1914 paint question

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Model T Ford Forum: Forum 2010: 1914 paint question
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By coreywalker on Saturday, February 20, 2010 - 10:15 am:

I took all my fenders and running boards off yesterday. Going to do some bodywork this weekend so I can paint everything. I've read conflicting reports it seems as to when the blue stopped and black began. My car has an engine # that would indicate a January 1914 build date. I was thinking of painting it blue. Should the hood be blue also, or black? The fenders etc. were black on the blue cars I believe. Also I've read where the wheels were blue. It's confusing because I've read that "all 14's were black" and that "starting in late 1914 black became standard."

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Royce Peterson on Saturday, February 20, 2010 - 10:19 am:

By Trent Boggess
“They were finished, just like all coaches were finished, and it took a long time to complete it.”
-J. L. McCloud, Reminiscences, p.25
Most Model T's were black. Not all, just most. The early 1909 models were red and gray, but in the middle of 1909 this gave way to a dark green. During December 1910 and January, 1911, the dark green in turn was changed to a dark, almost black, midnight blue. Finally, in late 1914 to early 1915 the blues were replaced with just plain black on the open cars. From this point until the introduction of the “Improved Models” which appeared in August 1925, black was the standard color1. Roughly 11,500,000 cars were produced during this time period and even after the introduction of the Improved Models, many of whose bodies were painted in green and maroon, a substantial portions of the cars, and even whole cars, continued to be painted black.

Although there is little about the color of Model T's to argue over, there is still a great deal to be said about the finish of a Model T. That is, what type of paint was used and how was it applied. Very few cars survive with their original finishes. Most have been repainted one or more times during their lives, usually with the improved paints and painting techniques that have been developed over the last 70 years. To help those of us who have never seen a brand new Model T understand what their original finishes looked like, this article will look into the different materials and the methods used to paint the various parts of a Model T black.

There is reason to believe that Model T's painted with modern paints using modern application techniques may look somewhat differently than when those cars originally left the factory. For one thing, the materials used to paint cars today have very little in common with the materials that were used by the Ford Motor Company during the black era. Technological advances in the paint industry have made using the old paints impractical, while environmental concerns make their use undesirable. The methods of applying the paints have also changed. Paint spraying and powder coating techniques, technologies that are still evolving today, have replaced the Ford factory methods of dipping, brushing or flowing on the coats of paint.

In addition, this investigation of Model T paints and painting techniques provides the opportunity to examine two other issues. First, it will review one of the long-standing views regarding the reason why Ford standardized on the color black. Second, it will provide some insight into the reasons for the changes in Model T body construction that occurred in 1922 and again in 1925.

Since this investigation is likely to stir up some controversy over some long held opinions relating to the painting of Model T's, it is appropriate to begin by describing the sources for the information on which the investigation and this article are based. Essentially the information comes from two sources: the Research Center at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village and several technical publications. The Research Center is the depository for many of the engineering documents relating to the production of the Model T. These documents, once a part of the archives of the Ford Motor Company, are found in five major accessions. Accession #1003 contains the “Obsolete Materials Specifications” sheets. Beginning about 1916, the Ford Motor Company began writing detailed specifications for the materials that were used in building Model T's including the paints. These material specification sheets helped insure consistency in the materials supplied by Ford's vendors and tended to promote price competition among the vendors. Today, the sheets tell us what the chemical composition of the paints was, who were the principle suppliers and, to a lesser extent, which components of the Model T were to be painted with a specific paint.

Accession #166 contains many of the process sheets for the Model T. The process sheet is an engineering document which describes how to produce or assemble a Model T part or assembly. Since painting a part or assembly is a part of the assembly process, the process sheet will frequently tell whether or not a part was painted and what it was painted with.

Accession #1701 is one of the largest in the Research Center's collections. It includes microfilms of the drawings for nearly all the parts ever used (or considered for use) on a Model T. It also includes microfilms of the Record of Change cards or “Releases” for nearly every Model T part. These documents tell the story of how a Model T part changed over the years by specifying the date, nature and authority for the change and often includes what material the part was to be painted with.

Accession 125 contains the Ford Motor Company’s monthly Cost Books for the Model T. Beginning in late 1913 the Company began keeping highly detailed accounts of the costs of producing the Model T. The time period covered by these books extends from December 1913 to July 1926, with some gaps in between where the Cost Books for several months apparently have been lost. In addition to the cost of the complete car, these books list the cost of every part and every assembly operation. When a part or assembly was to be painted, these books will frequently identify the painting materials used on that piece of the Model T right down to the sandpaper and solvents.

