Why Did Ford Gear The T So High?

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Model T Ford Forum: Forum 2015: Why Did Ford Gear The T So High?
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Paul O'Neil, Fullerton, CA, USA on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 01:44 pm:

As I get more time driving my 1923 Runabout I'm starting to get a solid feel for the dynamics of the car at "speed." With its high center of gravity, short wheelbase, flexible steering, hard springs with no shocks, lack of brakes and most of all narrow high pressure tires that skitter across rough patches of road I have to conclude that the gearing is about right for use on SMOOTH MODERN roads in PERFECT conditions. I had briefly considered the 3 to 1 gears when getting the Ruckstell installed but was cautioned against it by wiser heads. Now I am very glad not to have higher gears. Even in the best of conditions, the Ford will already go much faster than it should.

As I imagine them, the roads of 1908 were far worse that the ones I have been driving on in 2015. The Ford Low gear makes sense, but about high gear? There is a huge gap between Low & High and I can't see how High should have been very useful on dirt or muddy roads typical of the time. Wouldn't a gear in between Low Ruckstell and High Ford have been more useful? It would have narrowed the gap between High & Low and enabled hill climbing in High. A small cut in top speed would rarely be noticed.

Ford engineers were not fools, they must have had good reasons for the high gears. I can SPECULATE on two of them:

1. Speed sells. Advertising a car would go fast helped to sell it even if the average driver never used the speed.

2. Our modern PERCEPTION of engine speed may not be the same as it was then. Perhaps folks in 1908 were comfortable with running a motor slower than we are now. Now we think that low engine speeds and high loads are "lugging" the engine and will break the crank. We are used to revving engines faster now and possibly we look at engine speeds differently than they did they did then.

Any thoughts?

Vintage Paul, ruminating while I should be working


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Les Schubert on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 02:06 pm:

Paul
I have driven T's for 40 years and have tried the standard 3.63-1, the optional 4-1 and also 3-1 over the years. I find the standard ratio gives a nice compromise of speed and hill climbing. In low it will handle almost any circumstance and gets you rolling nicely for high
A T cruises nicely in the 30-35 mph range and "usually" that is within the safe range of the steering, brakes, and tires AND more importantly within the skill of the driver.
It is important for the driver to drive within their skill level


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Harold Schwendeman - Sumner,WA on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 02:14 pm:

Paul - You've come very close to explaining the reason why the only non-ford accessory that Henry Ford approved of was the Ruckstell 2-speed rear axle. You mentioned "the huge gap between high and low", and Henry recognized that!


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Pat Kelly Montana on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 02:48 pm:

Paul, I drive on dirt roads all the time up here and the stock gearing works fine. You don't want to lug the motor but the low end torque on the T motor is real good. The hills are where the Ruckstell shines, the stock gearing is to high for the mountains. PK


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Dave Wells on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 02:53 pm:

Back then, I think what a car could do was a big issue and everyone was making comparisons at auto shows, watching racing and so on. It would not have gone well if the Ford could only do 30 mph. A lot of demonstrating was done in Detroit, New York and other big cities where roads were likely much better. If you lived in a bad roads area, you were not forgotten as the 4-1 ratio was available. It's still the same today. Speeds you could never use, sell. I also agree with what Les says above.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Paul O'Neil, Fullerton, CA, USA on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 03:11 pm:

Spectacles of speed were popular then as were hill climbs. Couldn't Ford have hit the power to climb hills harder when selling IF the gears were a bit lower?

My Flivver will probably do 50 mph. Gearing it to do 40 would loose little useful off the top end in 1908 terms even if we would not like them as well now.

A third point of SPECULATION:

Possibly high engine speeds were not considered good for reasons of more rapid wear and vibration. We balance our motors now and run them with AL pistons in modern oil so our experience of what a Ford was like in 1908 might be somewhat different . . .

Vintage Paul, still ruminating


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Wayne Sheldon, Grass Valley, CA on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 04:06 pm:

In one way, it is really not that different than the why do they build, sell, or buy 200 mph super cars today? The exponential effects of high speed make them VERY costly, but if you can afford it? Seems like quite a few people are buying them? Even though there is almost no place to drive them that fast.
I like to drive my Ts in the 40 to 45 mph range (speedsters even faster). I have often wondered about the gearing in model Ts. And I have concluded that I am somewhat grateful that they were geared as high as they were.
I know that during the '20s and '30's, most average drivers had a speed somewhere between 25 and 35 mph that they rarely ever exceeded. Even today, there are still many people that rarely if ever exceed 55 mph. When we lived in Ferndale (North-coast Califunny), there were almost always people around that never exceeded 45 mph. I think I had to pass someone almost every time I drove my antique on the freeway while there.
People are funny things.
Do drive carefully, and enjoy, W2


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Norman T. Kling on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 04:21 pm:

I have 3 T's. They all have "stock" engines. One has 3-1 gearing. All 3 have Ruckstell. I live in the mountains of Southern California and I have a particular hill on which I can test how well a T is running. When I am alone in the car, the 26 Roadster will climb all the way in high without lugging the engine. The 26 touring will climb the same hill but bogs down a bit due to the additional body weight. The 22 roadster is the one with 3-1 gearing. If I am alone and get a good run, it will pull in high with difficulty.

