Car: Henry Ford Quadricycle, 1896

The neighbors might not have realized it, but there was something of a “Eureka!” moment at 58 Bagley Avenue, Detroit in the early hours of June 4, 1896. At about 4am, Henry Ford’s first car clattered into life and set off on its maiden journey along the city’s dark and deserted streets. He was led by his friend Jim Bishop, riding a bicycle.

Ford “Quadricycle”
Along with his friend Jim Bishop, Henry Ford burned the midnight oil to build this, his first car, which managed without any brakes at all.

The tiny four-wheeled, single-seater contraption—the “Quadricycle”—was the result of considerable effort for Ford, then chief engineer of the Edison Illuminating Company. He built his first engine in 1893, and had spent every spare hour building a car for it ever since.

1896 Model car the Henry Ford “Quadricycle”

In contrast to other early car-making attempts, Ford’s vehicle was extremely light. Only the engine, wheels, axles, and steering rod were metal—the rest of the structure was wooden—keeping weight down to just 500lb (227kg). The chain-driven transmission was a first. There were two speeds available, giving maximums of 10 or 20mph (16 or 32kph), selected by twin drive belts that could be engaged by a floor-mounted clutch. There was no reverse gear, however, and no brakes at all.

1896 Model car the Henry Ford “Quadricycle”

The very first model of the car Henry Ford Quadricycle had proved that the new technology could be made on a scale many times smaller than the other key self-propelled vehicles of the day—railroad locomotives. But it was only the beginning for Henry Ford, who immediately set about refining the Quadricycle, substituting many of its wooden parts with sturdier metal components.

First Ford “Quadricycle”

“I cannot say that it was hard work. No work with interest is ever hard.”

Henry Ford

Video model of the car Henry Ford Quadricycle

Specification model of the car Henry Ford Quadricycle

  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: Detroit, Michigan
  • HISTORICAL STATUS: prototype
  • ENGINE: flat two-cylinder, 59ci (970cc)
  • MAXIMUM POWER: 10bhp
  • LAYOUT: mid-mounted engine driving the rear wheels
  • BODYWORK: none
  • TOP SPEED: 20mph (32kph)