Why Did Model T Fords Only Come in Black?

It’s the most famous quote in car history: ‘You can have any colour you like, as long as it’s black’. Were Model T Fords really only available in black?

Contrary to common belief, Model T Fords did not only come in black, in fact the first cars came in blue, gray, green, and red, but not black. Only from the years 1914 to 1925 were Model T Fords only available in black.

One of the most persistent car myths is that Henry Ford decreed that his customers for the Model T could have any colour they liked as long as it was black. So did Henry Ford really say this, and was it true? Well, sort of. And sort of…

Henry Ford did not actually utter those exact words. In his autobiography he wrote:

“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it is black.”

Henry Ford, My Life and Work (1922)

And so like many famous quotes it sounds good but isn’t actually what was said. Somebody somewhere “improved” Ford’s quote and in so doing made it memorable. It has become part of the legend of this legendary car: the obsessive pursuit of the mass production of an identical product. And it worked: by 1918 half the cars on the roads of the USA were Model T Fords.

Those early Model Ts were sold in almost any color… except for black. Red, gray, green, and blue were all available, but not black. The first black Model T didn’t roll off the assembly line until 1913.

So why did the boss decide to sell only black cars? Here’s why: it was more efficient that way. Henry Ford explained the philosophy behind his car:

“I will build a motor car for the great multitude…constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise…so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one-and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.”

Henry Ford, 6/6/13 Ford Times.

Henry Ford relentlessly drove the price of the Model T down. When announced in 1908 the price of the Model T Ford was $825, or $26,211 today (£21,284). Within five years the Model T’s price had halved. By 1920 it had halved again. Then by 1925 the price was down to $260 ($8,260 today). (see our article:)

The main reason for painting all the Model Ts in black from 1914 was simple: economy of scale. It was cheaper that way. There was nothing particularly special about the colour; black didn’t dry any quicker, nor was it easier to apply.

If there was a technical reason I suspect it was that you can use very slightly less black paint to cover a panel: anyone who has ever spray painted a car knows that white paint, for example will often need another coat to hide imperfections.

There was another reason. The First World War caused disruption of the chemical industry in the US, so sourcing different coloured dyes became more difficult.

And it is interesting to note that during the life of the Model T the Ford Motor Company used no less than 30 types of black paint to coat different parts of the car (source McCalley, Model T Ford: The Car That Changed the World.) Multiplying that number by a dozen colour varieties would have cost money.

It is true that for around ten years of production, from 1914 to 1925 the Model T was only available in black. But for the last two years of the car’s life, with falling sales, six new colours were offered, including Royal Maroon, Phoenix Brown and Highland Green (source woot.com)

Why Were All Early Model T Fords Black?

Early Model T Fords, from 1908 to 1914 were available several colours: blue, gray, green, and red, but not black.

From 1914 to 1925, halfway through the production run the Model T was only available in black.

Then for roughly the last two years of production, from 1925 to 1927 the Model T was available in six new colours including brown, maroon and green.

So, although Henry Ford did order that all his Model T’s should be black this didn’t happen until the seventh year of production. The claim that all Model Ts were black is fake history.

A Ford Model T Model Roadster 1912 shows its smart brass fittings
A Ford Model T Model Roadster built in 1912 shows its black painted finish

Why Did Henry Ford Choose Black for the Model T Ford?

The Ford Motor Company explains on its website that “the policy was in place solely for efficiency and uniformity. The car was only offered in black from 1914-1925, however before and after that various models of the vehicle could be purchased in a variety of colors including blue, red, grey, and green.” (source: corporate.ford.com)

A fuller quote is here and might remind readers of another revolutionary car maker, Elon Musk:

‘In 1909 I announced one morning, without any previous warning, that in the future we were going to build only one model, that the model was going to be the Model T, and that the chassis would be exactly the same for all cars, and I remarked  “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.” I cannot say that any one agreed with me. The selling people could not of course see the advantages that a single model would bring about in production. More than that, they did not particularly care.’

Henry Ford, My Life and Work 1922

To summarise, black was chosen because it was cheaper to produce cars in just one colour. Black paint also covers panels more efficiently than other colours. So less paint needed to be bought.

Were All Subsequent Model T Fords Black, or Different Colours?

In the last two years of production, from 1925 to 1927 the Model T was available in black and also in six new colours including brown, maroon and green.

A Ford Model T Model Roadster 1912 shows some came in white

Leave a Comment