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How the Automotive Industry Found Color

Henry Ford once famously said of his model T car, “that you can have it in any color you like as long as it is black”. Today the color of your vehicle is limited only by your imagination. It was advancements in coatings technology that allowed the auto industry to break out of the grayscale and into a myriad of color choices.  


The Model T was the first car affordable to the masses. To keep the cost down older methods of enamel painting used on horse-drawn carriages were replaced with a cheaper and simpler option.  The cheaper and simpler option was, asphalt enamel. As you might imagine the only color option available for this method was black.


It was not until after the First-World War that other color options became available. The introduction of Tung oil allowed for vehicles to be sprayed and then resprayed with spar-enamels that allowed for colorants to be added for the first time. By the early 1920’s the first colors other than black were hitting the road. High-end manufacturers such as Lincoln and Cadillac turned the first colored vehicles into works of art sometimes utilizing up to four colors per vehicle. Lincoln even experimented with stenciled birds and foliage on their cars.

The next big innovation came in the mid-1920’s when GM partnered with Dupont to create a substance known as pyroxylin. Pyroxylin was cheap and could be mixed with cheap pigments. Even better this substance could dry in minutes as compared to the hours it took Tung oil to cure.The result of this new substance was the Duco line of colors for lower-end GM vehicles.  Ford was so upset about this advancement they announced that any Model T’s that were repainted with this process would have their warranties voided.


It took only a short twenty years from the roads of the world to go from a drab black to a rainbow of different colored vehicles. Stay tuned for part two where car colors get really crazy!  

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