World's Oldest Production Ford, a 1903 Model A, with Chairman Bill Ford

They say depreciation begins the minute an owner drives a new car home. But if the car survives beyond a normal lifespan, it stops depreciating and begins acquiring value as a collectible. The process can consume a lot of time, as illustrated by this 1903 Ford Model A. New, its base price was $850. Last October, it sold at auction for $264,000, and to a noteworthy new owner: William Clay Ford, Jr., executive chairman of the board for Ford Motor Company and Henry’s great-grandson.

1903 Ford Model A Driver's SeatMr. Ford is only the sixth owner of the Model A, which is believed to be one of the first three built, the third one sold, and the oldest surviving Ford production car. The original owner was Herbert L. McNary, who worked for a creamery in Britt, Iowa. He paid $850 for the car, which he and his family kept for over a half-century.

McNary may never have known it, but his $170 deposit on the car—in addition to a $300 deposit from the Indiana Motor Co. for another Model A and an $850 full-price payment from a Dr. E. Pfennig for his car—kept the fledgling Ford Motor Co. from teetering over the edge of insolvency. (Neither the Indiana car nor Dr. Pfennig’s are believed to still exist.)

When the three orders arrived on July 13, 1903, Henry Ford’s company—his third and ultimately successful foray into the automobile business—had a corporate bank balance of exactly $223.65, not enough to meet the impending payroll. The $1320 was just enough to keep Ford in business. Over the next 15 months, 1700 Model A Fords were assembled in the little plant on Detroit’s Mack Avenue, and the rest is history.

McNary’s family finally sold the Model A to an Iowa collector, Harry Burd, for $400. Burd had the car restored, later selling it to a Swiss Ford dealer in 1961. The car was displayed at Ford of Europe’s Cologne, Germany, headquarters until 2001, and appeared in Ford centenary celebration events in England, as well as making the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, which is restricted to cars built before 1905.

Before going on the auction block, this Model A Rear-Entry Tonneau (also known as a runabout) was most recently part of the collection of the late John O’Quinn. Although previously restored, including a complete rebuild of the 100-cubic-inch, eight-horsepower two-cylinder engine, the Model A received a mild update restoration following the auction by Terry Deters Restorations in Temperance, Michigan. The transmission is a two-speed unit.


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The Model A was the headliner at a kickoff event today at Ford’s World Headquarters in Dearborn that begins the celebration of Henry Ford’s 150th birthday. It will also be on display at the upcoming North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the public days for which are January 19–27.

Beyond that, Chairman Ford says he fully intends to learn how to drive his expensive family heirloom.

For further details on the Henry Ford sesquicentennial, see www.henryford150.com.

1903 Ford Model A

By Tony Swan

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