1907 Ford Model K
1907 Ford Model K. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

It could be called the car that history forgot, and even Henry Ford himself would probably have rather forgotten it. It was the Model K Ford that arrived in late 1905 as a 1906 model and was made until 1908. It was a car built under protest before Henry Ford gained the iron fisted control of the Ford Motor Company that he would later have.

The Model K was a large, luxury six-cylinder car built at a time when most other luxury makers were still making do with four cylinders or less. Cadillac, for example, was still building one-cylinder cars, although it did add a four in 1905. Peerless got a six in 1908, and Packard in 1912.

When Henry Ford finally got his successful Ford Motor Co. launched in 1903, his third attempt (the first went broke and the second became Cadillac), he did it with the financial backing of Alexander Malcomson, a wealthy Detroit coal merchant.

In those very early days of the automobile, cars were often only affordable by the well to do, of which Malcomson was one. He was naturally influenced by his circle of friends and contacts, and he saw exclusive luxury cars as the way of the future.

Henry Ford, on the other hand, came from more modest means, having been born on a farm near Dearborn which was then quite rural. Although mechanically talented, he was an unsophisticated man who was suspicious of those with wealth and power. His idea, like that of Ransom E. Olds of Oldsmobile who was building the popular, small Curved Dash Olds, was that cars should be affordable to the multitudes. And the way to achieve that was to keep them as basic as possible and turn them out in large numbers.

“The way to make automobiles,” he said, “is to make one automobile like another automobile, to make them all alike…just as one pin is like another pin when it comes out of the pin factory.”

This philosophy would come to fruition in Henry’s beloved Model T Ford, of which more than 15 million were built from 1908 to 1927. It was a single model record that would stand until 1972 when it was surpassed by the Volkswagen Beetle.

But in 1905 Malcomson still held the power, and although Ford turned out light cars such as the two-cylinder Models A and C, and the four cylinder Model B, Malcomson saw the future in more luxurious offerings. Thus in 1905 the Ford Motor Co. introduced the Model K. It was easy to see what would prompt Malcomson’s thinking because more than half the cars being sold at that time were high priced models.

The Ford Model K was a large luxury car at the other end of the spectrum from what the Model T would be. It was powered by a big 6.6-litre (405 cu in.) 40 horsepower side-valve, inline six-cylinder engine with a bore and stroke of 114.3 X 108 mm (4.5 X 4.25 in.). It was priced at $2,500, later raised to $2,800. Although this was a huge amount of money at that time, it was still relatively inexpensive compared with other luxury cars.

Its six iron cylinders were individually cast integrally with their cylinder heads and bolted to the crankcase, as was then common practice. It had a seven-main-breaking crankshaft, and drove the rear wheels through a pedal-operated, two-speed planetary transmission which would prove to be marginal for the engine’s power. Suspension was by longitudinal leaf springs, not the transverse leaf springs for which Ford would become famous, and its mechanical brakes operated on the rear wheels.

The K came as a touring car or a roadster, with the lighter roadster guaranteed to reach 96 (60 mph), a benchmark of performance in those days. In fact a Model K driven by Frank Kulick and Bert Lorimer covered 1,827 km (1,135 mi.) in 24 hours for an average of 76 km/h (47.2 mph), a world record, proving that the K not only had speed, it also had durability.

Although Henry Ford was able to manoeuvre Malcomson out of Ford in mid-1906, he allowed construction of the K to carry on until 1908 when the Model T arrived to sweep all before it. Although the K carried a high price, it is unlikely that Ford made any money on it, but it did add a measure of prestige. Ford didn’t build another six-cylinder model until 1941.

With the arrival of the Model T, the Model K and other models were discontinued and the Ford Motor Co. became a one-model company. This lasted for 14 years, until 1922 when at the urging of Henry’s son Edsel, titular president of Ford, the Ford company bought luxury car company Lincoln out of receivership.

Although the Ford Model K never sold in large numbers, and is now largely forgotten, today’s market has placed a real premium on it as a collectible. Model Ks can now command prices of over a quarter million dollars at vintage car auctions.

Maybe somewhere Mr. Malcomson is looking down and having the last laugh.

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