1915 and 1916

The 1915 Model T Ford model year is difficult to pinpoint. There was considerable overlap in the new “1915 style” and the older 1914 models. In general, we consider the 1915 model year to have begun in about September 1914 for the closed cars, and January 1915 for the open models.

The new Sedan, with the center door, was introduced in September 1914, and the Coupelet with the folding top shortly after. The new touring and roadster bodies, though, were introduced at the Highland Park plant in January 1915. Many, if not all, of the Ford assembly plants continued making the 1914 style open cars until perhaps April 1915, so there is considerable overlap in the production of the 1914 and 1915 open cars. The new touring and runabouts were first shipped from Highland Park in February 1915. At the same time, sample bodies were shipped to the branches; these bodies to be used as models for the changeover to the new style.

The Sedan and Coupelet, though, were the harbingers of the “new” Ford line for 1915. While retaining the straight front fenders of the 1914’s, the rear fenders were now curved to follow the wheel outline (roughly), and the cowl section was now metal and flared to join the body to the hood, replacing the flat wooden board which had been used since 1909.

Lamps
Along with the new styling came another modification to the Ford car: electric lights. While there were examples of early 1915’s with gas lamps, the standard issue was electric headlamps, powered by the engine magneto. Not wanting to startle the public too much, though, the side and tail lights continued to be of the oil (kerosene) type, although they were of a new and cheaper design.

Since the 1914 style open cars continued into 1915, and all apparently used the 1914 style black and brass gas and side/tail lamps, there was most certainly a period of mixed production. Early photos have been seen of 1915 cars with the gas lamps. Factory photos of 1914 cars with electric lamps, though, are another matter. The factory issued a letter on January 12, 1915, which advised that the crossover tube on the radiator, for the gas lamps, was being discontinued “as all cars now have electric lights.” This would lead one to believe, then, that the 1914 style cars then being assembled would have had electric lamps. It is believed that all of the 1914 style cars used gas lamps, probably using up the remainder of the radiators with the gas tube, and that where a photo shows the electric type, someone other than Ford made the switch.

The first electric headlamps were designed to mount on the same forks that were used for the gas lamps. By early 1915, though, the standard design with the riveted-in-place post was standard equipment. The earliest 1915 electric headlamps, used on the closed cars in late 1914, were somewhat different from the later. Made by Edmond and Jones, they were a little larger than the “standard,” having lenses 8-5/8 inches in diameter (instead of the standard 8-1/8inches). All early 1915 lamps had brass rims, but these earliest lamps had rims that were thicker. The early side lamps, too, had larger lens and brass trim.

Electric headlamps, and oil tail and side lamps, with brass rims were standard equipment on the 1915’s. By about June of 1915, the brass trim was discontinued on all lamps. The bulbs of the headlamps were wired in series, and connected to the magneto through a push-pull switch on the firewall just to the right of the coil box.

The side and tail lamps were of a new design. Not only were they cheaper, the side lamps could be interchanged from side to side. The tail lamp had a large red lens on the door, and a clear lens on the side facing the license plate (towards the center of the car). Both types mounted by means of a stud on the rear side.

Magneto
On September 14, 1914, beginning with engine number 578,042, Ford began using the new magneto with the 3/4-inch magnets. Not only was this new magneto able to supply the additional current for the headlights, its design was such that it reduced the “dead spots” in the spark lever setting that were so noticeable in the earlier design. This was accomplished by also using larger and oval-shaped pole pieces in the magneto coil. Other than casting a “notch” in the base plate to clear the starter shaft in 1919, the magneto remained relatively unchanged through the balance of Model T production.

The New Sedan (Also see notes at the end of this file)
The new Sedan set the style for the familiar “centerdoor” style which was used until mid-1923. However, the 1915 Sedan had an entirely different body than that used on the later models. It was made of aluminum panels, with a one-piece lower rear panel (from door to door, with no seams at the rear). The body sat a bit lower on the chassis, and required a different splash apron and rear fenders than the other models. The rear fenders were fastened directly to the body instead of to the usual fender irons. The windshield was a rather complicated three-section affair, with top sections that folded inward and outward.

Upholstery was beautiful when compared with the other Ford cars. The front seats were individual bucket style, with the passenger seat folding forward to allow better access to the driver’s seat. Neither of these seats could be praised for comfort, with the passenger seat being downright uncomfortable, at least to this writer. The rear seat, however, was luxurious, with the rear cushion extending around to add side support. The upholstery material was a fancy broadcloth, with elaborate trimming. The Coupelet, while using some of the Sedan’s upholstery styling, used leather on the seats and imitation leather on the door panels. As in all the closed cars, the cowl area was covered with imitation leather.