Finally, Accession #65 contains several reminiscences by Model T era employees of the Ford Motor Company, one of whom was J. L. McCloud. The Ford Motor Company hired McCloud in 1915 as it's first college-trained chemist. In the late teens and early twenties he was responsible for insuring that the paints used were consistent in quality and performance. In his Reminiscences, McCloud makes many comments about Model T paints and their application based on his first-hand experience.

In addition to the information found at the Research Center, several technical books and articles on paints were consulted. These sources include: Dick's Encyclopedia of Practical Receipts and Processes. This book describes the methods of making Japan black and paints in general during the late 19th century. The 1925 standard reference work on paints and their applications was Maximilian Toch's The Chemistry and Technology of Paints. The Ford Motor Company engineers frequently cited this book in its material specification as a source of information about paints. The Technology of Paints, Varnishes and Lacquers edited by Charles R. Martens describes the history and evolution of paints, the theory of film formation and descriptions of different types of paints. The DuPont Refinishing Handbook provides an excellent historical background on paints and includes a superb glossary on painting terms. Finally, the standard reference work on how the Model T was manufactured during 1914-1915 is Arnold and Faurote's The Ford Methods and the Ford Shops. This book provides detailed descriptions and photographs of the various painting processes used in the Ford factory during the mid-teens to early 1920’s.

The scope of this article is limited to the paints and techniques used during the years from 1915 to 1925. There are a number of reasons for this limitation. First, it now appears that the black paint era of the Model T began later than has previously been thought. The Cost Books indicate clearly that through at least September 1914 Ford was still painting touring car bodies blue. The cost books indicate that different paints were used in October, November and early December 1914, but do not indicate exactly what color they were. No touring car bodies were painted and trimmed at the Ford factory from late December 1914 until very late in January 1915. Once touring car body painting resumed in 1915, the Cost Book’s descriptions of the paints match those used through the early 1920’s. Thus good evidence that black topcoats were being used on touring car bodies does not appear until early in 1915.

Second, good, reliable information on the composition of Model T paints and on what parts these paints were used on does not begin until 1915. The earliest material specification sheets for paints are dated 1916. The Cost Books indicate that virtually all of these 1916 paints were in use during February 1915. While there is evidence that many (though not all) of the materials and techniques described in this article were employed earlier, some as early as 1912, Ford factory paint documents dated before 1915 are scarce

Third, the reintroduction of colors to the Model T in mid-1925 and the use of pyroxlin paints beginning in mid-1926 defines an entirely different era in Model T production. Rightfully this should be the subject of a different article. Similarly, engine painting is a highly controversial yet important enough subject to warrant its own discussion at a later date.

A paint is a fluid material which when spread thinly over a surface will form a solid, adhesive film over the surface. It serves two important purposes: protection and decoration. Without paint, objects made of iron or steel will soon start to rust and deteriorate. The paint protects the underlying surface from the effects of water and sunlight, extending its useful life. Paint also serves for decorating an object, making its appearance more pleasing and attractive. Paints have been used for thousands of years. For most of that time, the final user manufactured the paint, because shelf or storage life of the paints was short. Commercially prepared paints began to appear after 1865 when New England paint makers discovered that the addition of silicate of soda to linseed oil based paints dramatically extended the shelf life of the paint. This made the preparation and marketing of mixed paint in small packages feasible and marks the beginning of the commercial paint industry in America.

Paint is applied as a liquid, but to serve its dual purposes, it must be converted into a solid. This process is called film formation. For most paints, this process begins when the material is exposed to the air. Some modern paints, which are composed of two separate parts, are an exception to this. The two parts are mixed together immediately before application and once mixed the film formation process begins and continues even in the absence of air.

The paints available before the introduction of nitrocellulose lacquers in 1924 bear little resemblance to the materials purchased today in hardware and auto supply stores. Model T's were painted with color varnishes, and while the term 'enamel' is frequently encountered, they are not enamels in the modern usage of the term. Color varnish paints were based on drying oils, such as linseed and china wood oils, that are derived from vegetable sources. When exposed to the air, these oils would capture and combine with oxygen, forming a dry, hard, resinous material.

By themselves, these oils take a very long time to dry. This is partly due to the initial formation of the film at the surface between the oil and the atmosphere. The film inhibits access of the paint below the surface to the oxygen needed for the conversion of the oils into the hard, resinous material. Long ago it was learned that by adding certain chemical metallic compounds to the oils, known as dryers, the conversion process could be sped up and enhanced. These compounds catalyze the drying process, increasing the rate of absorption of oxygen and promoting the drying of the lower layers of the oil. During the Model T era, various metallic compounds were used as dryers, including cobalt, lead, manganese, calcium, zinc and iron. Drying oils, while frequently having a brownish tint, are essentially transparent. As such, paints based on them would have little decorative purpose. However, other materials can be added to the oils and dryers, to give color to the paints. These materials are known as pigments, and they frequently do more than just give color to the paint. Depending on the shape of the pigment's molecules, they may actually provide greater strength to the paint and adhesion to the surface, much the way steel rods and wire mesh are used to reinforce and strengthen concrete structures.

