Writing for the New Yorker in 1936, E.B. White pens a farewell to the Model T, a gadget that defined the first quarter of the 20th century.
During my association with Model T’s, self-starters were not a prevalent accessory. They were expensive and under suspicion. Your car came equipped with a serviceable crank, and the first thing you learned was how to Get Results. It was a special trick, and until you learned it (usually from another Ford owner, but sometimes by a period of appalling experimentation) you might as well have been winding up an awning. The trick was to leave the ignition switch off, proceed to the animal’s head, pull the choke (which was a little wire protruding through the radiator), and give the crank two or three nonchalant upward lifts. Then, whistling as though thinking about something else, you would saunter back to the driver’s cabin, turn the ignition on, return to the crank, and this time, catching it on the down stroke, give it a quick spin with plenty of That. If this procedure was followed, the engine almost always responded — first with a few scattered explosions, then with a tumultuous gunfire, which you checked by racing around to the driver’s seat and retarding the throttle. Often, if the emergency brake hadn’t been pulled all the way back, the car advanced on you the instant the first explosion occurred and you would hold it back by leaning your weight against it. I can still feel my old Ford nuzzling me at the curb, as though looking for an apple in my pocket.
Aside from the obvious advantage of price, White details three compelling factors of the Model T, all of which still move car owners to purchase today: quickness, height, and customizability. The Model T was gloriously quick off the line, reaching its top speed of 45 mph, according to White, more quickly than other cars of the age. The driver sat high up in the car, on top of the gas tank, which must have given you the same mighty feeling as driving a huge-ass SUV or pickup truck. And as delivered, the Model T was just functional, leaving ample opportunity for people to add their own touches. For instance, the car didn’t come with a gas pedal (the throttle was hand-operated), speedometer, rear view mirror, or windshield wipers. (via @ftrain, who notes what a great tech blogger White was)