I've been looking at this for some time, trying how to pull this together.
Alexander Y. Malcomson was probably one of the three most important people involved in the early success of Ford Motor Company. He partnered with Henry Ford, helping put together investors for Ford's third attempt at an auto manufacturing company. He and Henry Ford were the two largest stock holders, with 28% ownership in the new Ford Motor Company. Malcomson also contributed by bringing his coal business bookeeper/manager, James Couzens, the third important participant, into the enterprise.
FMC was almost immediately successful, paying substantial dividends less than a year after organization in the summer of 1903. By 1905, the company was one of the leading car makers in the U.S..
This is where things get sticky. Most Ford history narratives indicate Malcomson was responsible for production of the Model K. One of the earliest (that I've found) sources of this version is written by one of the most widely read and well regarded Ford history's, "Ford; The Times, The Man The Company" by Allan Nevins, copyright 1954, Columbia University and Charles Scribner's Sons. The author wrote:
"Malcomson, however, had fallen in love with the design of the much costlier six-cylinder Model K, of which he had high expectations; and he received some support from the Dodge brothers, who knew that the current trend was toward big cars."
"Ford The Times, the Man, The Company"
Page 275, Chapter 12, The Battle For a Cheap Car
As a result of this passage, several Ford historians have copied this theme, that A. Y. Malcomson "loved" the Model K, and was the driving force behind it's production.
Another example, from Robert Lacey's book:
Let's look at the sequence of events surrounding Henry Ford, A. Y. Malcomson, and the Model K.
According to Oliver Barthels, an early associate of Henry Ford, Ford approached him (Barthels) to help with a six cylinder engine Ford had been working on since early 1904 (Oliver Barthels, Ford Reminiscences, Benson Library, THF). To put in a timeline perspective, this is six months after the first car is produced by Ford Motor Company. FMC is producing the Model A, and transistioning to the Model C. The four cylinder Model B will not appear on the market until late 1904.
Meanwhile, the Ford six cylnder racer is built, and by early 1905 is ready for it's first race. During trials at Ormond (Daytona) Beach the racer makes a good impression, with Barney Oldfield and Alexander Winton both telling the press the racer will hold the one mile world record. However, the racer crankshaft breaks and does not race competitively at the event.
In the fall of 1905, Ford advertising announces two new models for 1906, the six cylinder Model K and four cylnder Model N.
Now is when things start to fall apart. Below is an excerpt from a lawsuit brought against Alexander Malcomson by the Reeves Manufacturing Company in 1909. In the suit, Malcomson and Aerocar are named for not fullfilling a contract for 500 engines, to be delivered by Reeves. The contract was signed, by Malcomson, on November 1, 1905. The engines, 20 hp (brake), air cooled are to be delivered during 1906, at a cost of $320 per engine.
If "Malcomson, however, had fallen in love with the design of the much costlier six-cylinder Model K, of which he had high expectations; " why was he ordering 500 twenty horse-power four cylinder air-cooled engines for the car his new company, Aerocar, intends to produce? The Model K was still in the planning stages. Contracts had not been signed for production of either Model K or N components, and Malcomson has signed a contract for the engines to power his new car. If Malcomson is indeed the driving force behind the six cylinder Model K, why would he choose an "off the shelf" four cylinder 20 hp engine to power his new car?
Back to the timeline. In early December, 1905, the media reported that Malcomson would head up a new company, Aerocar:
When Henry Ford and the directors of Ford Motor Company learn of Malcomson's new company, a meeting was held and the directors agree to send a letter to Malcomson, insisting he resign his directorship on the Ford board (December 5, 1905):
excerpt from FMC directors minutes, December 5th 1905,
courtesy THF, Acc 412, all rights apply
In my opinion, at this point, A. Y. Malcomson ceases to have any serious control in the direction of Ford Motor Company. While he will retain his stock until July 1906, he has been called out to resign from the board, refused the request, and become actively involved in the building of the new Aerocar. He is named president of Aerocar, and a new state of the art plant is being erected by late December, 1905.
Again, the question remains, if Malcomson were the driving force behind the Model K, and proponent of the six cylinder engine, why will his first offering through the company he is financing, use a 20 hp, four cylinder air cooled engine?
Next, comparison of the Aerocar with Ford Model K.
I'll play devil's advocate. Malcomson could have been using an available four cylinder to get his "foot in the door" bringing a new company on line. However, any way you slice it, it pretty much shows that Malcomson could not have been the driving force behind the model K Ford because he was pretty much out of the Ford picture by then. Henry seems to be the one that was pushing the engineering envelope toward a six cylinder from fairly early. Only a handful of European companies had even built a six cylinder car by the end of 1904.
One needs to remember that things we take for granted that we know today, were in fact not known at that time. Henry was trying to learn what could and could not be done at that time. He learned a lot from the six cylinder race car and the model K. The model T might have never been if it weren't for them.
I love to read your research, Rob. Thank you.
Get well soon, drive carefully, and enjoy, W2
Always a pleasure to read your posts. Of course these are just my opinions.
Interestingly, for 1907, Reeves offered both air cooled and water cooled engines. And, they offered both in four and six cylinder versions.
