This week began the beginning of the Model T’s 100th anniversary year. It is of course the worst time ever for the auto industry, even worse than the 1970s. Ford is a sad case, but it’s worse at GM, where major Chevrolet dealerships are closing because they are unsellable. None of the automakers has a cash cushion, and they are turning to the government.
Against this backdrop, we found Edsel Ford’s 100th anniversary address to a group of assembled Model T collectors inspiring, a living lesson in American history. We are indebted to Paul Ingrassia of The Wall Street Journal, who wrote about the recent 100th anniversary Model T convention in Richmond, Indiana, and the site www.autonetwork.com for posting the speech on YouTube. The speech is 15 minutes long, but for anyone who is interested in the automobile industry, it speaks to an important idea. Keeping a brand alive is not just for nostalgia’s sake, but is all about keeping a certain idea alive.
The Model T was the embodiment of an idea. Edsel’s point about the Model T? It was not created for its own sake, but as a means to an end, a means to freedom, to help the middle class visit “God’s great open spaces.” Henry Ford was so sentimental about the car that he kept it in production longer than the market needed it.
At the meeting, he thanked the gathered collectors:
Not merely to Ford Motor company, but to us as a people. As a society. You are more than collectors, I think you are more than curators. You are more than custodians of a unique creation now entering its second century of existence. You are the guardians. You are the guardians of the spirit that got the whole thing going. You are the keepers of the flame. As long as we have people who love the Model T we will never forget what brought us here. You are the bright and steady landmark that gives us our bearings. You help us keep on track.”
But he didn’t let it evolve into nostalgia, saying that “Ford Motor Company is only a little way along the journey. We are still fresh to our journey. …. Successful companies never have journeys that are completed. But they all have beginnings. They all have starting points.”
The Model T was that start. Edsel then broke up on this line.
“Thank you for displaying proudly the Ford script, …. and the blue oval.”
Certainly, there is emotion wrapped up in the sentence. The Ford family has lost a fortune with the drop in stock value, and a cynic would say that this would make anyone cry. There is an old joke that says that Ford Motor would REALLY be a great company, if the family would just stay away.
But as with all families, there are things that imperfect, and the Ford family is no different than any other. What matters is that the family is still involved, and is still fighting for the company. Too many families do not fight for their family companies, but in the case of Ford, it matters to Edsel, and those gathered Ford fans, that the script and blue oval still says Ford.