Paints need to be fairly fluid in order to be spread evenly across the surface, but once applied, they must stay put. That is, the viscosity of the paint must increase after it has been applied to reduce running and sagging. This can be achieved by adding rapidly evaporating solvents to the mixture. These solvents are known as thinners. They enhance the flow-out characteristics of the paint when first applied, but rapidly evaporate, reducing the viscosity and tendency of the paint to run during the drying process.

Temperature can also have an important effect on the drying of color varnish paints. Frequently, the painted object can be baked in an oven to reduce the drying time to one hour or less. The composition of the paint, in terms of its pigments, dryers and thinners must be adjusted for oven drying in order to prevent cracking or checking of the finish.

A large number of different paints were used on Model T's during the black era. Over thirty different Ford Motor Company specifications for black paint have been identified. (See Appendix A for a list of these paints.) They vary in terms of their chemical composition, the amount of thinners used, the pigments used and in several other respects. For the purposes of discussion, all of these paints can be divided into two categories: oven drying paints and air drying paints. Oven drying paints were used on all-metal parts that could withstand the high temperatures of the baking ovens, such as fenders, hoods and similar parts. Air drying paints were used on dashes and bodies, where the wood contained in these parts would not withstand the high temperatures required to bake the oven drying paints.

The basic oven drying paint for the Model T was what historical sources call “Japan Black”. Why the term “Japan Black” was used to describe the paint is somewhat obscure. Before 1900 “Japanning” was known as a particular type of varnishing that was practiced by the Japanese. It was unique in that after the application of each coat of color varnish, the object was placed in an oven or stove and baked at as high a temperature as possible without damaging the object. To an extent, painting Model T fenders, hoods, and other all metal parts resembles “Japanning” in that after the film of paint was applied the part was baked for up to an hour at a temperature of about 400 degrees.

The term “japan” has second connotation in the painting industry. A particular combination of chemical compounds is known as “Japan Dryers”. When added to vegetable drying oils, as described previously, they reduce the time it takes for the paint to dry. Since “Japan Dryers” were used in making some Model T paints, this too may partly account for the use of the term.

Ford used two japan black paints. The “First Coat Black Elastic Japan” was given the factory specification number F-101 (M-101 after March 15, 1922) and F-102 (M-102 after March 15, 1922) was the factory specification number for “Finish Coat Elastic Black Japan”. Both paints were very similar in composition. They consisted of about 10% linseed oil and dryers (lead and iron dryers were popular in oven baked paints), 55% thinners (mineral spirits or petroleum naphtha), and 25 - 35% Asphaltum. F-101 also contained 1 - 3% carbon black as a pigment, while the finish coat, F-102 contained none.

The surprising and interesting element in these paints is the asphaltum or asphalt. Asphalts are dark film-forming compounds that were used in paints noted for their resistance to water and dampness. The Ford material specification sheets usually specify that the asphalt used was Gilsonite. This is a natural, hard, brittle resin that is mined in the western United States as well in other places around the world. It was used in the manufacture of many products during the 1920's including paints, varnishes, oils, and shellacs. When compounded with other asphalts and rubber it was made into automobile tires, phonograph records, waterproofing and insulating materials. When used in paints Gilsonite must be melted at 270 - 400 degrees before it is added to the linseed oil and dryers. As a part of the paint, the Gilsonite is low in cost, acts as a hardening agent for the oils, and results in a high-gloss dark-colored surface. It also tends to increase the plasticity of the paint, making it less brittle, more flexible and able to withstand the vibration of fenders, hoods and shields without cracking or pealing./

There appear to be several good reasons for the choice of black as the color of the paint. First, black color varnish paints tended to be more durable than lighter colored paints. Authorities on paint in the 1920's noted that black paint tended to last longer than paints with lighter colored pigments. Second, as mentioned above, the addition of Gilsonite improved the damp resisting properties and the final gloss of the paint, but also resulted in a very dark colored paint. The range of colors that asphaltum paints can have is quite limited. The dark color of the Gilsonite limits the color of the final paint to dark shades of maroon, blue, green or black. Cost may also have been a factor. The carbon black pigment used in these paints is probably the least expensive pigment available; almost any other pigment is more expensive than carbon black. One often cited reason for the use of Japan black on the Model T was that it allegedly dried faster than any other paint. However, there is no evidence in either the Ford engineering records or the contemporary literature on paint, to indicate that that was the case. The drying time of oven baking Japan black is no different from the drying time of other colored oven baking paints of the period. In short, Model T's were not painted black because black dried faster. Black was chosen because it was cheap and it was very durable. In fact, both F-101 and F-102 (which later were redesignated as M-101 and M-102) worked so well that the Ford Motor Company continued to used these same paints to finish fenders, running boards and shields well into the V-8 era.