With these same cars, starting out from a stop in standard Ford Low, the two with standard gearing will start in low even on a slight grade. The one with 3-1 needs Ruckstell if there is any noticeable grade starting in low or it is very hard on the low band. Also when touring with the club, I find the 22 needs to pull a 6% grade about 30 mph. If it slows down I need Ruckstell. So the other cars are using Ford high and I need Ruckstell to go up the same hill unless I can maintain my speed.

If you are doing any touring in California, I would recommend the standard gear ratio. It is better in traffic and also better on hills. If you live in Kansas, the 3-1 would probably be a good choice. We have actually had people on our national tour who came from flatter land who drove their T the first day, and then parked it and rode with others or took their modern car because they were geared too high.
Norm


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Paul O'Neil, Fullerton, CA, USA on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 04:40 pm:

"Even today, there are still many people that rarely if ever exceed 55 mph. When we lived in Ferndale (North-coast Califunny), there were almost always people around that never exceeded 45 mph. I think I had to pass someone almost every time I drove my antique on the freeway while there."

I too am constantly amazed how slow many people drive. You are going dangerously slow if you are being passed by a 92 year old Flivver whose driver is trying to take it easy . . .

Vintage Paul


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Tom Carnegie Spokane, WA on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 05:15 pm:

My experience has been that 4:1 and 3.63's really don't make much difference on the top end. The 4:1 cars will just wind out a little bit more to give you essentially the same top end. Actually, I think certain T's will have a slightly higher top speed with 4:1's, all else being equal. So, if 4:1's give you the same top end as 3.63's, why did Ford put 3.63's in (usually). I think the reason is to give the T a more usable low pedal speed. This is important on long uphill climbs.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Bob Coiro on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 05:42 pm:

I'm pretty much at peace with the standard gearing—at least within the given limits of only two forward speeds. -Low is low enough to deal with even the steepest hills, albeit slowly; and high gear is still low enough that I don't need to downshift to take slow, 90-degree, residential corners. - True, the engine chugs down a bit right after the up-shift if I apply too much throttle, but I found that with practice and a light, right thumb, that can be avoided, at least on level ground. -I don't really feel the need for a shorter legged high gear.

Most four and six-cylinder Brass Era cars cruised happily at about 30 mph, not so much for reasons of limited power, but because American roads were awfully rough. -Modern roads raise that practical limit somewhat, and my '15 Touring can be pushed to 45 mph on the level, but at best, Flivvers only have 35-mph brakes (Besides, hitting a deep, early spring pot-hole at 45 could be a fatal event). -With more than enough top-end available and pretty good lugging torque as slow as 12 mph, top gear ratio is pretty much right where I need it to be.

I haven't really felt the need for the intermediate gear a Ruckstell would provide. -Oh, it'd climb hills much better for sure, but the terrain here on Long Island doesn't really demand it—and frankly, there's already a shortage of space for my feet without adding a gear-shift lever, so I'm happy the way things are.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Paul O'Neil, Fullerton, CA, USA on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 06:10 pm:

I certainly agree that the nice tall gears are gift to us more than a century after they were made but I still have to wonder why such lofty gears were chosen given the condition of the roads in 1908. I have given three speculative reasons why this might be so and was curious if anyone knew the reason or had other guesses.

Vintage Paul, it beats doing my work ...


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Mark Strange - Hillsboro, MO on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 06:19 pm:

Can anyone currently running 4:1 gears comment on their experience with them relative to the standard 3.63:1 gears?


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Dave Wells on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 06:56 pm:

Mark, I went from 4:1 to 3.63:1 on my '19 Runabout and am glad I did. The 4s were only slightly better on hills and the 3s provide a slightly better drive at cruise. This is all in high gear. It's low gear where the big difference is as Tom pointed out above. Low gear with the 3s is what I call normal. With the 4s, it's ridiculous and aggravating. You can't get halfway through an intersection without shifting. Unless you're driving five people in a Centerdoor everyday in San Francisco, I'd stick with the 3s.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Ricks - Surf City on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 07:28 pm:

I have 4:1 gears behind the Fronty in the ol' brass picup, which are good up to 40-50, where I used to shift to the 10:7 overdrive. Son winds it a little tighter now.

You will find that cars like the T, with limited power, chose gears that make max speed at max HP.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Kenneth W DeLong on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 07:42 pm:

15,000000 cars and over 105 years some are still saying what if?? News flash,It seemed to have worked very well as is! Bud.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Paul O'Neil, Fullerton, CA, USA on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 08:22 pm:

Ok Kenneth, but WHY choose the gears they choose? Aren't you curious?

Vintage Paul


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Trent Boggess on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 09:09 pm:

A few comments from my perspective:

The NRS cars came with 3.63 rear axle gears.

