The Role of the Ford Model T As a Bus in Central and Eastern Europe

There were many aspects of the Ford Model T, which have been discussed over the last 100 years. But there is one thing, which is often overlooked: how the Model T was used by nascent bus companies and small enterpreneurs in the CEE region.

The history of motorized public transportation is mostly observed through stories on how buses appeared in bigger cities and how the network was developed. But I believe the real trailblazers were those small companies and private individuals who, from the 1910s used just a few vehicles to operate shorter inter-city lines. While my expertise lies in the history of Hungarian motoring, I present you some examples from other countries as well.

A Model T-based coach in Finland, 1925. Source: https://wmeritum.pl/ford-t-czyli-amerykanski-sen-henryego-forda/7932

First, let’s look at some background. In the 1920s Ford and General Motors battled for world domination on the automobile markets. Those countries where local motor industry existed, the governments tried to use custom tariffs to protect the domestic companies with various degree of success.

Somewhere in Hungary in the late 1920s: it was possible to try out both the Fordson tractor and the Model T truck (Source: National Archives)

According to this study Ford Italia was set up in 1923 in Trieste. It was, what we would call today an SKD assembly plant – semi-finished cars arrived to the plant, where final assembly took place. For a few years Ford used the Trieste hub to great affect: e.g. in 1926 50 percent of the total number of imported cars into Czechoslovakia came from Trieste (see p. 695-696, here)

In Hungary the first bus lines were set up in 1910 and operated by the Hungarian Post. In 1928 a newly set up subsidiary of the Hungarian State-Owned Railway Company took over the network. Additionally there were dozens of smaller bus lines operated by private individuals, who sometimes went on to organise their own companies. Here are a few examples from Hungary, followed by other countries.

This Model T/based coach was used around the city of Baja in the late 1920s, early 1930s (Source: Hungarian Museum of Science, Transportation and Technology)
A Ford Model T with a special trailer in front of the Start autobus company in Budapest. Start was one of the few smaller companies, which became quite succesful, operating dozens of lines across the country until WW2 (Source: Hungarian Museum of Science, Transportation and Technology)
A Model T bodied by the Uhry coachbuilding company in Budapest. It was used around Csepreg in the early 1930s (Source: National Archives)
A Ford Model T coach by Dušan Marić, Sarajevo (Source: https://www.facebook.com/437853429695808/photos/a.437884643026020/1494692584011882/?type=3&theater)
A very tall Model T in Tallinn (Source: http://eag.vanatehnika.ee/ewbussid.html?fbclid=IwAR34y6xJIFJUosBAag_mp32fpCbAFL_Gdq8ScJMnrmO1tTQ_u-M58ieodfw#rakvere)

With the effects of the 1929 economy crisis the situation changed in the region. Operations at the Ford Trieste plant stopped in 1931. New car markets recovered in the mid-1930s and by that time German cars came to dominate.

Those bus operators who worked prior to 1939 saw their vehicles confiscated during the war.

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