  And just look at those brass headlights:

The world record involving the Model K was set in a 1907 24-hour Detroit endurance race.  I searched the back issues of our local paper to see if there was any mention of this race.  There was not.  Our local paper did cover many world records set that year in activities like bowling, pole vaulting, ballooning, shooting and stenography.  The paper even covered a cow in Fond du Lac that beat the world’s butter record, but apparently the car race just didn’t warrant coverage.   They should have put it on the front page, because it sounds like it was a nail-biter.

According to a write-up (found here) one of the Ford drivers by the name of Lorimer was driving at such speeds that onlookers thought each turn would be his last.   According to the writer, “It became evident to all that one of three things must happen before the day was done: (1) Either the boy who was driving with such apparent reckless disregard for consequences, would be killed in one of his mad slides around the turn; (2) the Ford car would give way under the terrific strain-and those who did not know the Ford construction,- lightness, flexibility and strength,-thought this must surely happen inside the hour; or (3) the Ford would win.”  The Ford Model K did win by covering 1135 miles, which exceeded the previous record by over 300 miles, and maintaining an average speed of 47.2 mph.

Regarding the Malcomson-Ford partnership, it had been absorbed into the newly established Ford Motor Company.  To work around Malcomson, Ford then started Ford Manufacturing Company in 1903 with James Couzens.  Malcomson saw the writing on the wall and sold his interest to Ford in July of 1906.  Ford went on to produce the car he wanted, the Model T, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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