Car Colors – Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Old Car Paint Photo: Michal Zacharzewski

You would think by now that car colors would have come a long way. Especially when you consider that long, long ago a Model T Ford could be purchased in whatever color the buyer wanted, as long as it was black.

Yes it’s true. The first automobiles that were manufactured way back at the beginning of the last century were painted black. Of course, black is still a popular color choice, following close behind silver which has been the leader in car colors for a number of years.

Old Car Paint Photo: Michal ZacharzewskiActually, silver and black vehicles now account for more than one half of all new car color choices. And when you add in gray and white, the next two most popular color choices, you could easily come to the conclusion that two out of every three cars on the road are painted either, silver, black, gray or white. Red and blue are the only non-neutral colors on the list, accounting for about one out of every ten vehicles.

Let’s take a look back in time at a couple of interesting trends in car colors.

Along with the introduction of the mini-van during the decade of the 1980’s, popular car colors slowly gravitated towards various shades of green. And the popular trend in green lasted well into the decade of the 1990’s. Speaking from my own knowledge of being involved in the auto racing community, I can honestly tell you that green was not a color of choice for race cars. Actually, green was considered by many involved in the sport to be a bad luck color. Don’t ask me why, but somehow all of that changed rather quickly when green finally emerged as a leading car color.

Ontario Orange 1972 CorvetteBeing a car guy, I can’t help but think all the way back to 1972 and the most popular car color for the Chevrolet Corvette that year. For those of you who lived through the decade of the 1970’s you will most likely remember this color was also a very popular color choice in home decorating and other fashionable styles. Want to take a guess? Well, there were more Corvettes painted Ontario Orange in 1972 than any other color Corvette. And for the younger people reading this, can you imagine, an orange Corvette? Don’t worry. Chevrolet wasn’t the only car company painting cars orange. Just about every car manufacturer out there was following that trend with colors like Hemi Orange and Sundance Orange. Other interesting car colors of the 1970’s included, Deep Plum, Lime Green and Lemon Twist

Car colors of the 1960’s saw the introduction of metallic paint colors such as Acapulco Blue Metallic, Sunlit Gold Metallic and Sequoia Green Metallic. It’s no surprise that the metallic hues of today’s paint colors can be traced all the way back to the metallic colors manufacturers came up with over forty years ago. From what I understand, the metallic colors of the decade actually had their roots in the custom car community. You see, custom paint jobs often involved the use of metal flake paint, which was considered a rather unique painting process back in the day. Let’s face it, car color trends usually begin and end in somewhat unpredictable ways.

Of course, talking about trends in car colors wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the pastel colors of the 1950’s such as Goldenrod Yellow, Skyline Blue and Tropical Turquoise. Sure it would be easy to write them off as Easter egg colors, but when you take a second look, you could make the assumption that the car colors back then were merely a reflection of the good times being enjoyed by hard working post-war Americans. Once again home furnishings and fashion styles paralleled the trend in car colors.

raindrops Photo: Ralph MorrisAnd for those old enough to remember; what ever happened to the optional ‘two tone’ paint jobs? Back in the day, buying a car painted in two distinct colors was a very popular option. I clearly remember my Dad’s 1956 Oldsmobile Holiday 88. It was painted white with a black top. Of course, the spinner hub caps that were repeatedly stolen were also a popular option, but that’s another story.

When you think about how we got to where we are today, it’s anyone’s guess as to where car colors are headed. From my own experience being in the automobile detailing business, I can honestly tell you that the lighter metallic colors are much easier to maintain compared to deep dark colors, such as red, blue and black.

But wait, the current trend in the neutral colors of silver, black, gray and white just may be turning a corner. Consider this, the Indianapolis 500 Official Pace Car for 2010 was a Chevrolet Camaro painted Inferno Orange. And for the first time in almost twenty years Chevrolet is now producing a limited quantity of replica Inferno Orange Pace Cars for sale to the public. Maybe it’s a sign that today’s automotive executives are beginning to understand the thinking that it takes more than styling to sell cars. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Frank CannaFrank Canna has been in the automobile detailing business for 25 years and is the owner of Mirror Finish Detailing, Williamstown, NJ. He can be reached at or visit his website at Mirror Finish Detailing Twitter: @MirrorFinish

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2 Thoughts to “Car Colors – Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow”

  1. Thanks for the comprehensive car color article.

    I’ll bet the Inferno Orange cars stand out in traffic… may be safer on the freeways.

    It would be interesting to ask people why they select certain colors. Safety? Climate conditions? Or, just a favorite color?

  2. hermosa

    I like black cars because I found them very elegant.

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