by James Kraus
Ancient wisdom once held that in the vintage car market, red, white and black were the best colours for resale. However, as Bob Dylan once declared; The times they are a-changin’.
Early Porsche 911 collectors for example often seek out and pay a premium for the colours that made those cars unique to their time period: Signal Orange, Viper Green, Aubergine, Tangerine; even the more esoteric shades of Olive and Golden Green.
It takes a certain amount of self-confidence to choose out-of-the-mainstream colours. In the 60s, men had that self-confidence. Today, not so much. Nearly everyone buys contemporary automobiles in white, silver, grey, black, or if they are bit daring, dark blue. Of course, it does not help matters that few manufacturers offer much beyond this limited palette except for the ubiquitous red and the occasional highly saturated yellow. On a positive note, after an absence of nearly forty years, Porsche has just reintroduced Ivory to their roster, and the Fiat 500 and Mini occasionally exhibit interesting colouration.
The three decades from the 1950s through the 1970s each featured distinct automotive colours that succinctly captured the zeitgeist of their era. Sometimes the association occurred after the fact. I doubt that anyone in the 1950s for example would have suspected that pink cars (rare, even in-period) would come to be emblematic of the decade; nevertheless, that is what occurred. If a Hollywood director wants to evoke 1950s America, he invariably calls for a pink Cadillac or Edsel to grace the screen.
In the early 1950s, clear, crisp pastel colours were the order of the day. Pale green in particular was widely popular, being a favourite on Fiat 500’s and 600’s and the single most popular color in the U.S. in the early 1950s. Toward the later part of the decade, customers gravitated to more deeply saturated mid-tone colours including aqua, turquoise, salmon and coral red. These three shades, along with the aforementioned pink, became signature colours of the era.
The 1960s were a multifaceted decade with the early years representing a fairly abrupt (particularly in the U.S) renunciation of the automotive excesses of the late fifties. Not only did tailfins quickly retreat, so did the brighter mid-tonal colours. Pale and medium shades of turquoise, blue and green maintained their popularity, joined by pale beiges and cool yellows.
In the middle of the decade, rich jewel-like blues and greens grew in prominence, while greys and beiges remained strong, particularly in Europe. In the latter years, yellows, ochres and oranges became ascendant and metallic gold became a popular choice for the first time.
One colour associated with the late 1960s in the U.S. was a golden reddish-bronze metallic. It began with Ford’s Chestnut of 1962-1963 and subsequently appeared on the Chrysler Turbine car, all production models of which were painted Turbine Bronze (Ford styling chief Elwood Engle had just moved to Chrysler.)
This was followed by Ford’s mid-year 1965 introduction of Emberglo, followed a few months later by Oldsmobile’s Autumn Bronze for the new Toronado, and Cadillac’s Ember Firemist. In the spring of 1966, Chrysler began offering Turbine Bronze on standard production models.
In the 1970s, enthusiasm for saturated colours remained, and earth-toned colours became ascendant: apple greens, browns, burnt oranges, and intense warm ochre yellows. In contrast to the pure tones popular in the 1950s and early 1960s, many of these shades increasingly contained additions of ochre, sienna or umber adding a burnt, earthy or muddy effect.
Browns became quite pervasive in the mid-70s and remained so for the rest of the decade. While attempts have periodically been made to bring back brown, to date they have not succeeded.
Buying a vintage car in a period-specific colour greatly heightens the nostalgic appeal of driving a piece of history. Below is a table of selected colours that are particularly evocative of their period, and often quite rare. It is by no means exhaustive.
|Alfa Romeo||1950s-60s||Giulietta||Celeste Blue|
|Chrysler (U.S.)||1967||Various||Medium Copper|
|Panther Pink/Moulin Rouge|
|Ford (U.S.)||1950s||Various||Coral Sand|
|General Motors||1964||Buick||Coral Mist|
|Mercedes-Benz||1960s||All||DB270 Blue Green|
|DB304 Horizon Blue|
|DB140 Silver Grey|
|DB463 Copper Metallic|
|DB226 Moss Green|
|1970s||All||DB504 English Red|
|DB581 Inca Red|
|DB406 Cayenne Orange|
|Porsche||1957-59||All||Glacier White (pale green)|
|Beetle Cabrio||Yukon Yellow|
|1968 1/2||Microbus||Arizona Yellow|