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Ford's First Car- The Quadricycle

Updated on January 14, 2020
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John is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in History from Montclair State University and thoroughly enjoys reading literature.

Henry Ford in his Quadricycle
Henry Ford in his Quadricycle | Source

When most people think about the early Ford cars, they tend to think about the Model A, or maybe even the Model T. Both were very important cars in automobile history, but neither were the first. Very few remember the very first car that Henry Ford built, the Quadricycle. Built ten years after the Benz Patent Motorwagon, the Quadricycle was the beginning of the Ford empire. It was actually inspired by an 1895 article on the gasoline engine in the American Machinist magazine. Ford soon became obsessed with the engine, and in June of 1896, drove his Quadricycle on the streets of Detroit for the first time.

A rear view of the Quadricycle. Note the buggy design and large wheels.
A rear view of the Quadricycle. Note the buggy design and large wheels. | Source

Henry Ford was absolutely fascinated by the gasoline engine. He built and tested a gasoline engine in his kitchen sink with his wife helping him. So building a car was the natural step forward. Charles King, (Another noted engineer at the time) tested his version of a car well before Ford, and his test just inspired Ford even more. So Ford decided to build his own version of a Horseless carriage. The Quadricycle was built in the shed behind Ford's home. Ford, along with other friends and engineers (Including Charles King), worked long hours to build the 500 pound car. Ford was able to dedicate time around his work schedule to work on his invention. At the time he was the Chief Engineer as the Edison Illuminating Company.

The Quadricycle was mainly wood and steel, and was named so because it was mounted on four large bicycle wheels. It was designed much like the horse-drawn buggy's of the time. Ford did not just put an engine on a buggy, unlike many of his fellow innovators. He designed the buggy around the engine. He was among the first to do so, and what set the Quadricycle apart from many of the other prototypes of the time. It was powered by a two cylinder engine, capable of about 4 horsepower. The engine was located in the rear of the vehicle. It was a two speed transmission, but apparently Ford couldn't get enough speed up to move it into second gear. There was no reverse gear, and it had a top speed of 20 miles per hour. On the night it was finished, Ford immediately took it out for a test drive. However, the doors of the shed were too small to get the car out! Ford and Jim Bishop had to bash around the doorframe of the shed to make enough space to fit the Quadricycle through the door. So at about 2 in the morning, June 4 1896, the Quadricycle went for its maiden voyage. Ford drove it around some of the major roadways in Detroit, and had to move it to the Edison Illuminating plant when a critical spring broke. He managed to fix it at the plant. Just imagine what anyone who saw this was thinking! Automobiles were extremely rare and very expensive at the time. Most people didn't know what one looked like. Thankfully it was still early in the morning, when most people were still asleep.

Mr. and Mrs. Ford in his Quadricycle.
Mr. and Mrs. Ford in his Quadricycle. | Source

The first voyage was a success.He later drove it to his father's farm during the day. Many people stopped to stare at the Quadricycle as Ford drove past. While the idea of the horseless carriage was well known, almost no one had actually seen one before.

Some interesting things to note about the mechanics of the Quadricycle. The Quadricycle actually had no brakes to speak of. Stopping was a matter of turning off the engine and coasting to a stop. Stopping, therefore, was more of an art than a science and made the automobile much more difficult to handle. As for steering, the Quadricycle had no recognizable steering wheel. Rather, a tiller was used to move the wheels to steer, akin to something one might find on a boat. Due to the nature of the engine, there were some issues with overheating. Ford created a water cooling system to help combat this, which would later evolve into the radiator system.

Ford sold few Quadricycle's for about $200 each. A delivery wagon style Quadricycle was later designed, but also didn't sell well. The money from selling the Quadricycle went into developing and building his second car, the Model A. He later bought back his first Quadricycle in 1902, one year before Ford Motors was created. If you take a look at the Model A, you can clearly see elements of the Quadricycle. Although the Model A had a steering column, a larger engine, and a back seat, it still retained the buggy-like appearance and bicycle like wheels. It really could be said that without the Quadricycle, it is possible Ford Motors may never have come about.

Today, there are still replicas of the Quadricycle being made. They are hand made from a company in the UK. Some car enthusiasts enjoy building replicas of this iconic car. There are places that you can go to see a replica of the Ford Quadriycle. The Henry Ford in Detroit, for example, has a Quadricyle as a part of their exhibits. This car was the beginning of Henry Ford's iconic business. Without this first successful automobile, perhaps the Ford Company may never have been created, and the assembly line gone undiscovered. This car was the beginning of affordable automobiles for the American public, and the beginning of a new age.

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A replica of the Quadricycle. Dedicated to Public Domain
A replica of the Quadricycle. Dedicated to Public Domain | Source

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