Ford catalogs state "black japan". What was it ? (if anyone cares) "Japan", paint or varnish was a generic term "in the old days". It derived from the idea of providing a pretty, high gloss paint that would look like highly finished Japanese Lacquered boxes that were a familiar "curio" item back when.
Prior to about 1924 and the advent of nitrocellulose lacquer, automotive finishes were compounded from various hard and soft resin (e.g. copals, mastic, dammar, amber, etc.) drying oils and organic solvents. Obviously, in automobile mass-production, a quick-drying finish was something very desirable, and the paints available at the time dried rather slowly. Nitro-lacquer changed all that, with its ability to dry "through and through" very rapidly. Even better, it was capable of being polished to a high finish, and was very repairable, as subsequent applications re-dissolve older coatings, and literally "weld" the new paint layer to an older one.
By the mid-1930s "better living through chemistry" provided the industry with alkyd enamels. Originally termed "al-cid", alkyd enamels are based on a synthetic resin which is the product of combining an alcohol with an acid, and soluble in quick-drying petroleum-based organic solvents. Originally alkyd paints were used primarily on frames and undercarriages, but later formulations were adapted for other finish applications.
The current range of modern automotive paint systems bear no resemblance to anything originally used on a Model T Ford, save nitro lacquer, if you can still get it . . . and in the main, durability has been sacrificed over considerations for materials which are more "environmentally friendly" in mass-production situations, which is the wherefore of the spate of 80's and 90's era cars with glaring paint failures from water-blisters to outright washing off in the rain.
"Japan" varnishes were commonly used on early tin goods, and photographic tintype plates which were actually made of black plate iron ... not tin. These varnishes were usually made by two different formulas; Linseed oil and lamp black or asphaltum.
They were brushed or poured on the metal and then baked in an oven. The reason they were called Japan varnishes was because the finish is similar to black lacquerware that was so popular in Japan. It's a very durable finish.
The early clear coats, 80's thru 90's had their issues, however the aftermarket and OEM paint systems have come up to durability levels unheard of a few years ago. The base/clear systems were developed due to Fed requirements to cut paint solids released into the environment. The regulations were ahead of the durability technology, leading to several years of crappy paint longevity.
The black japan finishes that Ford used, were all dipped.
On assembly line, lots of parts dipped as Larry posted. While the big body assembly got painted with "gravity flow" method. Using a spray nozzle on a hose.
Note the drip pan beneath the deck lid. By this time most all the assembly plants had heat dryer ovens to bake on the Gilsonite Ford black japan enamel. After flow painted, the parts stayed on the conveyor and continued on thru the ovens to dry.
The flow methods on the conveyors were quick and paint that dripped down off the body parts was collected and re-cycled back into the flow system.
Interesting to see the touring being painted after being upholstered.
I'll bet they weren't baking the paint in that earlier picture. Unless baked upholstery is a good thing ?
It is my understanding that the early 1926 models had an all-steel body because there was a new paint formulation that dried faster, but had to be baked. I believe that later models used a different paint formulation (nitrocellulose lacquer?) that dried quickly without the need for baking, so Ford went back to using wood in some portions of the body. My 26 coupe is all steel, just a few months later they used wood around the windows and in the cowl.
I'm sure our resident historians can shed light on any changes to the "improved" bodies and their changes in production. Far as I know, the color options beginning in 1926 were due in part to the use of "pyroxylin lacquer" which was a nitrocellulose coating.
FWIW, as far back as 1915, Dodge made a selling point of "all steel bodies" that were finished with "baked enamel". Of course the all-steel bodies of all makes had to have some wood to tack the trim to.
Article dated April, 24, 1996
PIONEER BUDD BUILT 1ST ALL-STEEL BODY
If someone asked you who invented the steel body, would your answer be Henry Ford, Ransom Olds, Charles Duryea?
Name anyone but Edward Budd, and you'd be wrong.
Budd developed the steel-bodied car in 1912.
Prior to Budd's achievement, makers of auto bodies made heavy use of wood and fabric, an outgrowth of their roots as wagon builders.
It's not surprising that Budd's fame is limited. He left the limelight to his customers.
He paid his workers well so he could attract the cream of the crop. He also was among the first to offer fringe benefits to his employees. Many of the things workers take for granted today were eye-poppers when Budd introduced them. He gave his workers free life insurance shortly after the company was formed. He set up the country's first industrial clinic staffed by a full-time physician. He paid men and women at the same rate and had employee communications programs.
Today, Budd Co. is part of Thyssen/Budd Automotive, a global source for components.
Budd products are on some 100 current models. It has 9,000 employees and 25 facilities in North America.
Budd's first customers were John and Horace Dodge, who founded Dodge Brothers in 1914. Budd persuaded them to use the all-steel body his engineers had designed, and the Dodge Touring Car was an instant success. Budd soon was building 500 bodies a day and shipping them to Detroit from his plant in Philadelphia.
The generally recognized firsts that Budd designed and produced include the pillarless hardtop, the all-steel sedan, the all-steel coupe, the aerodynamically styled car, the unibody car, automotive disc brakes and dual truck wheels. Neither Budd nor Dodge (the customer) followed up on the pillarless hardtop, which Budd built in 1915. Buick brought that body style to the market in 1949.
When Budd opened his plant in Philadelphia in 1912, he had 13 employees. By the end of the decade, he had more than 14,000. When the Great Depression set the auto industry on its ear, he started a new stainless steel fabrication business.
His engineers designed and his workers began producing the world's first stainless steel streamliner trains, the company says.
After World War II, Budd helped produce the new-look American cars. 'Budd helped automakers translate their designs into steel panels that could be joined soundly and aesthetically into a solid passenger car,' the company says. In many cases, Budd produced all the panels and the customer assembled them, using plant fixtures designed by Budd.
When the Ford Thunderbird was launched in 1954, Budd Co. produced all the body components, assembled the body and shipped it ready for painting to Ford's Wixom, Mich., assembly plant each day.
Other than all that, Budd never amounted to much.
Budd also built an awful lot of railroad streamlined passenger cars and the RDC self-propelled Budd-liners. The New York Central called them Bee-liners.