As mentioned above, the black elastic Japan paints were designed as oven drying paints. The specifications called for drying in an oven at 400 degrees for one hour. Not only did oven baking result in a fast drying time for the paint, it also helped to minimize the surface preparation of the metal part. All that was required was to wipe the part with turpentine to remove any oils or grease left on the part during the manufacturing process. Anything else would tend to become amalgamated with the oils and asphalt in the paint during the oven baking process. Thus the use of this paint was also cheap in the sense that very little labor was required for paint preparation. F-101 and F-102 were some of the most commonly used paints on a Model T. Some idea of the extent to which these paints were used can be found in Appendix C which lists all the parts on a 1924 touring car that the factory specified were to be painted with Black Elastic Japan paints.

Wood Model T parts were painted with an entirely different paint. Unlike fenders and hoods which could withstand oven baking temperatures of 400 to 450 degrees, wood dashes, wood wheels and even bodies, which had quite a bit of wood reinforcement in them until 1925, could not stand such high temperatures. So these parts were painted with multiple coats of air drying color varnish.

Air drying color varnishes differ from their oven drying counterparts in several respects. While they were still based on linseed oil, asphaltum was omitted and instead rosin was combined with the oil. Rosin is derived from the distillation of oleoresin from pine trees. When cold, the rosin is a brittle, solid material. The rosin must be heated before it can be combined with the drying oils to form the paint. The inclusion of rosin in the paint tends to retard gelling and results in a relatively quick drying varnish.

The oil and rosin gums in the air drying paints made up 44 - 60% of the paint. These paints frequently used lead and manganese as dryers, which constituted about 1 - 2% of the paint. Thinners were made from a combination of turpentine and petroleum naphtha and accounted for 39 - 52%. Carbon or lamp black was frequently used as pigments, making up from a trace to up to 33% of the paint. All of these paints required 24 hours to dry at a temperature of 80 degrees.

Application of the Paints
Spray guns for the application paint were not developed until the early 1920's. Credit for their development belongs largely to the De Vilbiss Company. Prior to that time Model T parts were painted using brushing, dipping or flowing methods.

Many Model T parts were painted with a brush. One of the largest components that was brush painted was the front axle assembly. At the end of the front axle assembly line the last four operations consisted of 1) paint with F-105 First Coat Brushing Black Japan by two men; 2) bake in oven; 3) paint with F-106 Second Coat Brushing Black Japan by two more men; and 4) bake in oven. Brushing was also used to touch up spots between coats on the bodies and was used on the final assembly line to paint the nuts, bolts, washers and cotter pins used to assembly the chassis.

Dipping was another painting processes that was frequently used in the Ford factory during the Model T era. Fenders, hoods, running boards, running board shields, steering column tubes, coil boxes and windshields were all painted using the dipping process. The dipping of fenders in glossy black paint and baking them in special drying ovens was practiced in the Ford factory by 1912 and may have begun even earlier. In the teens automatic dip tanks were used so that the fenders were carried on a conveyor through the dip tank and then through an oven. In order to conserve factory floor space, the fenders were dip painted on the top floor of the Highland Park factory and the conveyor carried the fenders up to the roof where the baking ovens were located.

The rear axle assembly was one of the largest components of a Model T that was dip painted. As the individual component assemblies of the rear axle (rear axle housings, torque tube and radius rods) were completed they were individually painted. When the entire rear axle assembly was completed, it was painted a second time in a novel way. The axle assembly was hung on a conveyor and carried up over a tank filled with paint. At this point, a machine automatically placed caps over the ends of the axle, and the tank was raised six feet, completely immersing the rear axle in the paint, before returning to its original position. After painting, the axle was carried through a baking oven to dry.

Another interesting dip painting operation was the painting of wood wheels. The first coat applied was F-108 Black Wheel Surfacer. This paint was primarily made up of pigment (52-54%), with the oil, gum and metallic dryer representing 12-14% of the paint, and a thinner of mineral spirits which accounted for 32-34% of the paint. Unpainted wheels were mounted horizontally on a vertical spindle above a circular vat partially filled with paint. The vat was raised, immersing the wheel in the paint and then partway lowered. The wheel was then spun at 540 to 720 rpm for about a minute while still within the vat but above the surface level of the paint. After spinning the paint was considered to be dry enough that the wheel could be handled and it was placed in a drying room for the next 24 hours. The subsequent two coats of paint were applied in a similar manner. The second coat was F-159 Black Wheel Color Varnish. This was followed by F-404 Finish Coat on Wheels. F-404 could be described as a nearly clear topcoat varnish. It contained only enough pigment to give it a dark tint. This painting process resulted in wheels that were a deep, gloss black color.

