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Any Colour As Long As It’s Black…

There’s a persistent story circulating around the automotive world that Henry Ford said that the original “Tin Lizzie” (Model T Ford) could come in “any colour as long as it’s black.” Certainly, if you catch a glimpse of a lovingly restored (or maintained) Model T at a car show or in a museum, you’re probably going to see a black one.

ford model t poster

But did Henry Ford actually say this?  Was black really the only colour that traditional Ford cars came in?  Sorry to bust everybody’s bubbles of belief, but this is more or less an urban legend.  Model Ts didn’t just come in black.  Mostly black, yes.  But all black, no.

According to one fairly well researched book on automotive history I came across lately, Ford used a number of different colours throughout the years.  These days, you get several colour choices for your model, with slightly different colour choices for each different model in the marque. For example, the current line of Ford Fiesta comes in light blue, cobalt blue, white, black, orange, silver, medium grey and red.  The Ford Territory, on the other hand, comes in dark red, bronzy brown, three different shades of grey, black, white and blue.  Ford used to do this sort of thing right at the start of its production history. In 1909 to 1914, Fords came in red, green, grey or blue.

1908-1927-ford-model-t-1

However, from 1915 to 1926, only one colour was available, mostly as a cost-cutting exercise.  Hands up who can think what might have happened in 1915 that required businesses to cut back on costs?  Well done to those who answered World War I and extra bonus marks to those who mentioned the influenza pandemic.  After these global crises were over and people had a bit more money to burn – and when Ford’s competitors started offering a few more colours – colour came back to the Ford factory floor in Detroit. In 1926, green came along.  In 1927, a veritable rainbow rolled off the production lines, with two shades of maroon, four shades of green, brown, blue and grey being on offer, alongside a colour that experts call “moleskin” – which sounds like a sort of black.

The reason why the story about Tin Lizzies coming in “any colour as long as it’s black” is because the main production years for the Model T was in the 1915–1926 period.  Model Ts may have been basic black but they were cheap, which made them very, very attractive in the postwar period.  They were probably a real godsend for the various social workers of the time across this tricky time: doctors could rush to seriously ill patients quickly with the motor car; vicars, district nurses and the like could do the rounds and bring aid to the folk they were responsible for more efficiently.

As to whether old Henry Ford actually said the thing about any colour blah blah blah, this book I got hold of is silent. He may have done during the black period of the Model T. But it wasn’t company policy or part of the image of the Model T. It wasn’t born to be black from the beginning. And if you’re very, very lucky, you can come across some of the gaudier models out there.

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