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Century birthday bash for Model T; Heyday a contrast to today's struggling US industry.

THE Ford Motor Company has begun marking the 100th anniversary of the Model T, the first low-priced car that introduced motoring to the masses.

The birthday bash comes at a time when Americans are cringing at the cost of filling their gas tanks and the US auto industry is struggling with plant closures and layoffs.

But the week-long celebration of the Model T promises to offer some nostalgic balm.

About 750 of the iconic vehicles were on display in Richmond, Indiana, in what is being called the largest gathering of Model Ts since they left the factory.

"I'm thrilled to be with the keepers of my great-grandfather's legacy," Edsel Ford, referring to company founder Henry Ford, told those attending the opening banquet.

His voice breaking with emotion at one point, Mr Ford said it was the spirit of Model T that made the vehicle so successful.

"It was a product that delivered freedom," he said. "You are the guardians of the spirit that got the whole thing going. You are the keepers of the flame. As long as we have people who love the Model T, we will never forget what brought us here."

The gathering transformed the Wayne County Fairgrounds into what looked like a movie set for a motion picture depicting life in the early 1900s. Drivers created Model T traffic jams as they picked their way among barns.

Jay Klehfoth, CEO of The Model T Ford Club of America based in nearby Centerville, said owners of the Model T were like a big extended family.

"Sometimes we refer to ourselves as the similarly afflicted," Klehfoth said. "We recognise we are only temporary custodians of these rolling pieces of history."

Roger Peterson, 71, of Greeneville, Tennessee, has owned 11 Model Ts over the years. "You don't own just one Model T," Peterson said. "You buy another one and another one and another one."

John Heitmann, a history professor, said the Model T is one of the most historically significant cars of the 20th century and maybe the single most important American car.

A century later, Ford and other Detroit car makers are struggling to keep up with consumer demands. Buyers are shunning sport utility vehicles for more fuel-efficient models, and high fuel prices and a sluggish economy are keeping sales low.

CAPTION(S):

STYLISH - the Ford Model T, introduced motoring to the masses; CLASSIC - the radiator grille of the Model T, polished up for the celebrations
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jul 25, 2008
Words:408
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