The gasoline tank on the sedan was located under the rear seat. Being just a few inches above the frame, and about six feet to the rear of the carburetor, fuel flow was a real problem. This problem apparently became known soon after the introduction of the car. During late 1914 Ford advised changing the fuel line to 5/16-inch and then, in December, announced a new and longer intake manifold which lowered the carburetor. The Kingston carburetor was recommended, since it was claimed to have a better fuel flow than the Holley. The tank was moved to its position under the driver’s seat with the 1916 models (which also used a new standard body).

The Coupelet (Also see notes at the end of this file)
The Coupelet was the first Ford convertible. The top could be lowered but the doors had glass windows which could be adjusted by means of a strap, as in the Sedans. The top was leather in 1915, then changed to leatherette later in the year. Seats were apparently full leather, with imitation leather door panels. The top was lined with a cloth material in gray, trimmed with a lace similar to that used in the sedan. The gas tank on the Coupelet was in the rear deck, and was at least initially, the standard round tank. By 1916, though, the tank was changed to the square tank, still located in the deck, that was also used on the 1916 sedan (under the driver’s seat).

The early Coupelets were quite “blind” since the top sides wrapped around the seat. The top was modified in later production (typical of the 1916 Coupelets) to have a small window on each side quarter.

The Town Car
The Town Car was modified to conform to the new styling. This model had added rear passenger space but at the expense of the driver’s comfort. The front seat was closer to the steering wheel, and its back rest was quite upright and poorly padded. Portly chauffeurs had a real problem! The passenger compartment could seat five in a pinch (and it would have been a pinch), seating three in the seat and using the two folding jump seats. Upholstery in the Town Car was full leather on the front and rear seats, with either real or imitation leather door panels. The jump seats were upholstered with imitation leather. The top was imitation leather. Inside the top was lined with a gray cloth, trimmed with a lace similar to that used in the sedans and coupes. The kick panel of the rear seat was covered with a rug-like material.

The Town Car is interesting. Ford’s existing records show that none were built during fiscal 1915 (August 1914 to August 1915). Also, Ford generally referred to cars built during a fiscal year as models of that year. 1915 is certainly an exception to this rule, since the cars built during 1914, except for the Sedan and Coupelet, were definitely 1914’s. Apparently there were enough unsold 1914 Town Cars to last through the first part of calendar 1915, and the “1915” models were actually built in fiscal 1916 (August 1915 to August 1916). It is also possible the existing Ford records (a relatively recent compilation) are in error. Interestingly, though, of the existing “1915” Town Cars we know of, all are dated late in the year.

The closed cars did not sell well. According to Ford Archives figures, just 989 Sedans, 2417 Coupelets, and no Town Cars were produced in fiscal 1915. In February 1915 Ford announced that they would discontinue all advertising because they were backlogged some 50,000 cars. In the same letter, though, they noted that there were plenty of the closed models available and that more effort should be made (by the dealers) to move them.

The Open Cars
The early open models continued the basic bodies of the 1914 cars except for the change in the cowl, windshield, and rear fenders (and other lesser details). The bodies on these models were the same width as the 1914’s, and used a slightly wider top bow than the usual 1915 (and later) style. Early in the year, though, the bodies were modified, eliminating some of the wood framing and substituting sheet metal, notably in the seat frames. The new body, in the touring car, could be identified by the “rivet” on the side panel just ahead of the rear door. This “rivet” is actually the head of a carriage bolt which tied the side panel and the seat frame together.

The cowl section varied, apparently due to a different manufacturer. One cowl section was an assembly of top, side and front panels which were riveted together, with the rivets clearly visible from inside the car, along the top edge. The other cowl was similar, if not identical, to that used in the later bodies in that it was a three-piece affair with a top, and two sides. The front panel was integral with the top section, and there were no rivets. Both of these cowl types appeared at the same time, and both were used into 1916. (The riveted type was apparently dropped in later 1916 but we’re not certain.)

Open car upholstery was all imitation leather. The seat bottoms had a diamond-sewn pattern, with the backs in the plain ribbed style. Only the front roll of the arm rest was real leather. Door and side panels were cardboard, covered and trimmed with an imitation leather.

Windshields
The windshield on the open cars now stood upright, supported at the cowl by two forged brackets which also supported the side lights. These supports were riveted to the windshield frame, with the rivets going from front to rear. (After the early 1917 models, the brackets bolted to the frame, with the bolts on the side.) The frame is black painted steel, and is hinged in the center so that the top section can be folded back and down. The top and bottom sections of the windshield were of equal size. The top was supported by straps to the windshield hinge, as in the earlier models.

