How some of the best Fords of all time shaped automotive history

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Based in Dearborn, Michigan, right outside of Detroit, the Ford Motor Company began making cars in 1903. It sold 1,750 examples of the Model A, its first car. It could have stopped there; many car companies founded at the turn of the century floundered a few short years into their existence. Founder Henry Ford, however, was a talented industrialist who had the brains and the wallet to expand his company into a global giant. From people’s cars to supercars, here are some of the most significant vehicles ever to wear Ford’s globally recognized Blue Oval emblem.

Model T (1908)

Ford introduced the Model T in 1908 as a cheap and rudimentary, but accessible form of transportation. Cars were an expensive luxury at the time; the Model T was designed to change that. “It will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one,” Ford famously declared. Economies of scale and pioneering the assembly line helped the firm lower the price of a Model T to $260 (about $3,664 today) by 1925.

Ford stopped building the Model T in 1927. It made 16.5 million examples during a production run that lasted nearly 20 years. The company and its various subdivisions manufactured the Model T on every continent except for Antarctica. It was the first truly global car, one that deserves the “people’s car” label, and it remains one of the most influential models in the history of the automobile.

F-Series (1948)

The original Ford F-Series arrived on the market in 1948. At the time, no one expected the nameplate would continue to exist 70 years later, let alone as America’s best-selling vehicle. And yet, here we are: The F-Series again took first place in the sales race last year.

The F-Series has evolved considerably over the past seven decades. Early models were basic, stripped-out work trucks that were only slightly more advanced than a tractor. They became better equipped as trucks blurred the line between leisure and work vehicles during the 1960s. Ford made them nicer inside when buyers began shifting toward trucks as a standard form of transportation in the 1990s.

The F-Series – a broad family of models whose most popular variant is the F-150 – has seen it all. It’s been in the shoes of a drag racer (SVT Lightning), it’s raced across the desert (F-150 Raptor), it’s rivaled luxury cars (F-150 King Ranch) and it’s shown its rebel side (F-150 Harley Davidson). The next evolution, you ask? Going hybrid, according to Ford.

Thunderbird (1955)

The original Thunderbird bumped the Blue Oval into luxury car territory, which was traditionally Lincoln’s turf. The two-seater convertible came standard with a then-new V8 engine and a three-speed manual transmission. Ford offered numerous power-assist options including the steering, windows, brakes, and seats. Every Thunderbird came standard with a fiberglass hardtop.

Ford sold 11 generations of the Thunderbird, including a retro-inspired one built between 2002 and 2005, but most of the later cars lacked the early examples’ luster.

GT40 (1964)

Ford tried buying Ferrari in 1963. It almost had a deal but Enzo Ferrari, the brand’s famously volatile founder, called it off at the last minute. Furious, Ford decided to hit Ferrari where it hurts most: On the race track.

Ford enlisted the help of tuner Carroll Shelby to build a world-class race car capable of taking first overall during the 24 Hours of Le Mans, one of the toughest races on the planet. They called it the GT40. At first, Ferrari laughed; the GT40 couldn’t finish the race in 1964 and it fared no better the following year. In 1966, however, Ford’s GT40s took the first three spots in the race. From there, it won every year until Ford ended its Le Mans program after the 1969 edition of the race.

Mustang (1964)

The Mustang is one of the very few cars that could exist as a stand-alone brand; the Porsche 911 and the Jeep Wrangler are two other models on this exclusive list. No one expected it would become such a hit. Decision-makers merely wanted to counter Chevrolet’s rear-engined Corvair with a sportier model based on the homely Falcon.

The Mustang made its debut at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City — and America fell in love. Ford expected to sell 100,00 annually. It received 22,000 Mustang orders in the 24 hours following the car’s introduction and sold 417,000 examples during the nameplate’s first 12 months on the market.

The rest, as they say, is history, though it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for America’s favorite pony car. The model has found its mojo again and things are looking up. Ford updated the Mustang for the 2018 model year and recently introduced a commemorative model named Bullitt to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Steve McQueen film of the same name.

Taurus SHO (1988)

Ford took a different approach to design when it developed the Taurus to prevent buyers from flocking to Japanese sedans like the Honda Accord. It stands to reason, then, that the high-performance Taurus SHO followed the same path. In lieu of a V8, the SHO received a 3.0-liter V6 made by Yamaha and tuned to provide 220 horsepower. It showed buyers a new side of Ford few of them knew existed.

Photo: RL GNZLZ/Flickr

Crown Victoria (1992)

The original Crown Victoria arrived in 1992 to replace the LTD. It retained its predecessor’s body-on-frame construction, which was already becoming outdated even when George H. W. Bush occupied the White House. Ford didn’t mind; the Crown Vic was an old-fashioned model that appealed to old-fashioned buyers. It was the exact opposite of the Taurus.

As rivals switched to unibody, the Crown Vic became the last body-on-frame sedan standing in America. It was a dinosaur, some argued, but it was one of the tough ones. For decades, the sedan’s different evolutions faithfully served as the vehicle of choice for the nation’s taxi industry and virtually every law enforcement agency in the country. Many mourned its death when Ford stopped production in 2012. There hasn’t been an American-built body-on-frame sedan since, and there probably never will be again.

GT (2004)

Ford’s first homage to the GT40 took the form of a futuristic concept car shown in Detroit in 1995. Named GT90, it almost reached production but the company backpedaled. The first production-bound GT40 successor arrived in 2004, the year after Ford turned 100.

Named simply GT, it wore a retro-inspired design that borrowed a long list of styling cues from its 1960s predecessor. Power came from a 5.4-liter V8 engine supercharged to 550 horsepower, a monstrous amount at the time. Production ended in 2006 after Ford built 4,038 cars, less than the 4,500 it originally planned on making.

Focus RS (2015)

Ford began injecting steroids into the Focus when it RS-ified the original model in 2002. Early cars were of little interest to us because they were forbidden fruits sold everywhere but here. They were allergic to American pavement, it seems.

That changed with the current-generation model, which started trickling into showrooms two years ago. Ford finally designed it with the American market in mind, and everyone agreed it was well worth the wait. The RS’ heart is a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder that makes 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. An all-wheel drive system helps turn horsepower into forward motion.

GT (2015)

After going wild at Le Mans in the 1960s, Ford left rival Ferrari alone to focus on pony cars and muscle cars. It had proven its point. The Blue Oval rekindled the rivalry when it introduced the long-rumored GT at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show. The low-slung coupe pushes the supercar envelope like no GT before it.

Don’t look for an 8-, 10-, or 12-cylinder engine. Ford chose to use a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 fed with twin turbochargers to generate about 650 horsepower. Lightweight materials like carbon fiber and aluminum help keep weight in check while justifying its nearly $500,000 price tag. Want one? Act fast; Ford capped production at 250 units annually.

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