Reeves six cylinder air cooled engine:
However, for model year 1907, Aerocar went with a forty horse water-cooled model (still Reeves)l, and two 20 hp cars, a touring and runabout. I believe the two air cooled cars received the remaining 20 hp Reeves engines that went unused for 1906. Looking at the 1909 lawsuit, Aerocar only took 319 of the 500 engines Malcomson originally contracted for. While Ford sold about this many Model K in 1906, Aerocar evidently had engines left over, and continued to place them in their 1907 and then 1908 models, before going out of business.
Comparing the 1906 Ford and Aerocar reveal significant differences. Again, if Malcomson pushed the development of the Model K, I would think he would have produced a similar car. Below are side by side comparisons of the Ford and Aerocar chassis and engine. The Aerocar used a three speed transmission, exposed drive shaft, tubular front axle, and many other different design features from Ford:
The 20 hp air cooled engine was significantly different, down to the bronze bearings, another significant design difference from Ford's superior babbitt main bearings:
It looks to me as thought Malcomson was concerned with features, whereas Henry Ford was interested in cutting edge mechanical design. The Model K ($300 cheaper) also offered dual ignition as a standard feature, where Aerocar only utilized conventional coils with timer.
Another interesting fact, Malcomson/Aerocar paid (according to court testimony) $320 per Reeves engine. With the negatives sometimes associated with the Dodge Bros. relationship with Ford, Ford Motor Company paid only $287 for the six cylinder engine used with the Model K. Not bad for a much larger, more powerful motor including plumbing and water-pump.
Ford customs paperwork, listing all component costs, submitted to Canadian customs in 1906:
"the Automobile magazine featured both cars on the same page in this April 1906 issue. The Aerocar was priced at $2800 while the Model K at $2500. It appears to me the Aerocar was a well appointed car, while Ford produced a performance based higher power car. The Aerocar had one feature not seen on many 1906 cars I'm aware of, front fore doors:
Being a member of Ford's team you think Malcomson would have had the design advantage and cost savings of engineering by taking the knowledge with him that he learned at Ford and then would be able to produce a less expensive car.
I get the impression Malcomson was not to involved in, or concerned with the engineering of cars, either at Ford or Aerocar. Another "reminiscences" party, I believe Director Bennett) said Malcomson was not involved directly with the operations at Ford Motor because he was heavily involved running his coal business. If that's true, it is another strike against the notion that Malcomson "forced" Ford to build the Model K. I'll try to find that passage.
The Aerocar had some interesting mechanical features not seen at Ford, such as an automatic throttle reduction and brake application when pushing the brake.
Aerocar models were produced over three model years, 1906-1908. Originally Malcomson announced that Aerocar would build 500 of the 20-24 hp cars for 1906 (hence the 500 motor contract with Reeves for 06 delivery). However, for model year 1907 (beginning in July 1906) Aerocar came out with three models, a 40 hp watercooled touring (Reeves four cylinder motor) and 20 hp touring and runabouts. The price on the air-cooled touring and runabout was $2,000, while the larger 40 hp was $2750. Aerocar was actually dropping prices, while Ford raised the Model K price from $2500 to $2800, and Model N from $500 to $600.
As seen in the lawsuit from Reeves, Aerocar evidently never was able to sell more than the 319 20 hp aircooled cars over the three year period.
For 1908, Aerocar kept three models, and dropped the price to $1500 for the 20 hp cars, and $2,200 for the large car. Aerocar was actually building cheaper and cheaper cars as time went on (I suspect due to poor sales, not economy of scale):
1908 Aerocar advertising
Above should say "when pushing the clutch", not brake. When the clutch was depressed, the engine would throttle down and the brake apply gradually.
I think the air cooled 1904 Ford prototype is important in Malcolmson's decision to go air cooled in his own car production adventure. Maybe Henry Ford decided against going further with the air cooled idea after some testing - but Malcolmson still thought the idea had potential and ordered his engines?
That's possible. However, Aerocar didn't appear to "borrow" anything else from Ford in terms of design. Even the three point differential used on the Model B (and air cooled car) was not used. Steering was by worm/sector instead of the K and N planetary, and the three speed sliding gear was obviously different from Ford's consistent used of the two speed planetary.
Charles Bennett, one of the original investors, was and remained a friend of both Henry Ford and A. Y. Malcomson throughout their lives. In his 1950's "Reminiscences" he said Malcomson had little if any involvement (my words) with Ford Motor Company operations:
It makes me wonder if the Aerocar would have found the same trouble with the alam?? Bud in Wheeler,Mi.
In 1907, the Licensed Manufacturers (A.L.A.M.) filed suit against Aerocar along with several other independents. However, I believe the article below considered the filings preparatory and no further action occurred (I believe). Aerocar was capitalized at $400,000, with another $100,000 added in 1906. Ford had been capitalized only three years earlier for under $30,000, and would sell more cars in 1907 than any other maker in the world. Aerocar would be bankrupt by mid 1908:
I hope I have this right but Malcomson was not interested in producing low priced cars for the masses.
Rather he wanted Ford to build cars for the wealthy with correspondingly larger profit margins.
The Dodge brothers had been supplying Ford with rolling chassis complete with engines and drive trains for some time including those for the Model K.