The owners of brass cars probably have more fun than anyone else in the hobby, even if brass cars themselves might make up its most complicated era of automobiles.
The brass era is typically considered as that period from the dawn of the automobile age through the end of 1915. Part of the appeal of cars built in that period is the fact that convention had not yet taken hold in the automotive industry. The internal-combustion engine’s future wasn’t quite clear, and so steam and electric vehicles were also being promoted. However, even the gas-engine cars presented a wide range of choices. The “1908 Handbook of Gasoline Automobiles,” for example, details everything from a single-cylinder Cadillac coupe at $1350, a two-cylinder Northern touring at $1600, to a water-cooled two-stroke three-cylinder Elmore touring at $1750 and an air-cooled four-cylinder Franklin runabout at $1750. It also lists an air-cooled four-cylinder Knox Stanhope at $2500 and a water-cooled six-cylinder Thomas touring at $6000. An incomplete list from just one year, it hints at the difficulty facing a would-be automobile-owner in 1908. A first-time brass-car owner could easily face the same predicament today since it remains possible to find nearly anything within a range comparable to that of 112 years ago. To narrow the choice, the smart choice for a new brass buyer could be an entry-level brass car such as the Model T Ford or the E-M-F 30.
The Ford may fit you to a ‘T’
The Model T arrived in October of 1908 as the latest chapter in Henry Ford’s self-assigned mission to create the car for everyman. He’d begun experimenting with the automobile more than a decade earlier and the result, his Quadricycle, appeared in 1896. Two years later, his second car was completed and more importantly, he found backers and went into business. Success didn’t come overnight or without failures, but in 1903, Ford Motor Co. was established. It offered two-cylinder models, fours and sixes over the next several years and not all of them were built with affordability in mind. However, by 1906, the Model N was showing the direction his cars would take.
The earliest Model T was a break with the past mechanically, but it followed the Models N and S in the plan to build cars that almost anyone could buy and drive. The latter quality was as critical as the first, given that the roads of the day were breathtakingly poor nearly everywhere but in cities; a car that could realistically be driven in small towns and especially in rural areas could change the lives of those who lived there. It had to be simple — or at least straightforward — so that it could be easily mastered, and it needed to be strong to survive both the roads and the inexperienced drivers who would be learning as they went.
To meet those needs, the first Model Ts relied on four-cylinder flatheads producing 22 hp driving the rear wheels via two-speed planetary transmissions and torque tubes. A transmission brake was the service brake, rear-wheel brakes were operated by hand and transverse springs provided the suspension. The very earliest cars used two foot pedals and two hand levers plus hand controls on the steering wheel. Briefly, the pedals controlled the clutch and service brake, the levers controlled the hand brake and reverse gear and the controls on the wheel controlled spark and throttle. With the exception of the reverse lever that soon became a third pedal, the layout would continue through the Model T’s entire life.
The part that stumps a modern driver is the lack of a gearshift lever and the realization that the clutch pedal doesn’t function as he expects, but the driver who bought his Model T new from the local Ford garage stood a good chance of having nothing to unlearn. With some basic instruction, he quickly figured out how to start by moving the handbrake and the clutch pedal to their proper positions and then shifting from first to second by releasing the clutch pedal completely. The description is oversimplified, but the actual process is not difficult. While the Model T can — and frequently does — embarrass its driver in all sorts of unexpected ways, it’s forgiving overall and difficult to damage, two attributes that helped sales to top 10,000 cars in the first year.
Ford had gambled and its gamble paid off wildly as the 15 millionth Model T was built in 1927. Popular lore suggests that all Model Ts through the entire run are identical and while that’s true in the sense that they never strayed from Henry Ford’s original vision, updates were frequent and the last Model Ts are obviously much different than the first ones. They remained rugged and familiar, but the downside is that they also remained basic and even near the start, at least one competitor had recognized that maybe a car could be slightly upscale without sacrificing its practical virtues.
Entertain the E-M-F
The E-M-F, a car whose history is surprisingly intricate given its relatively short life, also appeared in 1908. The name came from the initials of its founders, Barney Everitt, William Metzger and Walter Flanders. Everitt had made his money building bodies for some of the earliest manufacturers and then decided to join them by producing the Wayne. Metzger had been with Northern and Cadillac while Flanders had been the manufacturing manager at Ford. E-M-F had its start when Northern and Wayne merged in 1908 and beyond the unmistakable pluses of having experienced executives in key positions, the Wayne’s designer, William Kelly, was also onboard.
