IH Black Stripe 66 Series Tractors

An Interview with IH Designer Gregg Montgomery
post by
Ken Updike
Media Name: blog_blackstripe_banner.jpg
In this original article, Red Power and Heritage Iron journalist Kenneth Updike interviews Gregg Montgomery, creator of the ever-popular, ever-replicated Black Stripe 66 series design. What began as a minor cosmetic addition intended to boost sales at the end of the series’ dwindling production run would become immortalized as International Harvester’s iconic look of the 1970s. Read more of Kenneth Updike’s infinite IH wisdom in Red Tractors, Red Combines, and Red 4WD Tractors

          As the production run of the IH 66 series was winding down, new components were added that would later be used on the forthcoming 86 series Pro Ag line of tractors. To help clear out the dealers' lots, IH determined that a new look was needed to generate interest in the 66 series.  This new look was simple—just paint and a decal change—but it created an iconic tractor of the 1970s, the IH 66 series Blackstripe tractor.

          I asked Gregg Montgomery, the designer of this iconic decal, to recall how it came about.  Here is the story in his words...
  "In March of 1975, I left Ford Automotive Styling and Design in Dearborn, Michigan, to take a design position at the International Harvester industrial design department in Burr Ridge, Illinois, then headed up by Bob Skyer. Shortly after starting there, a design project came into the office that was to be a design and styling update for IH’s main field tractor known as the 66 Series. Having worked in the automotive realm for a few years and having done several graphic themes for Ford’s pickup trucks, it was determined that this would be a good project for me to work on. The main goal from a design standpoint was to give the 66 lineup a fresh look that would hopefully add some spice to the tractor’s appearance and—along with a small tweak in the horsepower and a few other minor mechanical changes—would help stretch this product for another year or so. The long awaited IH-built cab was scheduled to be coming on stream and the rumors were flying out in the field, so it looked as though ginning up sales could be quite a challenge. At the time, IH was using metal nameplates and model number plates which offered a quality look in and of itself, but along with the white side panels it was also rather “spotty” looking, and didn’t do much for integrating the overall look of the tractor. 

“As usual, I began by creating several color sketches showing different alternatives for paint color breakup and vinyl striping which was very popular in the automotive design world at that time.  It quickly became apparent that one design stood out to the majority of people who wandered through the design office, and ultimately that concept became known as the “Black Stripe.” Its main characteristics were an all red body—including the cab if fitted with one—with a black beltline stripe bordered in white with a white uppercase INTERNATIONAL. When the stripe reached the split line between the grille frame and the hood side and side panel, it took an abrupt turn upward and followed the split line up and over the hood to the center panel, which gave it a very dynamic and aggressive look. 

“I didn’t realize how popular this design had become over the years, but I’ve seen comments from many collectors and enthusiasts that they feel this is one of the best looking tractors IH ever made. Visually, the only real difference to the prior model was the paint color and stripe design. Based on the success of this design, I was later given the task of designing the TR4 concept tractor, which later became the IH 50 series (my personal favorite)."

The 66 series, including this 1066, received a fresh, redder paint scheme and new black stripes for 1976. This tractor belongs to Josh Olson. Josh Olson tractor collection / Lee Klancher
          The "new" 66 series Blackstripe tractors were an instant hit.  They are often referred to as 1976 models, but in reality they started in mid-1975.  IH unveiled them to the public at the 1975 Farm Progress Show held in Malta, Illinois. The serial numbers of their starting point are listed here:

766: #16541
966: #31263
1066: #55425
1466: #28897
1566: #11929
1568: #7945
Hydro 100: #12235

ALL of the 66-68 series tractors made AFTER these serial numbers are TRUE Blackstripe tractors.

In the decades since these came out, I believe more fake Blackstripes have been made than the actual ones from 1975–76.  They are by far the easiest to make: just paint the tractor all IH 2150 red and add the stripe. No masking for the use of IH 935 white paint was necessary. Call it lazy or what, but this happened frequently and still happens today. The excess of forgery causes concern when buying or selling a tractor, in determining whether your Blackstripe is real or a fake.

The vast majority of true Blackstripe models have the tractors serial number tag affixed to the right-hand side of the transmission housing near the hydraulic filter cover. However, the very first Blackstripe models still have the serial tag located on the left-hand side of the clutch housing. When in doubt, ALWAYS check the tractor serial number to be sure!

This is the late Darius Harms and his 1568 Black Stripe tractor. Read more about Darius Harms and his endless collection of beautiful IH machines HERE.  Lee Klancher

          IH made other changes in the Blackstripe 66 series that are subtler. The new 86 series that would soon begin production was slowly contributing some of its newly-developed parts to the Blackstripe 66 series. Of these added parts were a new 3-point hitch arms and revised rear axle housings to have provision for the new 86 series cab mounts.

IH still offers the Blackstripe decal set (part # 71724C91) for those wanting to restore their tractor back to factory original or to just make a fake Blackstripe replica.

This IH 966 Blackstripe with factory cab has extra rear wheel fitted along with an Elwood-brand MFD axel. This tractor can also have rear hub-mounted dual wheels. Aaron Foshee

          A close friend of mine and fellow IH toy collector, Rick Campbell, wanted a Blackstripe IH 66 series toy tractor when the real ones came out.  ERTL (the leading farm toy manufacture) did not produce a Blackstripe IH 66 series. Rick took matters into his own hands: using some black electrical tape, he created his own set of black stripe IH toy decals. Later he had an authentic scaled version of the stripe made in all the model number variants. In the 1970s, making things like this was expensive and time consuming as digital imaging did not exist. Using photographs and measurements of the actual decal, a true scaled version was made for the toy was made.

Image courtesy Kenneth Updike.

Find more insider knowledge from Kenneth Updike in Red Tractors, Red Combines, and Red 4WD Tractors. You can also find his guide to decoding your tractor's serial number plate, HERE