Fenders
As mentioned earlier, the rear fenders were now curved to roughly follow the wheel outline. These fenders were not crowned, however, as were the 1917 and later type. Early production front fenders were the same as the later 1914 cars, with four rivets securing the fender iron clamp. Early in the year, though, a new clamp arrangement appeared which used just three rivets, and this type remained unchanged through 1916 production. Both fender styles had the front bill, a feature added in later 1914 production.

Hood
The hood, while in the same pattern as the earlier cars, was now given louvers. The 1915 hood was initially made of aluminum but by 1916 hoods were made of steel. The louvers were not added for cooling, although they might have helped. Rather, they were necessary because of the location of the horn. Previous cars had the horn outside the hood, mounted on the firewall. With the new cowl, the horn was placed inside the hood, mounted on the firewall on the inside of the steering column. With no louvers in the hood it would have been almost impossible to hear the horn.

Horns
Horns, incidentally, were still of the bulb type in most of the 1915 cars. The magneto powered horn was announced as an experiment in January 1915 and was initially installed on 10,000 cars. It was so much better than the bulb type that it gradually replaced the bulb horn, and by fall of 1915 the magneto horn was used exclusively. The bulb for the bulb horn was attached to the steering column, with the air hose entering the passenger compartment through a notch in the floorboard just to the right of the steering column. There are pictures, too, of the horn bulb being mounted on the driver’s side panel. Is it any wonder we can’t say anything for sure about a Model T?

The button for the magneto horn was located on the top surface of the steering column, just below the gear box, and a metal tube-like piece was added under the column for the horn wire. Early magneto horns had brass-trimmed bells but the later models were black painted steel. There were, of course, variations in the various horns used, due to different suppliers and/or design changes. While it is commonly believed that 1915-16 Fords used a hand operated Klaxon horn, there is no evidence that Ford ever installed such a horn at the factory. Klaxon horns were a very popular accessory, and probably better than the factory equipment.

Tires
1915 was the first year in which Ford began to supply rear tires with a tread pattern, both types (with and without a tread pattern) being installed depending on the supply. Tires with treads were not new, but Ford wanted to continue to the last with the newest. (Brass radiators, oil lamps, hand cranks, and bulb horns were all obsolete on most cars by 1915!) A letter dated January 1916 announced that “non-skid tires are to be supplied by U.S. Tire Co.” and that the branches were to use up the smooth tires first.

Rear Axle
1915 was a time for another redesign of the rear axle housings. Evolving through several major design changes, and many minor ones, they finally got it “right.” Interestingly, the new design was very similar to the type used on the Models N, R and S Fords of 1906-08. The early 1915 models used the 1914 style axle but by April 1915 the new type was standard. This new design used cast center sections, with straight axle tubes inserted into them; the standard design used through 1927. The brake backing plates on the 1915 axles, though, were smooth as on the 1914 type. Reinforcing ribs were added later in the year. The last of the internal bronze bushings disappeared during the year. These bushings were in the three spider gears. The bearing surfaces of the spider were made larger to fit the gears without the bushings.

Transmission
Early in 1915 the foot pedals were made without the usual “C, R, and B” cast on their top faces. In place of the letters, the faces now had a ribbed pattern. By late 1915, though, the ribs were also dropped and the pedals were perfectly smooth and were to remain so for all future Model T Fords.

The typical transmission cover in 1915 was aluminum, identical to the 1914, with the reinforcing bosses around the bolt holes at the widest part (introduced in about 1913). Sometime during the year, though, the cover was changed to the cast iron style. All 1916’s were believed to have had the iron cover.

Beginning on June 17, 1915, a metal disk was installed in the tail shaft of the transmission brake drum in an effort to prevent oil leaks out of the universal joint. This disk was used in all later Model T’s.

Oilers
Minor items, such as the oilers on the spindles and tie rods, were modified. Initially these oilers were the brass twist-to-open type which had been used for a number of years. Sometime during the year these were dropped in favor of a less expensive brass-capped oiler with a “man hole like” cover. This cover was held in place with an internal spring. These oilers are not the same as the more common “flip top” type used later.

Springs
Springs, front and rear, were of the tapered style in 1915. 1916 production saw the gradual change to the square-end front springs but the rear springs remained taper-leaf. Shackles were the two-piece figure-eight type with the brass oilers, as used in the 1914 models.

