The Golden Years

by James Kraus

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1960 Ford Starliner. A touch of gold lends a lustrous sparkle of Jet Age swank

Since the dawn of the first horseless carriages, automobiles have been accented by shimmering metallic highlights. The earliest period of motoring is in fact popularly known as the Brass Era due to early radiators, acetylene headlamps and other accoutrements being constructed of brass, or protected by brass plating to resist high temperatures and corrosion. Brass was largely superseded by polished nickel plating in the early 1920s, producing a more durable surface and increased tarnish resistance. Finally, nickel was replaced by chromium which offered the advantages of being nearly tarnish and maintenance free. 

Chrome (or visually similar stainless steel and clear-anodized aluminium) remained the unchallenged exterior trim finish of choice until 1950 When Ford added gold scripts to the flanks of their Crestliner.

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1950 Ford Crestliner

Two years later, as playwright George S. Kaufman was putting the final touches on what was to become the hit Broadway show The Solid Gold Cadillac, Cadillac executives decided to celebrate the firm’s golden anniversary by fitting all their upcoming 1952 models with gold-plated “V”s front and rear and gold-winged Cadillac crests to stand sentry at each side of the front grille.

1952 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Murray Hubbard photo

1952 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Murray Hubbard photo

Originally intended for just the 1952 50th anniversary models, the gold trim proved so popular that the golden “V”s remained a feature of Cadillacs for seven years.

A year after the introduction of the 1952 Cadillacs, a gold-plated hood ornament and model name scripts graced the Kaiser Dragon.

By 1954, Cadillac expanded gold to their own model scripting and Mercury followed suit with their top-line Sun Valley. Across the ocean, Ford announced the new Zodiac, a top-line version of the Zephyr. It was distinguishable from its lesser brethren by gold badging on the front, back and sides.

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1955 Buick Roadmaster

Buick, Dodge, Lincoln, Packard, Pontiac and Studebaker utilized gold scripting to differentiate their premium 1955 models, and in Europe, Porsche and Alfa Romeo began employing gold model badging.

Porsche 356A Speedster 1600 Super

Porsche 356A 1600 Super Speedster

Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce. True automotive jewelry.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce

1956 proved to be a watershed year for gold.

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1956 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz with gold badging, hood ornament trim and optional gold-anodized grille and Sabre-Spoke alloy wheels

Cadillac decided to go all in on their 1956 lineup with expanded use of gold detailing and an optional gold-anodized aluminium grille and available gold-anodized Sabre-Spoke alloy wheels.

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Gold Sabre-Spoke wheel, 1956 Cadillac Eldorado Seville

Plymouth introduced a new limited-edition Fury, which was made available only in white with contrasting gold wheel cover trim and grille mesh. In Sweden, Volvo launched their new 122 featuring gold badging.


1957 Ford Fairlane 500

In the fall of ’56, the 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 debuted and the Plymouth Fury was restyled. Both cars incorporated large chrome-framed side accent panels of textured gold-anodised aluminium.

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1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

The 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air was differentiated from lower-line siblings by golden trim elements and grille mesh. By this time most high-end versions of U.S. cars employed at least a touch of gold with usage peaking in 1958 and 1959. The swan song was the ’59 De Soto Adventurer.

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1959 De Soto Adventurer with gold grille, side trim, wheel cover accents and badging

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In addition to swivelling front seats, the Adventurer interior included gold vinyl trim and gold-accented Casino Corde fabric

As the 1959 Cadillac marked the peak of tail fins, the 1959 Adventurer marked the pinnacle of gold decorative elements. American manufacturers began scaling back extravagant use of gold in 1960, coincident with the rapid de-escalation of tail fins. As a result, gold finishes returned to being featured primarily on badging.

1960 Plymouth Fury

1960 Plymouth Fury


1962 Ford Galaxie. A pair of these imposing gold insignias adorned the flanks of Galaxies equipped with the optional 406 cubic inch (6.7 litre) Thunderbird V8. Galaxies with the smaller 390 cubic inch (6.4 litre) engine made do with a set of chrome versions. Karl R. Josker photo

By mid-decade only a few traces of gold trim and badging remained. The last American car to be embellished with gold scripting during the era was the Chrysler New Yorker.

