1960s: The Twilight of Two-Tone

James Kraus

1962 Mercedes-Benz 220 SE Coupé in Dark Maroon over Cream.

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.

1927 Ford Model T Roadster in Gunmetal Blue over Black with Straw Yellow wheels. After an eleven-year absence, color returned to the Model T in 1926.

Fiat 500 Topolino in Maroon over Black.

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.

1950 Ford Crestliner in Sportsman’s Green and Black.

1955 Buick Special Riviera in Carlsbad Black, Cherokee Red and Cameo Beige.

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.

Mercedes-Benz 220 SE in Light Red over Light Grey.

Fiat 1200 Gran Luce in Light Ivory over Medium Red.

1961 Ford Country Sedan in Corinthian White over Garden Turquoise.

1961 Ford Starliner in Corinthian White over Desert Gold.

Volvo 122 Amazon in Grey-Beige over Cherry Red. 1961 would be the final year for the two-tone option.

Porsche 356 Karmann Coupé in Bali Blue over Oslo Blue.

Volkswagen 1500 in Pearl White over Ruby Red. Two-tone paint availability was discontinued after 1966.

Mercedes-Benz W113 230 SL in Dark Blue over Off-White.  In accordance with standard Mercedes practice, the wheel covers are finished in Dark Blue to match the top. The two-tone option remained available on the successor R107 280 and 350 SLs in the early 1970s but few were produced.

1964 Ford Thunderbird in Wimbledon White over Pagoda Green.

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.

MG 1100 in Iris Blue over Old English White.

By the late-sixties, two-tone paint in the U.S. was getting extremely rare, but not yet extinct.

1965 Chevrolet Impala Super Sport in Tuxedo Black over Crocus Yellow.

1966 Buick Skylark in Arctic White over Blue Mist.

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.

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