A Trip Back into Automotive History

A while back my wife, Peggy, and I were passing through Detroit.  Along with visiting the Motown Studio complex we decided to take in the Piquette Avenue Ford plant.  This is one of the most significant automotive heritage sites in the world as this is where Henry Ford designed the Model T.

The building was constructed in 1905.  It was the Ford Motor Company’s first purpose built factory.  The Ford Models C, F, K, N, R, S and the Model T were all assembled here.  The Model T was introduced in 1908 as a 1909 model.  The first 12,000 Model T’s were assembled here and shipped out by railroad.

Because of the popularity of the Model T, they soon outgrew the building and in 1910 they relocated to the New Highland Park plant.  Ford sold this building to Studebaker in 1911.

The 1858 intersection of two rail lines had created a natural location for Detroit manufacturing with easy access to distribution by rail.

After the failure of two auto companies that Henry Ford had previously started, he and a group of investors organized the Ford Motor Company in 1903.  Henry Ford was named Vice President.  Construction on the state-of-the art three story Piquette Avenue plant was started one year later.

Piquette Avenue Ford plant in Detroit

As new models came and went, and production methods improved, it became evident very early on that they would need more room.  In January 1907 Henry Ford ordered that a “secret experimental room” be created in the back corner of the third floor.  This was a place for his hand-picked team to focus in private on coming up with ideas for developing the Model T.  Other than Ford who turned 44 in 1907 the key people working in the experimental room on a regular basis were all in their twenties.

In the spring of 1908 workers built a few complete Model T’s for testing.  The car was everything Henry Ford had hoped for.  The first Model T for sale was completed on Sept 27, 1908.

Based in South Bend, Indiana, Studebaker had been the world’s largest builder of horse-drawn wagons in the late 1880’s.  Starting in 1902, the first powered vehicles the company produced were electric cars.  By 1910, Studebaker had acquired the E-M-F company and its huge plant on Piquette Avenue and was producing gas powered automobiles.  The next year Studebaker bought the Ford Piquette Avenue plant for additional vehicle assembly and soon Studebaker and Ford Motor Company were two of the highest volume automakers in the world.

In driving around the surrounding neighborhood it is easy to see that it is well past its prime.  The dilapidated condition of what at one time were beautiful, large homes and estates is sad to see.

The Model T Automotive Heritage Complex inc. (doing business as) the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant was organized in 2000 as a nonprofit 501(c )(3) organization for the purpose of preserving the plant and to keep it from being demolished.  The building is mostly empty except for the 3rd floor that has a number of mostly restored cars on display.  Most of these are early Fords along with a few other brands and several unusual vehicles.  There are also displays of early running gears, etc.  The nonprofit charges a small fee for touring the building.  Next time you are in the Detroit area, I recommend you set aside a couple of hours to visit this historic building.  You won’t be disappointed.

– Travel article by Jack L.