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Baked Enamel, Denim Seats and Icemakers
I had heard this quote many times in my life, but while looking at color photos of an old Ford, I realized that not all of them were black. This sent me reading about the early history of paint at Ford and just why Henry was wild for the color black. As it turns out, the process informed the color selection.
Why were all Early Ford Cars Black?
Early Ford cars came in a host of bright colors, and they were painted with regular paint, which from what I read was not very durable at the time. So Ford needed a new solution if he was going to roll cars off the line that wouldn’t need a paint job as often as it needed new tires.
His solution was to use a process called japanning, which is known today as baked enamel. It was originally used in Europe in an attempt to imitate East Asian lacquer work in the 19th century. At first, they applied it to wood, but eventually started using it on decorative metal objects.
The result on metal was a rich piano-black finish that was extremely durable. It helped that this process from application to finish was faster than was could be accomplished with the current types of paint. Black was the color because it was the only color that worked on the process at the time.
This is exactly what Ford required for his assembly line process, which was cranking out cars at an incredible rate.
From what I read, and I hope this bit is true, the finish could easily be ruined by any stray particles. So early workers would work the process in the nude. At least when you went to that job, you never forgot your uniform.
Paints on cars now come in a rainbow of colors, and rarely does a new color option make the news. But what about a new interior option.
Gremlins and Denim Seats
Leather seats in all textures and colors have long been considered the height of classiness in automobiles. But in 1973, the American Motor Company (AMC) offered something new to appeal to the spirit of that decade, blue jeans.
Many years ago, I was at a festival and someone had an AMC Gremlin with the denim interior, and I was very excited to see it firsthand. I was surprised and a little disappointed to see that while the interior looked like denim, it was actually made of some more durable car seat-like material.
This made sense, since denim, while great for pants, probably wouldn’t hold up very well as a car interior. Still, it looked the part. They color matched it brilliantly, and it even had the stitching and rivets.
The denim interior didn’t last long, but it was available on at least two AMC models: the Gremlin and Hornet.
Denim interiors are pretty swell, but they are not my favorite odd automobile option. My favorite is so much cooler.
Icemakers in Cars
In 1984, Toyota introduced the unimaginatively named Toyota Van. Dubbed the “Wonderwagon” in advertising, what this vehicle lacked in naming pizzazz, it more than made up for with one of its options, an icemaker.
In the limited edition trim model, you could get a shoebox-sized icemaker that was cooled by the air-conditioning refrigerant lines. What I find most impressive about this icemaker is that it was right up front near the driver.
So, if you are on a long drive, and your ice tea is starting to get a little too warm, you just throw open your ice chest and add some car-made ice cubes to your drink.
In 1990, the Van would be succeeded by the Previa and in early versions of that vehicle outside the United States, you could still get the icemaker.
They also had an ice maker available on the Land Cruiser, but like the Previa, not anymore. They say that cars today are better in many ways than they were in the past, but nowadays, we live in a world where our cars no longer make ice for us. I am not so sure that I would call that progress.