In Europe; where gold was used with more discretion, it enjoyed continuing popularity. By the dawn of the decade, Fiat, Lancia, NSU, Renault, Simca and Vauxhall had all embraced gold badging, most often as an exclusive garnish for high-end models or top-of-the-range versions.

Renault Ondine

Renault Ondine

Ford Mark II

Ford Zodiac Mark II

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1965 Porsche 911. When Porsche replaced the 356 with the 911, they retained gold exterior trim, but with a difference: the new badges were made of gold-anodized aluminium rather than gold-plated brass.

Alfa Romeo discontinued gold in 1962 when the Giulia replaced the Giulietta; but new applications appeared on the NSU Wankel Spider and Porsche 911 in 1964, the same year Goldfinger premiered starring a memorable villain who loved only gold.

The latter half of the sixties saw a number of manufacturers begin reducing the role of gold badging as a stylish design flourish with the exception of Citroën, who adopted the imperious metal in 1966 for the DS 21. The new model heralded its presence by proudly brandishing gold chevrons and nomenclature.

1966 Citroën DS 21

1966 Citroën DS 21

Citroën and Porsche would be the last Continental manufacturers to showcase the noble colour.


1969 Porsche 911E. Gold badging was standard fitment on the original 911 and on all E, L and S models

Porsche continued the use gold throughout the 1960s but switched all 911 model identification to black-anodized aluminium in the fall of 1971, just two weeks after the United States announced the end of international convertibility of the dollar to gold bullion. Citroën reverted to chrome badging in 1973.

The seductive glow of gold was not limited to interior and exterior use during the golden years; the brilliant colour also manifested itself in the engine bay.

1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz 390 cu (

1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz. The Eldorado came with a special high-output version of the 390 cubic inch (6.4 litre) Cadillac engine that featured three dual-throat carburettors under a metallic gold dual-snorkel air filter housing

1960 Plymouth Fury with optional 631 SonoRamic Commando V8 with twin four-throat carburettors on cross-ram manifolds

1960 Plymouth Fury powered by the optional 361 cubic inch (5.9 litre) SonoRamic Commando V8 with twin four-throat carburettors on cross-ram manifolds

1961 Jaguar E-Type with 3.8 litre XK engine. The twin-cam XK cylinder head came in six colours over the years; gold was reserved for the straight-port triple-carburettor version.

1961 Jaguar E-Type with 3.8 litre XK engine. The twin-cam XK cylinder head came in six colours over the years; gold was reserved for the straight-port triple-carburettor version.

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1962 Ford Galaxie with optional 406 cubic inch (6.7 litre) Super High Performance Thunderbird V8 boasting triple dual-throat carburettors.

In the early 1970s, gold trim all but disappeared, only to enjoy a brief resurgence in the form of gold-finished alloy wheels, a trend initiated by the Lamborghini Miura S (with matching sills) and Lancia Stratos.

This is gold, Mr. Bond. All my life I’ve been in love with its colour… its brilliance… its divine heaviness…   – Auric Goldfinger

6 thoughts on “The Golden Years

  1. Amazing – I thought that gold lettering had been strictly a Porsche thing. Thanks for the enlightenment.

  2. You’ve left out the entire late-90s gold badge fad. They were mostly aftermarket, usually dealer add-ons to popular models to pad their margins but for a while almost every beige or forest green Camry and Accord (back when you could get a manual Accord, and it was a fun car) had the plastichrome nameplates swapped out for plastigold ones. Now that I think about it, I think a few cab-forward Chrysler models came, briefly, with them in certain trims and colors from the factory.

    • Yes, I did leave that out; but by design rather than accidental omission. I try to keep focused on the 1960s, although I do occasionally drift a bit forward and back.

      Gold actually continued on in the mid seventies as a wheel colour (911, Firebird, Capri II, Scirocco, etc.) then disappeared until, as you say the nineties (I think it was actually early in the nineties if not late-eighties.)

      Even before the dawn of their “Cab-Forward” models, some of the Chrysler stretched K-cars used gold badging. Most of the aftermarket “gold” scripting was actually an awful brassy-colour similar to the mystery metal used in the manufacture of imitation gold watches.

      More recently gold has made a bit of a comeback as an available colour option for wheels on the Ferrari 458 Speciale.

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