A History of Automobiles and Colour before the Age of Chromophobia

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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.

Delahaye

1937 Delahaye 135, ivory and navy blue with dark red leather

Things were not always this gloomy. From the dawn of motoring through the 1920s, cars were painted in a full spectrum of colours, often in vivid combinations. The world’s first motor vehicle, the 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen was green, with its fully-exposed engine finished in bright red. At the Villa d’Este or Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance one sees a veritable riot of colour that would likely be a bit shocking to today’s consumers: black with orange, yellow with orange, dark and light blue, dark and light green, red with blue, maroon with red; the palette was limitless.

I’m not even remotely “into” cars but I loved this article… and I do think that it’s a bit of a shame that cars don’t exhibit the variety of colour that they used to, any longer. As a kid, I remember that the old chap who lived on the other side of our street kept a remarkably old-fashioned but regal looking car (I’ve no idea what it was: I was only very young) in racing green with maroon trim and leather, and chrome window frames. I used to think how cool it was that he got to have a car that was so distinctive and unusual, because it was already rare to see things that didn’t just fit into the same boxy, bland palettes. Since then, things have only gotten worse: I can’t remember the time that my daily commute took me past a car that wasn’t painted in an all-encompassing single-colour coat of metallic black, white, silver, red, or blue and with interior plastic entirely in one of two shades of dark grey.

Hopefully it’s just a phase that we, as a society, are going through.

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