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"the vast majority of cars are colorless: white, gray and black"
December 18, 2013 2:54 AM   Subscribe

San Diego Study #3: Midday Traffic Time Collapsed and Reorganized by Car Color
posted by ardgedee (106 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've given car color some thought, and I'd like to suggest that cars should be required to be in high-contrast to the color of things like streets. I just became aware of how surprising some cars can pop up.

White, historically, has been the color you could get without paying extra. At least it was so back in the 80s. I know Mr. Ford had a thing about black, but that's ancient history.
posted by Goofyy at 3:10 AM on December 18, 2013


People in general tend to choose inoffensive colors for their vehicles. Recently, my mom was shopping for her car in blue and ended up having to order it because dealerships only had white, black or silver in stock.

I suppose it's a chicken or egg question. Do people buy inoffensive colors because that's what dealers stock? Or do dealers mostly stock inoffensive colors because that's what people buy?
posted by Fleebnork at 3:28 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've had two cars, both blue. I'd like a red or green car next time. Black could be acceptable, but silver/charcoal and white are just so booooooring.
posted by brokkr at 3:39 AM on December 18, 2013


Colorless white cars beep furiously.
 
posted by Herodios at 3:48 AM on December 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


I've no idea what it's like in the US, but in the UK car colour is definitely a trending. If I recall correctly, it's largely driven by the car leasing companies who (as one of the largest car buyers) have a great deal of interest in having the most interesting car colour to sell in 3 years time.

From memory, the most popular car colours here were...

1970s - Brown, then red.
1980s - Red and (very briefly) yellow and black
1990s - Red
early 2000s - blue
mid 2000s - silver
late 2000s - dark grey
2013 - white
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 4:06 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I miss cars from the seventies when they came in bright yellows, purples, oranges, lime green, etc. Cars got boring in the eighties and never recovered.
posted by octothorpe at 4:07 AM on December 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


I don't care what color my car is, as long as it's not rental car white.
posted by double block and bleed at 4:12 AM on December 18, 2013


I'm wondering if there is any sample bias. San Diego, like LA, is a big car town. Many families have more cars than people. Being mid-week, perhaps this is weighted towards commuter cars - the boring reliable cars people use to get to work. The fun car is at home.

Looking out at a nearby car park with 11 cars here in the UK, I got: 2 white, 3 grey or silver, 2 blue, 1 red, 1 tan/brown, 1 black, 1 purple.
posted by vacapinta at 4:13 AM on December 18, 2013


I'm told that white is Toyota's best selling colour in Japan by a huge margin. They say that in that market, there's a cultural preference for white cars as status symbols, similar to the traditional/cliche preferences for black limousines and red Ferraris.

I don't know how true that is, but I do know white Toyotas get extra layers of paint and gloss at the factory, to retain that new car glow longer and prevent them from appearing to dull from wear more quickly than the others. They don't charge any more for the extra white, so maybe smart consumers are simply choosing the best value.

As for the video, it reminds me of that colour coordinated parking lot stunt from the mid 90s. The Gatorade bottle is sitting on the median divider, if anyone's wondering.
posted by ceribus peribus at 4:19 AM on December 18, 2013




I like this. I don't think it's art yet, but it could go that way.

Do people buy inoffensive colors because that's what dealers stock? Or do dealers mostly stock inoffensive colors because that's what people buy?

I think most people think in terms of resale value on one hand and a bargain on the other. A smaller group like to stand out from the crowd. There are some wacky shades of yellow around here.

Most of the red cars tend to be small, though the huge mid-1990s Chevy Lumina came in a pretty bright red with contrasting black trim / graphics.

My favourite, though, must be this big flashy noisy muscle car I used to see around here. It was a retina-searing orange-red and made a ton of noise going by. You couldn't miss it.

According to the badges it was called a Stealth.
 
posted by Herodios at 4:21 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


We have a white car (that we got used as a gift, so no complaining about the color), except for one panel that we had to have replaced. It doubled the cost to have it painted so we told the body shop to leave it as is, and it turned out to be the most attractive share of green. I wish the whole car was that color.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:44 AM on December 18, 2013


I've seen some cars where "super white" did cost more.

