Classic Motor Show Bremmen
It’s neither the engine, nor the dashboard nor the gearbox – no, what a potential car buyer usually sees first is the color of the car’s shiny paintwork. Things were different in the early days of the automobile. Just like the technology under the bonnet, automotive coatings have come a long way from common black pitch to waterborne finish. The first automobile, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, was not painted. Karl Benz had the metal parts protected against corrosion with a kind of common black pitch. In these days, two basic products were used as paint: oil varnish based on linseed oil, or, if a special quality was required, amber varnishes obtained from liquid amber resins which were very expensive. The term “amber paint” continued to be used for a long time, even long after natural resins had gradually been replaced by synthetic ones.
Automotive painters originally produced their paints in-house – first manually, later with hand-operated paint mills. This was done in the same way as it had been done by painters throughout the centuries, i.e. by mixing binders and pigments on sandstone or marble slabs using a muller. Given that the paints were produced anew each time the pigments and the binders were mixed, the color shade was more or less a product of coincidence. While motorists were free to choose a blue, black, green, brown, beige or red car, it was impossible to specify the exact shade. All colors had a relatively earthy shade, as only mineral paints existed, which contained inorganic pigments. White lead paint and mineral red were used as the main anti-corrosion pigments.
In the early days of automotive engineering, the parts that had to be painted were the chassis, the bonnet and the body. Before the paint was applied, the surfaces had to be smoothened, as the sheets were beaten by hand or with a mechanical hammer. It took between four and eight weeks to coat a complete car. Several primer applications and a few intermediate coats with generous drying times were required. There was also a simple, faster-drying coating process based on wood oil, which took “only” about ten days.
In 1912, Henry Ford had the first car produced on the assembly line. This approach changed the entire production process. Ford realised quickly that the painting process was a hindrance, as the painters could not keep pace with the fast pace of the assembly line. He therefore looked for a possibility to accelerate the painting process. But it was only after the First World War that researchers discovered a new material for the production of paint – nitrocellulose, which had been left over from gunpowder production during the war. It was possible to process nitrocellulose into paint binders. Moreover, chemists were now able to produce plasticisers, some solvents and synthetic pigments on a large scale. The result were matt nitro paints offering short drying times (approx. 15 hours). The drying time could be reduced even further with the help of hot air. Polishing paste and a linen cloth were then used to polish the matt paints until they shone – a shine that has been unmatched by any topcoat system to date. Prep materials – such as adhesion primers, fillers and putties – were also produced on the basis of these binding agents.
The main requirement for processing nitro paints was the use of a spray gun, as the solvents contained in these paints dissolve the coating underneath. They cannot be processed using a paint brush. What is more, all surfaces must be cleaned and degreased thoroughly, as nitro paints are very sensitive to grease residues and are characterized by fairly poor adhesion. Nitro paints still offered a very limited range of shades. With most car makers, customers could choose between red, blue or green, and the result was not guaranteed and standardized as is the case today.
The first covering white pigment, titanium dioxide, was used in 1928 and quickly became the most popular color for sports cars and other open-top automobiles in the 1930s. But the joy did not last long, as nitro paints are not weather-resistant. The constant decomposition of the binding agent quickly resulted in a dull look and frequent repolishing wore away the topcoat layer.
Auto fans love to watch those old movies and TV crime shows simply because of the vintage cars. They enjoy the time machine effect of historical images as they allow them to return to times long gone. Those car models that would be impossible to imagine without their characteristic colors have arguably the greatest nostalgia factor – the VW Beetle in light blue, for instance, or the DAF 46 in Sahara yellow. Whenever old cars are displayed at exhibitions or vintage car meetings, they shine like icons of bygone eras in the eyes of the beholders. At the beginning of automotive history, the color spectrum was actually quite confined due to the limited possibilities of coating technology. “You can have it in any color as long as it’s black”, said Henry Ford, who started assembly line production of the Model T in 1913, in response to his customers’ wishes. After all, mass production did not allow for complex coating processes that would take days or even weeks. Fast-drying paints were needed. And at the time it was especially the newly developed nitro paint with the black pigments that offered excellent properties. But who knows – Ford’s insistence on black may also have been driven by efficiency considerations alone.
The Bremen Classic Motorshow is the first major classic car exhibition of the year. Here you’ll find all the classic vehicle paraphernalia you’ll need for a successful start to the season: cars, motorcycles, young classics, historic motorsport, spare parts and restoration tips. With an exhibition area of 46,951 square metres comprising eight halls, around 45,000 visitors and 650 exhibitors from 12 nations, the Bremen Classic Motorshow is the place to be for all fans of classic cars.
The expertise of the public, the range of high-quality exhibits, the extraordinary atmosphere and the unique special shows for cars and motorcycles have been the reasons behind the success of the Bremen Classic Motorshow for years. Friends, like-minded people, experts, collectors and grease monkeys gather here to relax and discuss cars and motorcycles. The season starts in Bremen!
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