The Price of Cars

I’m not a car person (their color is about the only thing I notice about cars), so when I need to use a car in my novels, I have to do some work to ascertain which make and model is appropriate and whether or not that particular vehicle would have been available to my character. Was a car like that sold in her region? (A French import might have been available in New York in the Twenties but not in Iowa, for example.) And if it were available, could my character have afforded it? So I’ve looked into the prices of cars. Oddly enough, while the price of almost everything goes up over the decades, the price of cars falls dramatically.

For example, the Ford Model T cost $1200 in 1909. Five years later, it cost $490 (or about $11,000 in today’s money). By 1921, the same car was $310, or roughly $4,000 in today’s money. Why the big drop? The car didn’t change much over those years, but the real savings comes from Ford’s increasing efficiency at his factory. His wanted to produce a car that average Americans could afford, and by the Roaring Twenties, he had.  So I was comfortable having my character buy a Ford in 1924–it didn’t cost her all that much. 

By the way, it wasn’t Ford but General Motors that introduced the concept of buying cars on credit, with General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC) in 1919. Instead of paying cash, you could finance through GMAC, bypassing the banks. Sales boomed for GM, as by 1926, 75% of all car buyers were using credit to purchase their cars. 

Published in: on March 31, 2012 at 6:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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What did Model Ts Cost?


      In my Roaring Twenties mystery series, I want to get the cars “just right.” But I’m not a car person, so I rely on friends—one in particular—who know a lot about antique cars. One of the few things they didn’t know was the price of cars during the 1920s, so I had to research that myself. It turned out to be a fun project. 

      My main character needed to buy a modest American car in 1924. The obvious choice of car was the Model T, something Henry Ford engineered to fit the pocketbook of the average American. Until the Model T, only the very rich could afford a car. Once Model Ts started rolling off the assembly lines, nearly everyone with a job could afford one. That was Henry Ford’s intention. “I will build a car for the great multitude,” he said. “It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one.” And he paid the unheard of wage of $5 a day to his factory workers to build it.

      I soon learned there were many body types of Model Ts: runabouts, touring cars, sedans, roadsters, and so forth. In researching advertisements of the era, I found one from 1924 that hawked Model T runabouts for $265 (by the way, that works out to be about $3,300 in today’s dollars). So I used that body type and that price for my fictitious character.

Published in: on December 30, 2009 at 8:15 am  Comments (1)  
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