The Model T was the most popular automobile of the 20th century, but how many Carolinians today know that Ford Motor Co. produced them at a plant less than two miles from downtown Charlotte?

A special display during the Sept. 4-7 Food Lion AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway will show a modern audience the 100-year-old car that brought the benefits of civilization to southern farmers in the early 20th century and "put America on wheels."

Henry Ford introduced his inexpensive Model T in 1908. He only managed to produce 11,000 Model Ts in 1909, the car's first full year of manufacture, but by 1913 Henry's famous moving assembly line was perfected, reducing the time it took to create a single car from 12.5 hours to 1.5 hours and increasing annual output to the hundreds of thousands. To meet America's insatiable demand and reduce shipping costs for finished cars, Ford built more than two dozen assembly plants at key locations around the country.

According to Ryan L. Sumner, historian and former assistant curator for the Levine Museum of the New South, Ford opened a service office for its Carolinas Model T customers at 222 North Tryon St. in Charlotte in 1914.

That facility was quickly converted to a small assembly plant for the popular Fords, turning out 6,850 cars in 1915, its first full year of operation. Its role was to assemble Model T bodies, then mate them to chassis shipped from Michigan. In 1916, a larger, four-story factory was secured at 210 East Sixth St., and production was relocated.

Through 1924, the Sixth Street location pumped out thousands of cars and trucks a year. Components such as engines, transmissions, frames, body panels and seats from all over the country would converge on the plant, mostly by way of rail, be assembled into a complete Model T, then get shipped to Ford dealers in every little town in the Carolinas.

In January of 1924, Ford Motor Co. made its biggest commitment to Charlotte when it broke ground on a manufacturing complex off of Statesville Avenue like none the city had ever seen. Ford purposely chose the location for its access to the Southern Railway (now Norfolk Southern) line.

The main building, designed by internationally renowned industrial architect Albert Kahn, covered 240,000 square feet of production space. The entire project cost Ford nearly $2 million, or approximately $25 million in today's money. The new Ford plant's first day of production was Sept. 14, 1924, and an aerial photograph of the occasion appeared on the cover of The Charlotte Observer.

The Statesville Avenue facility hired 500 local workers and turned out an average of 300 Model T cars and trucks every day in its first year of operation. Reflecting Henry Ford's obsession with efficiency, production speed increased and 1925 saw a record output of 60,032 vehicles. Faced with more sophisticated competition from Chevrolet and other makers, Ford reluctantly introduced a new car for 1928, but not before selling his 15-millionth Model T. The Charlotte Ford plant made the switch to manufacturing Model As from 1928-32, but would close its doors in early 1932 when the Great Depression killed Ford's sales momentum.

During World War II, the building became the Charlotte Quartermaster Corps Depot. In the '50s and '60s. many Charlotteans produced Nike missiles and Honest John XM50 rockets for the Cold War when the old Ford facility was turned into the Charlotte Ordnance Missile Plant. Today the complex is home to several businesses.

In all, the Ford Motor Co. Assembly Plant in Charlotte produced a total of 231,068 vehicles-cars and trucks that delivered civilization to rural America. A special Model T centennial exhibit at the Sept. 4-7 Food Lion AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway will allow spectators to re-visit the birth of America's love affair with the automobile.

The fall Food Lion AutoFair annually attracts more than 120,000 visitors. It features more than 50 car club displays and more than 7,000 vendor spaces that offer a plethora of automotive parts and memorabilia.

More than 1,500 collectible vehicles of all makes and models will be available for sale in the car corral that rings the 1.5-mile superspeedway.

Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults while children 12 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult.

Parking for the event is $5. For information, contact the Charlotte Motor Speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit us online.