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Chilton Answers: What’s the Difference Between the Ford Model T and Model A?

Ford Model T vs A

More than 125 years since the first self-propelled vehicles started to appear on the streets, all the primitive horseless carriages from before WWI look more alike that different to modern eyes. Many people today just refer to any of these little, old, clattering, smoking contraptions with spindly wheels and a flat upright windshield as a "Model T". Much later (nearly too late), in 1928, Ford introduced the successor which was such a great leap forward that they started their naming convention all over and called it "Model A".

The popularity of those early Fords cannot be overstated, but there were literally hundreds of other companies making cars back in those early days, how could one know that the vehicle they were looking at was actually a Ford Model T? Compared to cars today, the Model A and Model T both appear archaic, what are the easy to spot differences?

Ford Model T Body Styles

When Ford started out, the first production model in 1903 was called the Ford Model A, which was produced for just a couple years. The same was true of the Ford Model B, C, F, K, N, R, and S, selling just a few hundred each as Ford honed its product and production methods. Ford really hit it big with the 1908 Ford Model T, offering a combination of low cost and reliability, which is why it became so well-known.

Ford Model A Body Styles

The “new” Ford Model A rolled out of the factory in December of 1927 and the first of the 1928 Fords. Model A Fords were produced until 1932, with more than 4 million units sold, before the inevitable Model B was introduced, which would be the last of the letter models.

The differences between the two should be obvious, but a lot of people confuse them. There are many differences, but here are a few things that stand out when considering the Ford Model T and Ford Model A:

  • Size – The Model A is a larger car than the Model T, with an extra 3.5 inches between the wheels, and more than 24 inches of additional length. Depending on the model, the Model A could weigh 1,000lbs more than its predecessor.
  • Height – The Model T Ford is smaller in every way than the successor Model A, except for height. The Tin Lizzy is a very tall and upright car, perched above its wheels like a modern 4 x 4. The Model A is much lower slung, even at stock ride height with its 1920s wheels and tires.
  • Radiator Shell – The Model T radiator shell opening is flat across the top, while the Model A’s double curve reminds some of the top of a heart. Also, the Model T radiator’s sides are parallel and straight, while the Model A radiator sides are rounded and angle outward.
Model T vs. Model A Radiator Shell
  • Engine – The Ford Model T was equipped with a 177 cubic inch four-cylinder engine with 20 horsepower, with a top speed around 45 mph. The Ford Model A was equipped with a similar flat head four-cylinder engine, this one with 201 cubic inch displacement and twice the power at 40 hp and a top speed of 65 mph.
  • Ignition and Starting – The Model T Ford for the most part needed to be hand cranked to start it, and the ignition spark was adjusted by hand, to control the timer of its architect trembler coil ignition. The Model A featured electric start, and conventional ignition which required much less knowledge on the part of the owner.
  • Transmission – The Model T engine’s 20 hp were put through a two-speed planetary gear transmission operated by pedals, while the Ford Model A featuring a sliding gear three-speed transmission with conventional controls. Driving a Model T required mastering three pedals, a shift lever, and spark lever, and a throttle lever, and there was also an emergency hand brake.
  • Fuel Tank – The Model T fuel tank was under the driver seat, while the Model A fuel tank was in the cowl, between the engine and the passenger compartment. The Model A fuel filler cap is right there in the middle of the cowling in front of the windscreen, where the Model T has an air vent door.
  • Wheels – Nearly all Model T Fords have wooden spoked wheels from the factory, though wire wheels were available in some years. The Model A used wire spoke wheels or conventional stamped wheels.
  • Brakes – While the Model T relied on a single transmission brake, activated with the right-most foot pedal, the Model A had mechanically activated drum brakes at all four wheels.

Of course, these are just a few of the differences between the two early Fords. These days, you most frequently see Model T and A bodies used as the basis of hot rods, in which case all bets are off. But, once you spend some time studying the more curvaceous body of the Model A, and compare it with the phone booth like Model T, you’ll never confuse them again.