A final example of using dipping to paint a Model T part was the crankcase. While dip painting the crankcase assembly may not in itself be remarkable, the paint that was used is. This paint was F-142 Black Slush Paint. It was probably the fastest air drying paint used in the Ford Motor Company, and it certainly was the simplest in composition. It was made from 50% Gilsonite and 50% petroleum spirits (paint thinner). Crankcases were dipped in this material and would air dry in an hour or less. Parts painted with F-142 would have appeared to be “dense black” in color, but probably not very glossy or shiny.

Painting Model T bodies was one of the most complex and time-consuming processes in the Ford factory. From a chronological standpoint, it was also one of the last painting operations to be undertaken by the Ford Motor Company. The Cost Book for December 1913 contains the interesting note “We are using only about 5% of Touring Car Bodies purchased in the white which we trim and paint ourselves. We are trimming and painting none of the Torpedo Car Bodies.” This indicates that the Ford Motor Company had just begun the painting and upholstering of bodies in its own factory, and that 95% or more of the bodies used on the Model T were still being delivered from the body supplier to the Ford Motor Company completely painted and upholstered. Ford continued to paint and trim only 5% of its touring car bodies through April 1914. Painting and trimming operations were expanded in to 10% of Ford’s total touring car body requirements in May 1914. Production of painted and trimmed bodies continued to rise so that by October 1914, Ford was trimming and painting 40% of its touring car body requirements. The point at which Ford was painting and trimming all of its touring car bodies is not known since the Cost Books no longer state this statistic after October 1914. Painting and trimming of torpedo (roadster) bodies in the Ford factories did not begin until September 1915. Through September 1914 the Cost books indicate that the final color coat on touring car bodies was F-115 Spraying Blue. The use of black color coats on touring car bodies does not appear until the February 1915 Cost Book.

From 1915 to 1922 bodies were painted with four coats of air drying color varnish. Bodies arrived at the painting department with the wood and steel bare of any finish. After a quick cleaning, the first coat of paint was applied. This was designated as F-111 Red Body Prime. This paint used a pigment that was a mixture of carbon or lamp black and Venetian Red (30% of which was iron), so it may have appeared more of a brown color than red. Arnold and Faurote reported that it was applied with an “atomizer” at 80 pounds air pressure as early as 1915. After inspection, the freshly painted body was stacked to dry for 24 hours. After drying, the body was sanded before its first coat of color.

The color coats were applied using a process called flow painting. J. L. McCloud in his “Reminiscences” described it this way:

Instead of being applied with a brush, a flood of paint was squirted on the automobile bodies out of these flow pipes. It was more or less run on... The paint was contained in an overhead tank ... and it came down in a pipe and came out in the form of slow streams from a comb-like end on the pipe... That was held up alongside of the body and drawn along the body as the body moved along on a conveyor. In that way it was flooded with paint, and the paint ran off and was returned to the tank and reused in that way.
This first color coat, F-160, was composed of 4-9% oils and gums (including rosin), 50-52% thinner which was a combination of naphtha and turpentine, and 39-47% pigment. It wasn't quite black. “The black that was used was, in fact substantially fortified with a very dark blue, so as to make it a truer black instead of tending toward a yellowish black, which you would get unless you didn't put the bluing in the color.” The pigment was made up of Drop Black, Prussian Blue and Ultra Marine Blue. After the first coat was flowed on, the body was removed from the conveyor and stacked to dry for another 24 hours.
When the first color coat had dried, the body was returned to the conveyor and prepared for its second coat by “mossing.” This meant that it was rubbed with curled hair to remove any dust that had fallen on the paint while it was drying. Then a coat of F-162 Black Rubbing Color Varnish was flowed on. Then body was removed from the conveyor, stacked and allowed to dry for another 24 hours.

After the second coat of F-162 Black Rubbing varnish had dried, the bodies were again placed on a conveyor and the paint was rubbed down with pumice and water to a smooth surface. When this was completed the bodies were upholstered. After upholstering, the bodies were cleaned inside and out in preparation for the final coat of paint. For the final coat a clear body varnish, F-751, was used. This varnish was made up of 38-48% Naphtha and Turpentine thinners, 44% oils and dryers and 18% gums including rosin. It had no pigment. Like the previous coats, it was flowed on, and after painting any runs or sags were touched up by hand with a brush. After this final coat of varnish, the body was once again stacked for 24 hours to dry. McCloud said, “It took days to really dry the paint finish on a Model T... The body plants had a lot of bodies in them at temperatures just slightly above room temperature.” One of the reasons the Ford Motor Company built the four big six story buildings that border Manchester Avenue at its Highland Park plant in Detroit was to provide enough room for all the bodies to dry. By 1916 Ford production required 2000 bodies a day. Since each body required four coats of paint to finish, room may have been needed for as many as 8,000 bodies at a time.