The new car would be priced at $1250, considerably more than the Model T’s $850, but for his extra money, the buyer of an E-M-F would receive a car that was larger and more powerful than the Ford. Its 106-in. wheelbase bettered the Model T’s by 6 in., and its 30-hp four-cylinder flathead that was substantially ahead of the Model T’s 22 hp gave the car its catchy name, the E-M-F 30. The biggest difference was in the transmissions, where the E-M-F used a three-speed sliding-gear transaxle, but the fact that it was a transaxle was probably less meaningful in 1908 than it is today.
The contrast in prices, though, was very meaningful and to put it into perspective, the Model T today would cost about $23,479, but the E-M-F would be about $35,575. That was almost certainly a major reason for E-M-F’s sales of slightly more than 8000 cars by the end of 1909. As the Model T was going on to greater things, the E-M-F might have done so, too, if problems hadn’t begun cropping up almost immediately. Two of the three founders backed out in 1909, leaving Flanders on his own, but in 1910, Flanders decided to also build his own car called, naturally enough, the Flanders. Studebaker had a marketing agreement with E-M-F even before that and by 1912, it was in control of both E-M-F and Flanders, which were now in their final year.
Best buy ‘whys’ for brass beginners
An ad for what was now the Studebaker E-M-F 30 boasted that “for four years (it) has maintained itself as a car of unequaled service … Anybody who ever owned one or had a friend who owned one knows of the consistent service this car has given. The value is established.” At the same time, a Ford catalog noted that “Ford motor cars have become world-famous for their utility … The Ford is universal in its usefulness, universal in its reliability.” Although slightly vague as was typical of advertising copy of the time, the points were accurate then and remain accurate now, making either the E-M-F or the Ford well-suited for first-time owners of brass cars or those seeking to enter the brass-car world at a reasonable price.
The Ford, without a doubt, has a tremendous edge thanks to its sheer numbers. Model Ts were still being driven as transportation well into the 1930s and occasionally beyond, so it was natural that because of their availability, they’d become increasingly popular as the antique-car hobby began growing after World War II. At any large brass tour today, several cars will be Model Ts and that translates to some very important facts for the owner or potential owner. First, it’s all but impossible to be faced with a problem that someone else hasn’t already solved on his own car, and nearly every part a Model T could need is available. Just as significantly, Model Ts themselves are not difficult to find in any condition from a basket case to a trailer queen.
The E-M-F clearly can’t compete in popularity, obviously because its production total doesn’t even approach that of the Ford. Still, it has its share of owners every bit as understandably loyal as the Model T’s faithful, and a large brass tour is almost certain to include several E-M-Fs. The reasons include its 30 hp and its size that’s slightly bigger than a Model T, but it’s still manageable. The final push for many might be its transmission, a three-speed controlled by a conventional floor-shifter that nearly anyone comfortable with driving a stick can adjust to without much difficulty (beyond learning to double-clutch).
Like the Model T, the E-M-F has a support network — a little less extensive perhaps, but valuable — and with more serious hunting, studying of classified ads and some patience, it’s possible to find an example that needs help, is ready to tour or lies somewhere between the two.
E-M-F tourings and roadsters in Old Cars Report Price Guide No. 2 condition can be found around $25,000. Meanwhile, more plentiful brass-era (pre-1916) Ford Model T “open cars” (tourings and roadsters) can be found in No. 2 condition for about the same price or less. The earliest Ford Model Ts are more desirable and get closer to the $25,000 mark for No. 2 examples, but generally the closer a Model T gets to the end of the brass era, the lower its price. As a result, a 1915 Model T can be found in similar No. 2 condition for around $20,000. Driver-quality No. 3 brass Model Ts of open body styles can be found around the $12,000 to $15,000 mark.
Among the sources for further information is a website with a detailed all-around look at the E-M-F (address below) and the Model T Ford Club of America. The Horseless Carriage Club of America is an organization which anyone interested in brass cars should consider joining.
Brass Car Resources
Model T Ford Club of America
Horseless Carriage Club of America
Antique Automobile Club of America
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