A couple of threads have appeared recently discussing the merits (and demerits) of the Ford low tension magneto used on over 15 million Model T.
This prompted me to put a few tidbits together regarding Henry Ford and the ignition systems he produced.
As it turns out, the Model T flywheel magneto wasn't the first magneto/ignition system developed under Henry Ford's direction. By the summer of 1905, Ford and Ed Huff had designed and patented a working magneto. This magneto was used on the Ford six cylinder racer, a 1100 cu. in. machine that challenged some of the world best racers and records over the next three years. This is the same magneto Ford used on the 1906-1908 Model K. Below is a photograph of Frank Kulick, Ford's premier race driver, at the wheel of the six cylinder racer in 1907. You are able to see the Ford-Huff magneto mounted vertically just forward of the steering wheel:
The same Ford-Huff magneto, produced by the Holley Bros., on our Model K. Notice the difference in size of the racer exhaust port compared with the open intake and exhaust ports of the 405 cu. in. K motor:
The Ford-Huff patent was issued to Henry Ford in early 1908. As it turns out, the six cylinder prototype engine and car that still exists (now in Australia) happens to have a cast pad for an magneto. My personal guess is that the Ford-Huff may have been the original choice as the future Model T magneto.
This magneto happens to have another distinction, it was the first working CDI (capacitive discharge Ignition) used on a production motor car. Of course at the time, the term CDI had not been used, but that is what is, according to an electrical engineer who has reviewed the system. The Ford-Huff mag was also used on the Grout car and an option for the Thomas "40" in 1906 and 1907. It was also sold by Holley as an aftermarket ignition system through 1909.
So, why did Ford move to the low tension Model T magneto? My guesses include less expensive, the Holley-Huff sold for $165. Another reason, according to Dean Yoder, who helped get our mag back into operating shape, may be that it may have burnt through points quickly. As you can see in the photo below, the spark of this mag is strong. We were able to jump a spark across several inches, and the limiting factor to the spark distance was that it would jump internally in the coil if we placed the contacts farther apart. What looks like a light wire between the coil contact and wire is actually the spark generated by the Holley-Huff magneto while being driven at a moderate rpm by portable drill:
After developing the Model T magneto, it looks as though Ford's interest in the high tension magneto was over. As we know, Ford stuck with the low tension flywheel model through the Model T run.
Today we've seen tests showing performance advantages using aftermarket ignition systems such as Bosch, E-Timer, and distributors, especially in higher rpm situations. Were Ford engineers unaware of better performance at high rpm situations? Or was Henry Ford simply stubborn, refusing to use newer technology until the Model T was replaced by the Model A.
Later, did Henry Ford ever approve another ignition system for the Model T?
Rob - Interesting! As I mentioned in one of the previous threads that you spoke of at the beginning of this thread, I still think that a factor that enters into nearly 20 years use of the low tension magneto on the Model T is that Henry may have been trying to avoid possible patent infringement problems which is an area that he particularly hated. In all of Ron Pattersons' extensive Ford library, I'll bet he has some information on this,....FWIW,......harold
Harold, thank you for bringing this up. One of the reasons for beginning this thread was to address the theory that HF stuck with the T mag to avoid patent fees. The fact Ford already owned the rights to a tested and good magneto/ignition system in the Holley-Huff magneto may blunt this argument.
Furthermore, I think the fact the six cylinder prototype car has a magneto mounting pad on the crankcase casting may indicate he planned to use an external mag initially (this was at the time the first Model T prototype touring car was shown at the 1907 NY and Detroit auto shows). When I get home this evening I'll put up a little more on the prototype car.
From my iPhone
Should it be the Huff Ford magneto? I think Ed"Spider"Huff was the brains behind the electrical system on this magneto, the Model T magneto, and the later starter and generator.
Would the use of a battery and the Ford switch the model T's used work with these mags or would you still need a extra timer?? Bud.
One of the reasons for beginning this thread was to address the theory that HF stuck with the T mag to avoid patent fees.
But....Henry HAD patented the Model T flywheel magneto, that is why he continued to use the low tension flywheel magneto that required no point contact changes or cleaning or oiling of bearings that the more expensive and higher rpm hi-tension ones needed.
Spider Huff invented, Henry got the patent, and Spider assigned it to Henry Ford.
That filing was done April 1908 and patent granted in 1914. The Model T was protected from copy by lots of patents Henry sought and received.
Thank you for the patent copy (is that an infringement ).
Just as with the T magneto patent, Edward Huff was the inventor of the Huff-Ford-Holley magneto, with patent application in July, 1905. Huff assigned the rights to Henry Ford, and the patent was issued March 17, 1908:
Bud, yes, this magneto would work on a Model T, or any other engine. It was intended to be used with a double switch, so the distributor head and coil could run on battery, or be switched to magneto (actually Capacitive Discharge system). The Model K actually had three ignition systems, the buzz coils like Models NRS, Holley-Huff magneto/CDI, or battery through mag distributor and one coil, acting as a master coil.
I'll get to a few other things later....
Ted, sorry, I think you're right, Ed Huff was the brains behind both mags. I suspect part of Henry Ford's "genius" was recognizing and utilizing the skills of others to reach his goals.
I agree, Henry did have a great ability to find the right folks.
By late 1907, Ford was rumored to be moving to a light six cylinder touring and runabout, in addition to what I believe was the future four cylinder Model T:
Confirmation that Ford had built working light six cylinder prototypes came during the summer of 1908:
My guess is, Henry Ford realized that building several models of car was counterproductive to the economies of scale he could achieve (low prices through volume production), and the fact Ford was already maxed out on space and models at Piquette. By late 1907 and early 1908 Ford was turning out Model N, Model S runabouts and roadsters, K tourings and roadsters and some S coupes. I suspect all this helped convince Ford, Couzens and new sales manager Hawkins that building one chassis, with different bodies, would take the company where they wished to go (all my guesses).
Meanwhile, back to magnetos. Would Henry Ford have ever have approved of an ignition other than the flywheel low tension system for a Ford machine prior to 1928?
Actually, he did.......
Isn't that six cylinder runabout the one in New Zealand or Australia? I believe it was originally at the Henry Ford Museum and sold off years ago as not pertinent to their collection.
Yes it is Tom. A friend in Australia owns and tours with it. I'll try to dig up a few pics, including the magneto shelf on the aluminum NRS style crankcase.
Dave D.'s experimental six cylinder prototype, with external mag drive port:
"E 131" on exhaust manifold
In 1910 Ford began racing a Model T based racer. Frank Kulick was the primary driver, and the car ran in hill climbs and races through 1912. The racer was known as the "Ford Special" and later as "999-II." The racer would aganin propel Ford to the forefront of racing, and in 1911 Ford would rank fifth among automakers racing in the U.S. in number of wins.
The racer used a four cylinder, 410 cubic inch egine. The ignition system:
Fortunately, both the six cylinder racer with Ford Huff magneto and the 410 cubic inch T based racer still exist, and are located at the Henry Ford Museum:
The cover for the Bosch magneto is on the right floorboard
six cylinder racer, showing the Ford Huff magneto
Unfortunately, neither racer is currently on display.
Ford owned the rights to a proven magneto/ignition system, and it's possible this was the system Ford planned to use in late 1907, before developing the low tension magneto that became the Model T standard.
In 1910, Ford designers decided to use a Bosch magneto on the Ford Special, a high performance, world class racer. Did Ford acknowledge by 1910 that the Model T low tension magneto wasn't a performance system, instead using the external mag to power their racer?