Never-the-less, the final finish was quite good. McCloud also says that flow paintings “...had the practical equivalent of dipping the automobile body. It was very successful. It gave a quite nice quality paint job...” The process did have one problem.

“The only trouble is that it tapers. The top of the panel, or whatever you're painting, gets thin and the paint at the same time gets thick at the bottom. The big problem in making a flow-coat or dip-coat paint was to make one that will not taper too damn much.”

The effect of tapering is quite evident in Model T's that survive with their original paint jobs. Paint near the top of the bodies will show more deterioration than near the bottom because it was thinner at the top than at the bottom. In addition, paint on the body will generally be in poorer condition than that on the fenders and hood because the air drying black color varnishes are not as durable as the oven baking black Japan paint.

While touring and roadster bodies were completely painted using the flow method, closed car bodies used a combination of flow and brush. As late as 1922, the Ford production department required branches to flow paint bodies below the belt line molding, but apply the paint by brush above the belt line.

As the production of Model T's continued to rise during the early 1920's body painting was clearly becoming a bottleneck. It appears that the Ford engineers followed two strategies to speed up the painting of Model T bodies. The first of these strategies was to adopt faster drying paints. During 1922 a body baking paints was developed and employed. The painting of a newly assembled touring car body began by slushing a coat of M-142 (the same paint as used on crankcases) on the heel boards, toe board, sills and bottom of rear seat. The body was then dry sanded, blown out with air, and wiped off with a tack cloth before applying its first coat of paint, maroon primer M-161. After flowing on the primer the body was baked in an oven at 150 to 160 degrees for about three hours.

When the body emerged from the paint oven the upholstery was installed, the body was blown out again with air, and two covers were installed to keep the upholstery clean during the final painting operations. Two coats of color varnish were flowed on. Designated M-165, this paint was 3.25-3.75% carbon black pigment, 55-57% thinner made from petroleum spirits and turpentine, and 43-45% oils, resins and dryers. Cobalt resinate was used as the metallic drier. This black paint was designed to bake to a hard surface in 2-1/2 hours at a temperature of 150 to 169 degrees.

After two coats of M-165, the body was ready for its final coat of finishing varnish. In a manner similar to the air drying paints used in previous years, this final coat was a clear finishing varnish that was designated as M-403 Floco Finishing Varnish. It consisted of a naphtha-turpentine thinner, a trace of carbon black pigment, lead and manganese dryers, and a combination of linseed oil, china wood oil, #2 Kauri Gum and ester gum. Like M-165, M-403 would also force dry in 2-12 hours at 145 degrees.

While low bake enamels were one approach to eliminating the body-painting bottleneck, the Ford Motor Company also followed another. It was a well-known fact in the automobile industry during the early 1920’s that the Dodge Brothers Company was able to use black Japan varnishes on their automobile bodies “because Dodge didn't use much wood in them”. The low wood content permitted Dodge to bake the paint on their bodies the way Ford baked the paint on Model T fenders. Ford decided to follow Dodge's example. Beginning with the redesign of the touring and roadster bodies in 1922, the wood content Ford bodies began to decline. By the time the Improved Models were introduced in mid-1925, the structural wood content of the touring, roadster, coupe and tudor sedan bodies (with the exception of the top framing on the closed cars and the seat frames of all models - which would have been added after the body was painted) had completely disappeared. Thus like Dodge, these Model T bodies could be painted with Japan type oven drying paints.

New baking paints were developed for the new all steel bodies. Using the new paints, bodies could be finished with only two coats. Beginning in August 1925, touring and roadster bodies were painted with one coat of M-114 First Coat Low Bake Enamel and one coat of M-115 Finish Coat Low Bake Enamel. These paints were intended to bake to a dry film in one hour at a temperature of 350 degrees. M-114 consisted of 2% carbon black pigment, 36-38% drying oils, 9-11% resins, 2% metallic drier and 51-53% mineral spirits. M-115, the finish coat contained 8-10% asphaltum, 9-11% resins, 37-39% drying oils, 4% turpentine and 40% mineral spirits. The asphaltum gave this paint a jet-black color.

Like the paints used from 1914 to early 1922, the low bake enamels were applied to Model T bodies by flowing. In fact, flow painting of Model T bodies continued until 1926 and the introduction of pyroxylin (nitrocellulose lacquer) paints.