I set my 1925 Roadster up for touring Colorado on the original mining roads. The modifications were not extensive, but included a Ruckstell with 4-1 gears. With the Ruckstell in low, and low pedal, the car will pull just about any grade imaginable. One time we were going up Stony Pass just north of Silverton, CO. One grade was so steep that gas stopped flowing to the carb. After blocking the rear wheels, I got out my special gas cap - the one fitted with an inner tube stem. When I open the cap I found that the tank was completely full. I changed the cap, put a pound or so of air pressure in the tank, started the car, and drove on up to the top (to see the head waters of the Rio Grand).

Think about that: the tank was full of gas, yet the grade was so steep, that the carb couldn't get enough gas for the car to run. Once fuel was flowing to the tank, the car pulled the rest of the hill without a complaint.

4-1 gears also improve the braking ability of the car.

And I agree with Tom Carnegie above, 4-1 gears do not slow the car down at the top end.

Respectfully submitted,

Trent Boggess


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Michael Pawelek Brookshire, Texas on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 09:39 pm:

Paul, Have you ever driven a '28-'31 Model A? I have a late '31 Slant windshield 4 door sedan which is a heavy Model A. In my opinion it could use another gear between second and third and I have always wondered why Ford did not have a four speed in the Model A !


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Charlie B actually in Toms River N.J. on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 10:10 pm:

2 forward speeds. Not much leeway/choice with ratio's. Get it rolling and get out of low.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Bruce Spainhower - Portland, Oregon on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 10:18 pm:

In my opinion, the Model T isn't geared too high. The torque point of the engine is 900 rpm, which translates to 23 mph, which is a perfectly reasonable design speed for the Model T. The torque point is also the point of maximum volumetric efficiency (explanation here). That means that full throttle at 900 rpm is not "lugging the engine". It's just where you get the most pulling power (for hills, load, etc.)

That said, my '15 has 3:25 gears, which I love on modern roads. I can travel with traffic on most non-freeway roads, and the car still goes up most hills without downshifting the Ruckstell. My 2¢.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Les VonNordheim on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 10:35 pm:

A good friend has had two pinion gear failures using 4:1 gearing. Any suggestions where one can buy a 4:1 pinion that will last? The first pinion gear that failed was an old gear...several teeth looked soft and were badly ware away. The second was a new replacement.....very few miles.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Harold Schwendeman - Sumner,WA on Thursday, February 05, 2015 - 11:25 pm:

Michael Pawelek - What you need is a Model AA truck transmission. They are a four-speed. I have heard of putting such a transmission in a Model A car and I believe it makes a very nice combination. FWIW,.....harold


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Kenneth W DeLong on Friday, February 06, 2015 - 06:12 am:

Harold,Many people put a later 4 speed in model A's because of the needed overdrive. The AA 4 speed had a creeper for first which is useless in a car? Bud.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Kenneth W DeLong on Friday, February 06, 2015 - 06:27 am:

4 to 1 gears may not slow the top speed but what about the fuel millage? Back in time i'm sure millage was a selling point? We have all been told the fuel tank to carb height was so the front of the engine never starved for oil so?? Bud.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Paul O'Neil, Fullerton, CA, USA on Friday, February 06, 2015 - 01:25 pm:

Another couple of good reasons why the Ford engineers may have chosen the tall gears:

From Bruce: "In my opinion, the Model T isn't geared too high. The torque point of the engine is 900 rpm, which translates to 23 mph, which is a perfectly reasonable design speed for the Model T. The torque point is also the point of maximum volumetric efficiency (explanation here). That means that full throttle at 900 rpm is not "lugging the engine". It's just where you get the most pulling power (for hills, load, etc.)"

This makes a lot of sense. I can feel this in my own Flivver. When climbing a long steep hill the car rapidly looses speed but at some point seems to settle in and pull hard. In my mind it almost seems like the little Ford is scrunching down and putting its shoulder into the load of climbing the hill. Possibly that may be the 900 RPM range.

From Kenneth: "4 to 1 gears may not slow the top speed but what about the fuel millage?"

Perhaps Ford did tests and determined that the gears they choose were best balance for speed, economy & hill climbing. All of these properties are trade-offs of course.

Vintage Paul


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Larry Smith on Friday, February 06, 2015 - 01:30 pm:

You are lucky Ford chose that ratio. Most cars of that era are at least 4-1, and lower. Look at the Dodges!


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Paul O'Neil, Fullerton, CA, USA on Friday, February 06, 2015 - 01:35 pm:

Yes, I have seen the lovely old Dodges on tours that can't keep up with the Fords on the level stretches. I am certainly very happy with just the gears Ford choose on our modern roads.

Vintage Paul


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Harold Schwendeman - Sumner,WA on Friday, February 06, 2015 - 02:11 pm:

Thanks Bud - Guess you're right, but ya' gotta' admit, that "creeper" gear would be handy for parades, and great for loading the car on a trailer! ........harold

( just trying to "save face" for as usual, talking about something that I guess I don't know much about)


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Vince M on Friday, February 06, 2015 - 04:26 pm:

A Lot of two speed axles sold for a reason.

Vince M


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