Ford Model T Ambulance

During World War One the Ford Model T was one of the most widely used vehicles. Just the British Army used some 19,000 of them, and to this should be added all those employed by the Americans after their entry into the war. What made the Model T popular was not so much its performance, which was not spectacular, as its reliability, ruggedness, low cost and ease of maintenance and repair.

Ford Model T Ambulance 1

The design was extremely simple. The front and rear axles were solid, and set on a single transverse leaf spring. The engine was an a 2.9-litre four-cylinder side-valve engine developing 20 or 22 bhp at 1600rpm (depending on compression ratio). A two-speed planetary transmission used belts rather than gears and had only two forward speeds plus one reverse. The gears were operated by a two-pedal actuation – this made for easier driving than using a conventional stick operated sliding-gear gearbox. There were no brake as such: instead there was a contracting band on the transmission and hand-operated expansion brakes on the rear wheels. There was no self-starter; the engine had to be cranked by hand.

Its success came also from the ease that it let itself be adapted into a large number of diferent roles: staff car, of course, light cargo truck, for sure, but also as light vans, light patrol cars, liason vehicles and even as rail tractors. And also the variant shown here: as ambulance. During World War I, before the entry of the United States into the war, some charitable organizations offered Model T ambulances to the Allied forces. The standard Ford Model T was provided, but without any bodywork beyond the cowl. Legend have it that the first ten ambulance bodies were made out of the wood of the transport cases! Later bodies were produced by the grand carrossier Kellner of Boulogne, near Paris. The ambulance could carry three patients in litters or four patients seated, and two more could always sit up front with the driver. Canvas "pockets" covered the litter handles, which stuck out at the rear, beyond the tailgate.

Ford Model T Ambulance 2 Ford Model T Ambulance 3 Ford Model T Ambulance 4
Ford Model T Ambulance 6 Ford Model T Ambulance 7 Ford Model T Ambulance 8 Ford Model T Ambulance 9 Ford Model T Ambulance 10

It proved to be a very good ambulance. Its light weight made it well-suited for use on the muddy and shell-torn roads in forward combat areas; and if it got stuck in a hole, a group of soldiers could haul it out without much ado. It was also, as stated, very easy to maintain and repair, and it could take a lot of punishment. By November 1918, 4.362 Model T ambulances had been shipped overseas. It was also the most common ambulance used by the Allies during the war. Many American field service and Red Cross volunteer drivers drove Model T ambulances, including writer Ernest Hemingway and future cartoonist Walt Disney.