The Bronze Ford...
...will be a full size replica of a Model T Ford specially cast and sited in Cameron Square Fort William to commemorate the epic ascent of Britain’s Highest Mountain, Ben Nevis, by a Model T Ford in May 1911.
An outlandish dream became a reality when one Henry Alexander, son of an Edinburgh Ford Dealer, set out to drive up Ben Nevis. Five days later he reached the summit when the press were provided with ponies to acclaim the feat.
His descent from the summit can be viewed in a recently rediscovered five minute silent film clip on the British Film Institute archive.
This event was celebrated and publicised by the Ford Motor Company for decades, becoming part of the “Mountain Culture” of Ben Nevis.
It was remembered in 2011 when 76 Model T cars came to Fort William to mark Alexander’s achievement.
One car attempted to follow the preliminary part of Alexander’s route whilst another was carried in parts by 70 stalwarts to the summit. There it was assembled in a snowstorm, photographed, dismantled and returned safely to Fort William.
This “carry car” was later reassembled on the first floor of the famous “West Highland Museum” in Fort William attracting much interest.
In 2013 an architect commissioned to redesign Cameron Square saw the car in the museum and penned a sketch with a Model T in the revamped square.
Local enthusiasts contacted Neil Tuckett who owned the 2011 car and discussed this idea. In no time the vision of “The Bronze Ford” was born.
The full size replica with Henry Alexander at the wheel will be stationed permanently in the square a few feet away from the spot where the Ford left to ascend Ben Nevis and to where it returned - when the whole of Fort William turned out to acclaim Alexander and his success.
Alexander’s story will live on into future centuries as “The Bronze Ford”.
Henry Alexander about to leave Cameron Square Fort William in 1911
The Model T on the Summit Plateau at 4000 feet
A kilted Highlander posing before the Model T at the summit.
In the background looms the tower of the summit observatory - necessary to allow access into the observatory building buried in five feet of snow.
Alexander had left the town driving from sea level the five miles to the summit of Ben Nevis which stands at 4,406 feet. The route crosses burns (streams), traverses bogs and ascends the steep trackless rocky hillside. Then as now there is no road or navigable trail.
This feat of man and machine took 5 days in ascent and one working day in descent. This achievement was acclaimed by Ford - though press reports at the time were not all overwhelmingly positive. The pony hired to carry the correspondent of “The Times” to the top of the Ben did not take a great liking to his rider - and threw him off into a bog breaking his nose! He sent a rather abbreviated report.
The 1911 film (available by googling “Motoring over Ben Nevis”) shows the car rattling down the rocky hillside and then becoming stuck in a peat hag beside the half way lochan. Its progress continues when sticks of dynamite are used to demolish the peaty impasse!
Alexander arrived triumphantly back into Fort William. Bagpipes and drums preceded the car, festooned with the “Stars and stripes” and “Lion Rampant”, as it is thronged by vast crowds.
The jubilant return of the Model T Ford to Fort William
Alexander’s achievement was used extensively by Messrs. Ford and other motoring suppliers for many years………
Alexander ascended Ben Nevis again in 1928 in a “Model A” Ford
There were celebrations in Fort William to mark the 50th anniversary of the ascent in 1961 but none to match the Centenary Rally held for a week in May 2011 when 76 Model T cars came to Lochaber. An attempt was made to follow Henry Alexanders route up the shoulder of Ben Nevis toward the half way point. This was thwarted by dreadful weather.
However a band of some 77 stalwarts succeeded in carrying a 1911 Model T in parts to the summit of the Ben. Here it was erected apparently in record time driven by the prevailing weather conditions.
Neil Tuckett’s attempt on the Ben
The 1911 “Carry Car” at the foot and the Summit of Ben Nevis
After its safe return to Fort William the car spent two years on display in the renowned “West Highland Museum” in Cameron Square.
From this display in the Museum the concept of “The Bronze Ford” was born. Since October 2013 a small group of local enthusiasts have met regularly in Fort William to plan a fundraising campaign to raise the profile of the project locally and nationally with a target of £89,000.
During this three year effort a 1911 car owned locally by Iain Blyth was driven to many local events and occasions to publicise the project and raise funds.
We have regularly attended the Fort William Mountain Festival, “10 under the Ben”, the Scottish six day trials, Lochaber Agricultural show, the Ben Nevis Race , Glenfinnan Games and car rallies in Fraserburgh, Glamis castle, Oban and Scone Palace.
Iain Blyth’s 1911 car leads off 900 cyclists in 2014
Again in 2015 at the “Ten under the Ben” cycle race.
Local businesses have supported the project with cash and fundraising enterprises. “Nevis Range” offered a free day to help raise funds on their High Wire course. Teams of 4 from local businesses competed and £1,800 was raised.
Eleven year old Taylor Coull and his grandfather Leslie Coull from Keith, Aberdeenshire raised £1500 on a sponsored ascent of Ben Nevis, a sum which was matched by James Gray of Fraserburgh who has been a great supporter of the project.
Many private donations have swollen the fund considerably and we now have £53,000 banked with another £8,000 firmly pledged. We are applying for a further sum from LEADER – a locally administered European fund for Rural Scotland. We will know if we have been successful in early May 2017.
There has been much interest in the press both locally and nationally and we have had an illustrated article published in “Vintage Ford” – the magazine for Model T enthusiasts in the USA – as well as the UK based “T Topics”
From July 2017 issue of “The Vintage Ford” USA
As part of the LEADER application we have had the active support of the Highland Council who arranged the tendering process in February 2017. The successful tender will be actioned when the application to LEADER is successful.
We have been actively supported throughout by Neil Tuckett of Tuckett Brothers Buckinghamshire also useful advice & to oversee the casting has been offered by Mark Stoddart , International Designer of Turnberry Ayrshire.
Our Committee comprises Margaret Boyd (Secretary Voluntary Action Lochaber and Secretary), Iain Blyth (Model T owner and Engineer), Robbie Robertson (with a lifetime in the motor trade), May MacIntyre (local Ford historian), Bill Cameron (Lochaber High School who controls our social media presence), George Bruce (Lochaber Rotary Cluband Treasurer ) Neil MacLeod (Publicity and photography) and Chris Robinson (Chairman).
The car will be cast in bronze, using the parts of the car carried up the Ben in 2011 as a pattern for this full size Model T. This will be the very first time that such a method has been deployed in the UK if not in the world. The driver – “Henry Alexander” will sit behind the steering wheel with one hand on the lever and another on the wheel - just as in 1911. There will be access to the vacant seats for photography.
The sculpture will become a permanent icon in Lochaber and the West Highlands close to the entrance of the West Highland Museum and the spot where Alexander left in 1911.
“The Bronze Ford” will enhance the environs of Fort William’s High Street. It will boost civic pride amongst locals bringing back life and ownership to the traditional heart of the town.
Some visitors will come to Fort William especially to see the sculpture whilst others will chance upon it, enquire and be further informed on a visit to the adjacent Museum where the full story of Henry Alexander and his Model T Ford on Ben Nevis in 1911 will be told.
Visit our website and access our Facebook page at: www.thebronzeford.co.uk
Chairman Ben Nevis model T Ford Project Group aka “The Bronze Ford”