I like my yellow Lancer (OZ Rally edition). I don't like yellow as a rule, but that color just suits the car so well.

I'm very surprised that the Prius doesn't come in green. I have a theory I'd like to test. I drive a yellow car and I hit a lot of yellow lights. I want to try a green car and see if that helps. :)
posted by Foosnark at 4:44 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not one punch bug.
posted by surplus at 4:45 AM on December 18, 2013


I discovered a couple of cars back that the gold/silver colors hide dirt so much more than any of the others, while still being light enough that they don't attract the heat. That's my main motivation -- being able to go a really long time without washing the car.
posted by bizzyb at 4:50 AM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


I will always drive white or silver cars as long as I live in the south -- the value of paint that reflects solar heat makes my relative invisibility on the road worth it, though I absolutely drive my Celica with the headlights on at all times because of this. Not like I could afford to have it painted a brighter color, but there are days when I wish for a fluorescent pink or something that would reflect as much heat as the silver. It's a rare commute these days when I don't have to give my right of way to an interloper, and I have to lock my brakes almost full up at least twice a week. I counted 3 in one commute last week. Be quick-witted if you're going to drive a small silver car.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:54 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agree with Henry Ford: I like black cars. I have purchased six cars new since 1976. Each was black.
posted by rdone at 4:54 AM on December 18, 2013


It's a rare commute these days when I don't have to give my right of way to an interloper, and I have to lock my brakes almost full up at least twice a week. I counted 3 in one commute last week. Be quick-witted if you're going to drive a small silver car.

I drive a large bright metallic red car. It doesn't matter. People just don't look.
posted by Fleebnork at 5:01 AM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wouldn't a colorless car be clear? Now THAT would be a cool car!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:13 AM on December 18, 2013


I heard somewhere (or am totally making this up, who knows with memory these days) that in booming economic times people are more likely to get colorful cars, but during uncertain economic times people get white, black, or silver because they are the easiest to resell.

Also, it is changing a bit these days, but for a long time there were no cars in Korea that were colorful. It was like 90 percent silver, 9 percent ugly gold, and 1 percent black or white. And yes I totally made up those prcentages.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:14 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wouldn't a colorless car be clear? Now THAT would be a cool car!

But then I would have to wear pants!
posted by Literaryhero at 5:16 AM on December 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


One of the nice things about so many cars being grey/black/silver is when you have a brightly coloured car (as we do), it is dead easy to spot it in any parking lot.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:18 AM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]




I miss cars from the seventies when they came in bright yellows, purples, oranges, lime green, etc. Cars got boring in the eighties and never recovered.

There are some encouraging signs. If you've seen some recent Mustangs or Challengers, they come in all kinds of interesting colors. Lime green, purple, this awesome sort of candy color blue. I think Hyundai Velosters may even have colored wheels as a factory option.
posted by indubitable at 5:21 AM on December 18, 2013


Yeah, I've been noticing this boring-car-color thing for some time now. Like ricochet biscuit, sometimes I wonder --- since it's also getting harder and harder to tell different models apart! --- how these drivers can tell their car from all the other too-damn-similar cars in the shopping mall's parking lot.... and that's just one of the reasons I drive an electric blue PT Cruiser: I can always find mine!
posted by easily confused at 5:21 AM on December 18, 2013


I didn't care what color I got on my current car. It just happened that of all the colors my car came in, the black one was the cheapest on the lot.
posted by OHSnap at 5:22 AM on December 18, 2013


I regularly catch rides from three different people, all of whom drive silver-gray wagon/minivan-type cars. Like everybody else in the parking lot. Memorizing their license plate numbers was easier than peeking in every tinted window.

Most of the people I know buy used, and they don't choose the color; it's just what happens to be available at the time.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:23 AM on December 18, 2013


"Yeah, I've been noticing this boring-car-color thing for some time now."

Yeah, and it dates from the beginning of the 00s. It's been going on a long time now.

