True Colors of Vintage Iron

Rainbow of Fordsons revives debate over vintage iron restoration options.

| June 2005

Recently, this magazine and others have featured "one lung" gasoline engines painted in bright, non-original colors. Some traditional collectors take exception to this practice. There are, in fact, three schools of thought on engine and tractor restoration:

1. Leave the piece in the condition found, if it's at least in decent condition. (Sometimes, a bit of "oil wiping" will bring out the color of original decals on an engine.)

2. If there's a lot of rust, sandblast the piece, and repaint in the original color. (Original color information is fairly easy to obtain, even for pieces produced by obsolete manufacturers.)

3. Paint it as you please. After all, the engine or tractor is yours, and you can rightfully paint it any color you want.

While the original paint colors of many stationary engines can only be guessed at, tractor color schemes were more standard. Probably the best known is the John Deere green and yellow. From the 1920s to the 1950s, while driving along a country road and seeing a farmer busy plowing, you could determine the make of tractor by color alone. Sometimes, though, companies switched colors in the middle of a production run. A good example is the early McCormick-Deering International, which changed abruptly from a dark blue-gray with red wheels to the now well-known "International Red."

Henry Ford's 9N was painted a light "battleship gray" from 1939 until 1948, when Ford's grandson, Henry Ford II, came out with the Ford 8N painted in what now is referred to as a "red belly" and a lighter gray hood, fenders and wheels. Since cast iron tends to rust more quickly than sheet metal, Ford's designers decided to paint the body red. That way, when the paint wore down to the red primer, it wouldn't be as noticeable. Later, Ford changed to a blue-and-gray scheme.