Two-tone automotive paint dates back to what is generally considered to be the first production car, the 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen. The second one built was finished in green with a bright red fully-exposed engine mounted over the rear axle.
From 1886 through the early thirties, two and even three-tone cars remained commonplace; generally with a main colour, a secondary colour for the separate fenders and running boards, and often a third for the wheels.
As fenders became more integrated in the late thirties, two-toning on mass-market machinery became increasingly relegated to an occasional contrasting roof until the debut of the Ford Crestliner. The new Ford ushered in a trio of features that would prove immensely popular in the decade to come; gold badging, bold colours and most of all, a vibrantly two-toned lower body.
As the sixties dawned and the world began retreating from the flamboyance of the fifties, Cadillac presciently hinted that the days of multi-colour paint might be limited in this excerpt from their dealer ordering guide: “The flowing lines of the 1960 Cadillac models present the best color image in a single-tone. However, for those customers whose preference may still be a two-tone combination, a wide range of options is offered without extra charge.”
There was still a bit of life in the old boy however, surviving mostly in the form of a contrasting or complimentary colour on the roof.
Britain steadfastly stood by two-tone lower bodies during the decade on models like the Triumph Herald and Vitesse, MG 1100 and Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow.
By the late-sixties, two-tone paint in the U.S. was getting extremely rare, but not yet extinct.
The near-demise of two-toning at the twilight of the decade was precipitated by the increasing design integration of the roof into the lower body, the concurrent rise in popularity of the vinyl roof covering (chiefly in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia), and the growing prevalence of contrasting-colour graphics on sporting models.
In the late seventies and early eighties, two-tone lower bodies made a brief comeback; appearing on a limited but diverse variety of cars from the Buick Riviera and Chrysler Cordoba to the Chevrolet Corvette, Datsun 280-ZX and Porsche 924 Turbo.