The Improved Ford Models introduced in August 1925 also reintroduced colors to the Ford line. Factory literature states that closed cars were available in either Channel Green (M-392) or Winsor Maroon (M-393). While the neither the material specifications or the formulas for either of these paints has as yet been located, General Letters from the factory indicated that these paints were also color varnishes. It is likely that they did contain asphaltum, which is probably why the new colors were limited to dark shades of green and maroon. The lighter colors such as M-635 Fawn Gray or M-634 Phoenix Brown did not become available until after Ford adopted the used of pyroxylin lacquers for open and closed car body painting in August 1926.

One final point about painting Model T’s. Factory records indicate that not every part on a Model T was painted. Some were left intentionally unpainted. In a letter to its assembly branches the Ford Motor Company wrote:

Effective immediately, all branches painting that part of steering post which is exposed under the hood, will discontinue same. Our reason for not desiring to paint this portion of the steering gear post is that when painted the quality of the steel used in these posts is not visible and the outstanding appearance of strength is covered up.
Apparently these instructions did not go over well with all the branches. Somewhat later the Stock Superintendent at the San Francisco assembly plant, H. J. Rudige, wrote to the Production Department at Highland Park concerning leaving the steering posts unpainted.
In checking over cars in the territory, we find that cars that have been out any length of time become very rusty and very dirty, and the quality of material does not show.
Due to this, do you not think it is advisable to white shellac or apply the white coat of Pyroxylin on the lover part of the steering column so as to keep this material in A1 condition at all times and also assuring the public just what is assembled in the steering post.

While Mr. Rudige’s memo has survived, complete with hand written notes from no less than five different executives in Ford’s Production Department (a clear example of passing the buck if ever there was one), the response to his request has been lost with time.

There are four main conclusions to be drawn from this investigation. First, the paints used on Model T's during the black era years of 1914 to 1925 were really color varnishes. These types of paint bear little resemblance to the modern automotive finishes used today when restoring a Model T.

Second, over 30 different types of black paint were used at the same time to paint Model T's. The different types of paint vary according to the means of drying them (air versus oven drying) and were also formulated to satisfy the different means of applying the paint to the different parts.

Third, Model T's during the black era were painted using the techniques of brushing, dipping or flowing the paint on. Paint spraying equipment for finishes did not come into widespread used in the Ford factories until 1926.

Fourth, the color black was chosen because it was cheap and it was durable. Black paints, especially those containing asphaltum, were noted for exhibiting better damp proofing properties than other colors during this period. The claim that black was chosen because it dried faster than any other color is not supported by the Ford engineering documents, the contemporary literature, nor by the first hand accounts of Ford Motor Company employees.

The Model T was a most practical car, and no doubt Henry Ford was convinced that black was simply the most practical color for the job.

List of the factory paints used by the Ford Motor Company: 1913 - 1925

Ford # Name Purpose Type
F-101 First Coat Black Elastic Japan Prime coat on Fenders, hoods, etc. Oven
F-102 Second Coat Black Elastic Japan Finish Coat on Fenders, hoods, etc. Oven
F-105 First Coat Brushing Black Japan Front Axles Oven
F-106 Second Coat Brushing Black Japan Front Axles Oven
F-108 First Coat Black Wheel Surfacer Wheels Air
F-111 Red Body Prime Bodies Air
M-111 Quick Drying Black Touch Up General Purpose Repair Work Air
M-114 First Coat Low Bake Enamel Touring and Roadster Bodies Force Dry
M-115 Second Coat Low Bake Enamel Touring and Roadster Bodies Force Dry
M-117 Carburetor Lacquer (Black) Carburetors Air
M-121 Repair Enamel (Low Bake) Repair low bake enamel finishes Force Dry
F-122 Radiator Black Radiators Air
M-124 Empire Gray Metal Primer Touring and Roadster Bodies Force Dry
M-125 Empire Gray Color Varnish Touring and Roadster Bodies Force Dry
M-132 Black Asphaltum Wood Battery Boxes Air
M-140 Black Graphite Paint (To withstand 600 degrees) Exhaust Pipes Air
M-142 Black Wood Slushing Primer Crankcases and inside of bodies Air
M-144 Black Dull Gloss (Fordtone) Truck cabs and bodies Force Dry
M-151 High Gloss Black Lamp Enamel Lamps and accessories Oven
F-152 Windshield Baking Japan Windshields, coil boxes, bow sockets Oven
F-159 Black Wheel Color Varnish Second Coat on Wheels Air
F-160 Second Coat Black Ground Second coat on bodies Air
F-161 Maroon Primer First coat on bodies Air
F-162 Black Color Rubbing Varnish Third and fourth coats on bodies. Air
F-163 Black Touch Up Body Repair Work Air
M-164 Black Brushing Color Varnish Touch Up Air
M-165 Body Baking Enamel Touring and Roadster Bodies Force Dry
F-178 Rear Radius Rod Black Dipping Radius Rods (Outside Manufacture) Air
F-183 Sedan Sanding Surfacer Prime coat on wooden body parts Air
F-189 Dash Oil Primer First coat on dash Air
F-190 Dash Velvet Finishing Second & third coat on dash Air
F-191 Instrument Board Satin Finish Enameling instrument boards Air
M-195 Closed Body Wood Primer Primer coat on hard wood Air
F-199 Gear Metal Primer Primer coat on chassis frames Oven
F-402 Body Varnish Flowing Finish coat on bodies Air
M-403 Floco Finishing Varnish Finish coat on bodies Force Dry
F-404 Gear Varnish Finish coat on wheels Air

