Model T Ford assembly in New Zealand -
Most of the early Model T Fords came into New Zealand in packing cases from Canada, shipped, one per box.
Often, the boxes would be delivered from the ship on a dray pulled by horses. To assemble them was quite simple, and often done on the street. Remove the top and sides of the case; jack up the axles, fit the wheels, windscreen, and hood, put in some petrol, crank the car into life, and drive away.
The used boxes became a side line industry, many converted to out buildings and some to holiday houses
One shipment of 303 Model Ts arrived in Wellington for Colonial Motor Company in 1913, and was at the time, the largest single shipment to the Southern Hemisphere. Colonial Motor Company formed branch operations at Parnell Auckland and Sophia St Timaru as assembly and distribution points.
Frames for the new assembly plant being erected 13 Aug, 1921.
Finished 1922, on right
During and after the First World War it became more difficult to ship Model T cases in quantities this way due to a lack of ships in the Pacific. Ford Canada said that bulk components was the answer and it would be necessary to build an assembly plant. The Colonial Motor Company then built the first motor assembly plant in New Zealand, directly behind their offices at Courtenay Place. Architect, J M Dawson prepared plans based on Ford's Windsor Plant design in Canada, together with council compliance details and tender documents for the work.
Ford insisted it be built exactly to their criteria facing the South , despite protests that it was back to front for the Southern Hemisphere sun. It's classic Art Deco facade faces South in York Street. Tenders came in and a joint contract was let to Hansford & Mills and Mitchell & King for 39,447 NZPounds, which was equivalent to the price of 245 Model T cars.The nine storied building was the highest building in Wellington when opened in 1922, 100ft x 100ft x 100ft, using pre-cut Canadian steel riveted framing, with reinforced concrete floors and brick infill, a New Zealand first. Parts arrived in bulk lots of 100 units, and were loaded directly from ship's hold to Colonial Motor Company trucks after an agreement was struck between unions and stevedores. and driven the short distance from Taranaki St wharf to the assembly plant. Unpacking was done in the light well on the ground floor and delivered to the floor required using the large elevator, able to take a complete vehicle. The top two floors were for administration, assembly starting on the 7th Floor and progressing down, adding components until vehicles were driven away at ground level. PICTURES OF THE ASSEMBLY PLANT IN USE ARE SHOWN IN THE WEBSITE GALLERY UNDER ASSEMBLY IN NEW ZEALAND
Production of Model T Fords continued until 1927 when the Model T runout. The new Model A Ford became more complex in the body assembly, and in the 1930s with the advent of welded steel structures requiring body jigs, it became necessary to consider a new assembly plant. More land was acquired nearby in Te Aro. Other political moves delayed the process with British preferential tarrifs mooted and eventually saw changes to favour British Commonwealth sourced CKD assembly rather than Built Up vehicles. CKD gave new opportunities for jobs using New Zealand labour and materials. It was in mid 1935, after negotiations concluded in London, that Ford Canada advised Colonial Motor Company they intended to build and operate their own assembly plant, which opened at Seaview, across Wellington Harbour in November 1936.
The Colonial Motor Company assembly building is still standing in the same place, and is still known as the Ford Building. Since 1936 it has been used as offices. In 1983-89 seismic strengthening was undertaken to bring it up to earthquake standards and the internal light well converted to increase the floor space to 90,000sq.ft. The assembly plant Art Deco frontage has been retained facing South on York St. New piles, and a seismic lift tower were added with a glass curtain wall, completed a greatly enhanced building with spectacular harbour views to the North!
The photo shows a typical 1916 Canadian built Model T with fork mounted black rimmed headlamps.
Fascinating........and I'll bet those crates were 90% hardwood to boot!
I think that one head light will need a little adjustment!
The French didn't waste those packing crates either, building ambulance bodies out of them on T's 15/16.
Great piece on NZ Ford history ; did you read Rogers Gardners 'Ford Ahead'??
The real Dark Ages of Ford in NZ is the period 1928 to 1936.Virtually no photos or information on Model A & early [pre '37] V8 assembly. The old assembly facilities were not set up for these more complex models. Worldwide, Ford set up completely new methods for Model A assembly, but Colonial NZ did not.
I actually think Fords in this era [ late '20's- early '30's] in NZ were imported 'built up'[era term] & only required minor assembly of lights,bumpers, fenders/mudguards etc. This was the Depression also with very low sales & the whole Colonial Mo. Co. set up appears to have downsized during this period.
Certainly with the new Seaview Plant, establishment of Ford NZ & Govt.tariffs favouring Britain, CKD assembly finally started in NZ by 1936.
Hopefully more information will one day come out on this era of Ford in NZ.
Wayne in NZ
I have not been on the forum for quite some time, being busy with a variety of matters (including the Buzzy Rental Cars business which is beginning to take off - long may it continue).
Another project that I have been able to put to bed is the first Ford - NZ book. I may as well announce that the manuscript has gone to Penguin, who expressed an interest in seeing it, and I am waiting their review and, I guess, a decision. It has been a long time coming - and this is the final step. It could take another 3 months or so before we hear from them.
The book (manuscript) measures exactly 87,429 words and about a zillion photos and other graphics. It covers the period up to 1936, when Ford opened in New Zealand in their own right.
The chapters are...
Horseless Carriage (introduction of motoring in NZ)
An Empire is Founded (Ford is founded and first Fords in NZ)
Introducing the Model T (self-explanatory)
Early Style (covers the period to 1914)
War and Peace (the Ford in war conditions and at home in NZ)
Expansion and Contraction (the post-war ups and downs to about 1923!)
Model Changes (competition from other manufacturers, improved Ford and end of the Model T)
After T (Model A, V-8, English Fords etc plus a partially irreverent look at what happened to Model Ts through to current day!)
The book focuses strongly on the NZ story, but shows the influence of Ford of Canada, and comparisons with Australia. I'm hoping it will have quite a universal (ha!) appeal. It has a title (which, of course, would also need to be accepted by a publisher) and that remains under wraps for now.
Kevin and Wayne, this book, once published, will answer a lot of your questions!
Wayne, you are quite right about the 'dark ages', being the Model A era to 1936. This book will touch on that - there were a lot of influences - all steel bodies, a relatively small marketplace, Buy British, the Great Depression.
Work has started on bringing the next book together (a huge amount of work has already been undertaken). This covers the years 1936 to 1988 (when the assembly plant at Seaview was operating. By reading the end of the first book, and the first chapter of the 1936-88 book, a reader will have some light cast upon those 'dark ages'!
I have also started a Facebook page on that book, in an effort to get out some stories from those who were on the shop floor and out in the fields. See https://www.facebook.com/groups/842268699195468/
Would everyone in the Model T world please cross fingers (and toes) that Penguin says 'YES'!!
Great News John,
I thought it had been so long since we heard from you that you were unable to get any interest from publishers.
Fingers and toes crossed here for you too.
It's not accepted yet Peter! I was talking to Unity Books in Wellington a while ago, about the future of publishing, and their comment was that "if Penguin want to have a look, that's a good thing - they don't waste their time". Fingers. Toes. Legs. Arms. Eyes. Ears - they're all crossed!