Let us talk about grey painted Leica, but we will skip the “legendary grey M2” for later and focus on some fundamentals of IIIc grey instead.
There are many different variations of IIIc grey, but they do share some common features. We will cover the basic here and will go into more detail later. (Likely will need to split IIIc grey into 3-4 articles)
IIIc grey was made between 1942 to 1944. Like most painted military cameras (such as olive M1, M3, M4s, Grey M2 etc.) they are all equipped with silver chrome parts for shutter buttons, film rewind knob, film winder etc…. basically, all buttons, handles and knobs that are potentially heavily used, will not be painted.
Leica IIIc grey was made primary for German Military (Some were shipped to U.S. Military too) during the World War II. As expected, chrome or any types of metal were in extremely shortage during the war. As a result, some IIIc were painted grey instead of using chrome to plate over brass.
The Grey paint used on IIIc Grey also resembles the military grey of the German military uniform. But different batches of grey painted IIIc have different paint texture and different grey colour and it can actually be traced by their serial number (e.g. 387xxx tend to be lighter grey, 388xxx tend to have a more matt finish, some of 390xxx are almost black). Let us talk about that in our next article, together with the colour and texture of the vulcanite from different batches of IIIc grey.
In general, there are 3 types of IIIc grey cameras, the first type looks just like a normal IIIc in terms of engraving but with grey painted top and base plate, the second type comes with a “K” engraved after the serial number on top plate, the third type usually features different types of military engravings such as “luftwaffen eigentum” engraved at the back of top plate. The third type is the rarest and most of them have the “luftwaffen eigentum” engravings defaced after the war. There are a lot of fake military engraved Leica. I personally will use the ones with the back engraving defaced reference of genuine military Leica when comparing to a non-defaced one from the same batch. I believe no one will fake a military Leica and deface it. You got my point.
Some grey cameras have special ball bearing, usually marked "K" on the top plate and some of them have “K” stamped on the shutter curtain. But as most of the shutter curtain were worn and replaced during previous repair, you are lucky if you can find a “K” stamp still intact on your shutter curtain. Do not let any repairer change it during CLA!
The ball bearing shutter was introduced with the IIIc K to use in low temperature to avoid the grease between the shutter gears got frozen. Ball bearing Leica IIIc have a very silky-smooth feeling to it. You will love it.
The vulcanite body covering must be grey to match the top and bottom plates and the grey vulcanite was painted over black. Any IIIc grey camera with black vulcanite is replaced and not original. Do not try to clean your grey vulcanite too aggressively as the grey will come off easily. Grey painted vulcanite is extremely easy to crack and it is difficult to fine one with perfect vulcanite. If you can find one, I suggest not to put it in your dry box to avoid further dry out.
While most IIIc K cameras are grey, they exist in chrome too. There are a lot of variations in Leica during the World Wall II. There is also IIIc K with “K” marked shutter curtains, yet there is no “K” engraving on the top plate but they are still ball bearing IIIc K. Some IIIc chrome without any markings do have ball bearings too. All I can say is, it was difficult enough to keep the production going during war time.
All these variations and surprises made collecting/studying old Leica cameras fun.
Credit to Edison Sam