Enameled Parts on 1924 Touring Cars:
The following parts were painted with M-101 and M-102 first and second coat Black Elastic Japan Paint:
Catalog # Description
1330-B Engine Pan, Right
1331-B Engine Pan, Left
2725-C Steering Connecting Rod
2771 Spindle Connecting Rod
2849 Spare Rim Carrier
2849-D Spare Rim Clamp
2914-B Gas Tank Support – Right
2915-B Gas Tank Support – Left
3076-B Crankcase front bearing and spring clip
3455 Hand Brake Lever
3634-J Steel Dash
3640-D Dash Bracket, Left
3641-D Dash Bracket, Right
3660-D Rear License and Tail Light Bracket
3664 Front License Bracket
3810 Front Spring Clip Bar
3833 Rear Spring Clip
3835 Rear Spring Clip Bar
3910 Starting Crank Assembly
3939 Outlet Connection Pipe
3947-C Radiator Shell
4050-C Hood
>4052-B Hood Clip
4056-C Hood Block, Left
4057-C Hood Block, Right
4800-C Left Front Fender
4801-C Right Front Fender
4802 Right Rear Fender
4803 Left Rear Fender
4804-M Rear Fender Irons
4809 Front Fender Irons
4814-C Running Board Shield, Right
4815-C Running Board Shield, Left
4818-B Running Board Brackets
5014 Starting Switch
5047-C Battery to Switch Cable Support
5150-B Battery Bracket Assembly
5152 Battery Clamps
5159 Battery Box Cover and Door
6602-BRX Instrument Board
7135BRX Rear End Sill
7139BRX Rear Seat Right Hand Side Frame
7140BRX Rear Seat Left Hand Side Frame
7141BRX Rear Seat Center Frame
7143BX Tool Box Bottom
7148BX Rear Toe Board
7375X Front Heel Board
7411-BX Top Rest Irons
7837-X Windshield Bracket, Right
7838-X Windshield Bracket, Left
8027 Horn Switch Bracket
8349BX Rear Heel Board, Sill Covers, Top to Windshield Clamp

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Michael Deichmann on Saturday, February 20, 2010 - 02:56 pm:

Just to keep records complete (or more complete) - above is regarding the US production. Use of colors was different at the other plants - for example in the UK they started to spraypaint with cellulose (Xylo-something-9 a couple of years before Highland Park and it may also have been different in Canada and other assembly factories like Copenhagen. Paints used at the Copenhagen site was delivered by a local paint factory (Sadolin & Holmblad A/S)

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Andy Clary on Saturday, February 20, 2010 - 03:04 pm:

Boy that was a long drawn out way of saying 1914 fords were black. One line in the encyclopedia. Of course you can paint it whatever color you like, hopefully tastefully.


Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By David_Cockey on Saturday, February 20, 2010 - 03:34 pm:

From the Tret Boggess article which Royce posted above: "During December 1910 and January, 1911, the dark green in turn was changed to a dark, almost black, midnight blue. Finally, in late 1914 to early 1915 the blues were replaced with just plain black on the open cars."

Looks to me like it says that most 1914 Fords including ones built in January 1914 were "a dark, almost black, midnight blue."

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Roger Karlsson on Saturday, February 20, 2010 - 03:49 pm:

Yes, David - here's a quote from above: "Through September 1914 the Cost books indicate that the final color coat on touring car bodies was F-115 Spraying Blue. The use of black color coats on touring car bodies does not appear until the February 1915 Cost Book"
Interesting to learn how few bodies were painted by Ford in those early years - Most bodies were distributed to Ford painted & upholstered.

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By coreywalker on Saturday, February 20, 2010 - 08:48 pm:

It'll be a while before I'm ready for the paint, but I did go get some primer today. I figure I might as well go all the way and take the body off so I could do it right. I'll never get it perfect but it'll look good for a driver.

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message  By Rick J. Gunter on Monday, February 22, 2010 - 11:03 pm:

I don't think i've ever seen a 1914 restored in midnight blue. Does anyone have a photo of one? I'm planning on restoring a July 1914 Touring and painting it blue.

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