Pearls of Colour: General Motor’s Opalescent 1960s Fire Finishes

1966 Cadillac Eldorado in Cobalt Firemist

Metallic automotive paint finishes, around since the 1920s, became extremely popular in the U.S. during the 1960s. The then-new thermoplastic acrylic lacquers made an ideal showcase for metallic finishes as their low application viscosity allowed time for a majority of the aluminum flakes to align themselves relatively parallel to the surface before the paint began drying. This provided increased reflectivity compared to earlier efforts. The result was metallic paints with nearly the same visual appeal as todays, lacking only the extra sheen and depth of a clear top coat.

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Jock Fearer and the Birth of Chrysler’s High Impact Color Program

James Kraus

Tonka Toy dump truck in Omaha Orange.

In the Spring of 1969, as Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In was dominating the pop charts, Chrysler began officially offering a trio of bright, saturated High Impact Colors. Although designed for their performance lineup of Barracudas, Chargers, Coronets, GTXs and Road Runners, the vivid colours were actually available across the board on all Chryslers, Dodges and Plymouths.

The origin of High Impact Colors goes back to 1968 and a Los Angeles Chrysler-Plymouth Regional Sales Manager by the name of Jock Fearer.

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The Colourful World of Mid-Century Motive Power

James Kraus

1964 Buick Riviera with optional 425 (7.0 litre) twin-carb Super Wildcat Nailhead V8 in aqua with black air cleaner accented in red. “465” was the torque output in ft/lbs.

Recently, Corvette fans have been excited by the appearance of red-painted valve covers on the new C8 Sting Ray; the first dash of colour in the Corvette engine compartment since the red plastic beauty covers of the 2013 C6 Z06. Unfortunately, GM chose a rather Ferrari-esque red rather than the traditional red-orange used on Chevrolet V8s since 1955 including such renowned versions as the fuel-injected 327, the 409, 396 and 427. Continue reading

Coral: 2019 Color Of The Year.

James Kraus

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1964 Mercury Montclair Marauder in Bittersweet with White vinyl top at Duffield Lincoln-Mercury, Long Beach, CA.

The Pantone Color Institute has just announced that Living Coral is the 2019 Color Of The Year. In honor of this vibrant hue, I though it appropriate to look back to the era when coral roamed the streets. Continue reading

The Swinging Sixties: A Rainbow of Wheels and Technicolor Tyres

James Kraus

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1967 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396 with Marina Blue metallic body-colour wheels and F70-14 special nylon Red Stripe Firestone Super Sports Wide Oval tyres.

The majority of today’s cars today come equipped with black tyres surrounding wheels (or wheel covers) of silver, grey or black. This was not always the case; brightly coloured wheels were a common automotive styling fillip beginning with the 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen.   Continue reading

1960s: The Ascent of Black

James Kraus

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1965 Chevrolet Impala with black Super Sport rear deco trim

The latter half of the 1950s was a jubilant, optimistic era when life was comfortable and the future looked bright. In Britain, post-war food rationing was lifted, France was in the midst of Les Trente Glorieuses and Germany was celebrating Wirtschaftswunder. In the U.S., Wall Street, Madison Avenue, Abstract Expressionism, Modernist architecture and Cool Jazz made New York the global focal point of both art and commerce.   Continue reading

The Allure of Period Colours

by James Kraus

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Lord Brett Sinclair’s Bahama Yellow Aston Martin DBS in The Persuaders!, 1971

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. Continue reading

The Amazing Technicolor Citroëns

by James Kraus

Citroën DS in Vert Printemps (Spring Green) with Champagne (Ivory) roof

Citroën dropped a bombshell when it unveiled the DS 19 at the Paris Salon in October of 1955. It was so futuristic in style that it appeared to have beamed-in from another planet. Even better, the car had the technical specification that fully justified the space-age exterior: self-leveling hydropneumatic suspension, adjustable ride-height, disc brakes, radial tires, powered steering, brakes, clutch and gearchange, aluminium and fibreglass body panels and active load-proportional braking. Never before or since has a new car been introduced with such an advanced specification and so many new technical innovations.

Apparently, Citroën wished to further advance the futuristic aura of the new DS via an advanced, fashion-forward colour palette.

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Cars with Chromatic Flair: A Celebration of Colour

by James Kraus Porsche Color Combinations

1966 MG 1100 Saloon in Glen Green over Pale Primrose. A distinctive (and distinctly British) combination.

In response to my November article on the rich history of automotive colouration in comparison to the monotonous and uninspiring colour combinations most often seen today (centering almost exclusively on black, grey and beige), I received a number of photos from owners of quite distinctive vehicles that took a stand in the battle against chromatic mediocrity. I am sharing the best of them with followers of Auto Universum in the hopes that they will offer inspiration to others.

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A History of Automobiles and Colour before the Age of Chromophobia

by James Kraus


NBC Peacock, designed by John J. Graham, 1956

There is a distinct lack of coloration in today’s automobiles, with the majority seemingly finished in a shade that could be found on a greyscale chart. Things are no better in the interior; nearly always black, beige or grey, colours that architectural and couture designers refer to as neutrals. To make matters worse, these shades are all too often matched to the exterior pigment (i.e. black with black, silver with grey) to create insidious and mind-numbing monochrome vehicles that appear to have simply been dipped whole into a large vat of colourant.

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