What Is a Tin Lizzie?

Lori Kilchermann

A Tin Lizzie is an old motorcar, most-commonly a Ford Model T. The term is said to have been derived from the most common American name for a horse in the early 1900s — Lizzie, short for Elizabeth — and the fact that the vehicle was made of metal or tin. Used as a slang reference for the Model T, the term Tin Lizzie eventually made its way to defining any cheap, old car. In the early days of automobile racing, a Tin Lizzie was a nickname given to a rough-looking racing car. As other manufacturers began to produce automobiles, the term became synonymous for a dilapidated or cheaply-built car or truck.

Known as a Tin Lizzie, the Ford Model T was designed to be affordable to almost all citizens.
Known as a Tin Lizzie, the Ford Model T was designed to be affordable to almost all citizens.

In the early days of the American automobile, the public was suspicious of the need for a motorized vehicle that often scared horses and damaged roads by creating deep ruts in wet weather. As more and more of the Model T Ford automobiles began occupying the roads and streets of the countryside, the dissatisfied public began giving Mr. Ford's modern marvel not so marvelous nicknames, such as Tin Lizzie. Eventually, the name was seen as a term of endearment and some owners began referring to their own Fords as a Tin Lizzie.

For the most part, the Model T was a dependable vehicle and proved to be a reliable means of transportation that slowly replaced the horse and buggy. As more and more people began to travel in the Tin Lizzie, some mechanical flaws were exposed that required some quick redesign by Ford. The earliest Fords were gravity-fed the fuel required to operate the engine. This means that there was no fuel pump to deliver the fuel to the carburetor. Thus, when the vehicle was asked to climb a steep hill, the fuel in the rear-mounted fuel tank would not flow to the engine, and the vehicle would run out of gas partway up the hill.

Owners soon solved the fuel-delivery problem of the Tin Lizzie and began backing up hills. The awkward process of driving in hilly country gave rise to the Tin Lizzie moniker once again and the name spread to every motor vehicle on the road that gave any inclination of mechanical problems. Many car clubs devoted to the collection and survival of the Model T call their members Lizzie Lovers.

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