For a generation, Ford's humble Model T was the world's most popular car, with more than 15 million sold between late 1908 and 1927! In 1923, for example, every second car sold was a Model T Ford. And the more cars Ford Motor Company could sell, the more it lowered the price. From 1924 to 1926, the base price of a two-passenger runabout like this, without an optional electric starter, was only $260.
Chevrolet, in the early 1920s, could not compete with that rock-bottom price; the cheapest Chevrolet in 1924 was $490. General Motors officials even went so far as to call the Chevrolet a "failure" and considered discontinuing it.
However, the Model T Ford had outdated styling and a weird two-speed planetary band-grip transmission, which was shifted by foot pedals, and from 1914 to 1924, Ford's basic color was black, and only black.
In contrast, Chevrolet offered a conventional gear transmission, much better styling, an overhead valve engine and a choice of body colors. Stubbornly, Henry Ford insisted on continuing his Model T with all its eccentricities. But by 1927, under pressure, he allowed the Model T to be discontinued, to be replaced near year's end by the vastly improved Model A Ford, a new car styled a little like a Lincoln, with twice the horsepower of a Model T. It was available in many attractive colors and body types, had four-wheel brakes, was lower-slung and had better balance.
A new Model A would do 65 miles per hour, while a Model T struggled above 45! To top it off, a Model A offered optional safety glass in a time when many were badly cut and even disfigured by shattered windshields or side windows.
Tightwads who ordered the bare-bones 1920 Model T without a starter were taking a terrible chance. Hand-cranking an old car can be hazardous, especially if the engine kicks back on contact, as it sometimes will. The reverse impact of the iron crank can be hard and fast enough to break an arm or shatter a hand.
I've never owned a car without a starter, but a couple of very old ones I once owned needed hand-cranking occasionally, when there was no other way to get them started. I had quite a scare on the occasions when the hand crank spun back viciously and I barely got my hand out of the way in time.
Because of the risk in hand-cranking, twice as many buyers of 1920 Ford runabouts chose the optional electric starter.