Steering Column
A great improvement was made in the steering column assembly. Early production used the riveted type gear case of the earlier models, but early in 1915 (apparently) the new one-piece gear case appeared, with the pressed steel quadrant and iron control rods. The gear case is cast bronze and is not plated. With the addition of the electric horn, a small tube was added to the underside to cover the horn wire. The steering wheel spider was black-painted cast iron (forged steel, actually). The wheel rim was wood, and also painted black.

Ignition Coils
With the new and smaller cowl section, the firewall was also smaller. Since the coil box was mounted there, it was necessary to redesign it in order to remove the coils. The top of the box was now cut on an angle, allowing the coils to be tipped forward to clear the top of the cowl. A new box cover was made to fit. While similar to the later covers, the 1915-16 covers were a one-piece stamping with rounded covers, rather than the fabricated three-piece affair used later. The ignition switch on the bulk of the 1915 cars had a black and brass cover plate. Ultimately this plate was dropped in favor of the plain steel one, painted black, which had “Mag-Off-Bat” stamped on the bottom. Interestingly, on March 24, 1915, Ford issued a letter to its branches which said, “It has been suggested that the left rear door be eliminated......” and asked for opinions on the matter. Apparently the idea fell on deaf ears.

One should note that not all bodies of the same style during any year were exactly alike. There was more than one supplier of bodies, and there were variations between the different brands. In June 1915 Ford issued a letter to its branches: “Hereafter when ordering body panels for 1915 cars, please give both the car and body numbers. The body number will be found just inside the front door. This number will be preceded by a letter which indicates by whom the body was made. The above information is necessary as panels for bodies made by our various body manufacturers vary somewhat.” Incidentally, Ford discontinued noting body numbers in production beginning in May 1915.

As noted above, there is little difference between 1915 and 1916 models, one year just evolving into the next. In general, the major changes for “1916” cars were:
1. Brass trim on the lamps is dropped in favor of black-painted steel.
2. The ribs on the foot pedals were replaced with the smooth-surface type.
3. The iron transmission cover replaced the aluminum type.
4. The hood is steel rather than aluminum.
5. The horns were all magneto type after October 1915.
6. Brake backing plates all had the reinforcing ribs.

1915 Sedans and Coupelets
By Trent Boggess
    This information was found in Accession 125 Finance Model T Cost Books 1913-1927. Beginning in December 1913, FMC began keeping detailed cost accounting records for everything they made. It is an early form of a managerial accounting cost determination and the cost of each part of a Model T, and I mean each and every part, was broken down into three categories: materials, labor and overhead. Frequently costs were calculated out to 5 decimal places, which seems like overkill until you realize that they were making these parts in tee millions. A 5 decimal place cost measure multiplied by a seven figure number turns out to be real money.
    At the front of the monthly books is a page that lists the total cost of a Model T by body style and is usually expressed as the sum of the cost of a chassis plus the cost of the body. The following table shows the month and year, the number of sedans and coupelets produced and the cost of a complete car.

Month/Year Sedans Sedan Cost   Coupelets Coupelet Cost
Dec. 1914 331 $577.927   801 $373.95
Jan. 1915 441 $612.215   211 $408.918
Feb. 1915 204 $601.066   160 $398.826
Totals 976   1172

    There is no cost book for March 1915, but the April book lists production for both March and April 1915. No sedans or coupelets were produce in either of those months. In fact, 1915 sedan and coupelet production ends in February 1915 and does not resume until October 1915 (1 coupelet). In November 225 coupelets were produced and 1 sedan. And in December 213 coupelets and 130 sedans were made.
    The cars built in December 1914, January and February 1915 were the 1915 style without the window in the rear quarters. Cars built in October, November and December would have been the 1916 style with the rear quarter windows.     Other information I found indicates that all of the 1915 style sedan and coupelet bodies were manufactured by Fisher Body Company. The bodies arrived fully painted and upholstered. All Ford had to do to them was to add the side and tail light brackets and bolt them onto a chassis.
    The cost books also revealed that all 1915 style sedan and coupelets came equipped with a speedometer as standard equipment. All 1916 style sedans and coupelets did not come with speedometers supplied by Ford. A note in the August 1915 cost book reads: "Note: Speedometer cost on included; starting in August none were put on cars."
    One last note of interest: there were very few open cars built in January 1915, only 110 torpedos (roadsters) and a mere 36 touring cars. Apparently the body manufacturers had difficulty forming the curved cowl that was characteristic of 1915 and later open cars. Touring production recovered in February with 5674 touring cars produced.

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© Bruce W. McCalley. Rev. August 6, 2008.