“Showdown in I-Town” Preview: Chevy 490 vs. Ford Model T

When you think of the rivalry between Chevrolet and Ford – arguably the longest, most heated standoff in American automotive history – you probably think it breaks down to a showdown between the Camaro and Mustang. While this ongoing rivalry continues to grab the headlines roughly 40 years after these nameplates hit the market, they are hardly the only contests held by the “bow-tie brand” and “the blue oval” over the past century.

To commemorate this arms race, the annual 41st Annual Iola Old Car Show and Swap Meet in Iola, Wisconsin, is this year hosting the “Showdown in I-Town: Ford Vs. Chevy” July 11 – 14. This gathering is the largest swap meet and car show in the Midwest, attracting many of the coolest rides in the country annually. For 2013, organizers are sending out a request to loyalists of either brand to bring specific models out for the big showdown to represent some of the often overlooked rivalries between these two legendary marquees.

Many people may not realize this but the competition between these two brands actually dates back to some of their very first mass produced automobiles. The Model T (also known as the Twin Lizzy) rightfully takes its place as possibly the most successful car ever to be produced by a domestic automotive manufacturer. This car was proof of the incredible business savvy Henry Ford possessed, as it was affordable and attractive thanks to its assembly line production, and a profit machine for the brand.

In 1915, Billy Durant, the man behind Chevrolet at the time, decided to attack the Model T directly with the similarly styled 490. At that time, the Model T was selling for roughly $495 a pop, so by advertising the $5 in savings that a buyer would get from purchasing a Chevrolet, the 490 was given its name.

Thanks in equal parts to quality of construction and this genius marketing scheme, the Chevrolet 490 was a great success and established Chevrolet as a major contender on the national market. Instead of being simply a cheap alternative to the Model T, the 490 actually took a hearty chunk out of that model’s total sales by offering several technological advancements before Ford. These initially included standard electrical horns, and by 1921, added a speedometer, ammeter, dome lights (closed-body cars only) and headlight dimmers. However, the $490 asking price was short lived, as the car eventually cost drivers $820 by 1921, and was replaced with more contemporary models later on in its life.

The Model T was in production for much longer than the 490 – 19 years compared to the seven that the Chevrolet was on the market – and remains today one of the best-selling cars of all time as well as a major milestone in the history of American industry. Both cars, however, were successful in establishing this rivalry that still goes strong today.

What other great rivalries between Chevy and Ford do you think often get overshadowed by the Camaro vs. Mustang debate that goes on today?

POLL Chevy 490 vs. Ford Model T