What's unfortunate is that in the mid-90s there was some big technological advance in auto paints and finishes that allowed for much brighter and varied colors than were available before. For a short while, there were some interesting colors, like those vibrant lime greens and such that you still see on the new Beetle. But then, in the US at least, culturally it all just turned toward white, grey, black, and dark blue.

I think it might be connected to the SUV trend.

But to me it seems very bland and unfortunate.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:28 AM on December 18, 2013


Makes me miss my rubber duck yellow Geo Storm. Looked like this.
posted by signal at 5:36 AM on December 18, 2013


I have a picture from dropping my son off at preschool one day, where I was one of a line of 8 silver minivans in the preschool parking lot. Which is why I sort-of want to get flames on the side of my minivan. Normally I don't care about what my car looks like, but I sort-of feel like I'm wearing a car-uniform on Camazotz. It's a little Stepford.

I do miss colors. I drove a green car for 10 years, and I loved it. But there just isn't as much variety out there now; when I bought this time, I bought used, and there were hardly any colors on the used market for minivans. Everywhere I go it's silver minivans and black SUVs.

Yesterday I passed a shocking pink car AND a bright, bright lilac-purple car, and it was delightful.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:49 AM on December 18, 2013


That's a great video. I liked the little patterns within it, like the groups of jeeps and motorcycles near the end.

I drive a large bright metallic red car. It doesn't matter. People just don't look.

I have seen people not notice huge, bright red firetrucks, with lights flashing and sirens blaring. People really, genuinely, do not look. Commuters especially tend to be driving on autopilot, I think -- they are tired, thinking mostly about dinner or work problems, and driving a route they have driven thousands of times before.

I didn't care what color I got on my current car. It just happened that of all the colors my car came in, the black one was the cheapest on the lot.

The last few times I have bought a new car, once I selected the things that were actually important to me (auto vs manual transmission, say, or 2wd vs 4wd), the color ended up chosen for me, unless I wanted to place a factory order or wait for a new batch to arrive, of course. These days it's easy to check inventories, and it can be surprising how few of a specific model are actually available in even a fairly large region. If color is a primary concern, you might have to wait or compromise on other options.

There are some encouraging signs. If you've seen some recent Mustangs or Challengers, they come in all kinds of interesting colors. Lime green, purple, this awesome sort of candy color blue. I think Hyundai Velosters may even have colored wheels as a factory option.

Jeep Wranglers have been coming in bright and unusual colors for a few years now, including limited runs of specific colors. Now, the people buying a Jeep, like the people buying a Mustang, are specifically not buying a Camry, and I suspect the unusual color options are a part of that differentiation.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:56 AM on December 18, 2013


Bland coloured cars are the safest in this age of road rage. The last thing you want is some stressed out driver in a paroxysm of fury over some perceived slight spotting your shocking pink car just after you thought you'd blended back into the traffic herd.
posted by fairmettle at 6:01 AM on December 18, 2013


We have a lot of gray cars in Milwaukee because that's the color all of them end up anyway after driving around in dirty snow and salt.

(However, my car is a nice shade of "arrest-me red.")
posted by desjardins at 6:19 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


There is a scene in the movie Convoy where an a black woman rolls her truck over. When her friends roll up and ask her if she is OK, she replies that she is fine - but she "should never have bought a white truck."

Solid advice.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:27 AM on December 18, 2013


Do the bright yellow cars have any statistical advantage?
posted by sammyo at 6:32 AM on December 18, 2013


And then there is bird poop to think about when choosing a color.
posted by what's her name at 6:32 AM on December 18, 2013


In Arizona, Southern California, and other warm-weather parts of the US, white and silver are incredibly dominant. People request them because these colors do better with heat and sun than any others.

The sun destroys paint faster here in the Southwest than anywhere else in the country, and only people with white paint jobs are immune. For everyone else, if you park outside every day, unless you keep up with waxing your paint job will get destroyed in a matter of a few years, even with the higher quality paints used by manufacturers. But with a white car, that oxidation never really shows even if it does happen.

Also, it's not much, but white and silver cars heat up slightly less during the summer, and are faster to cool off. The two cooler colors can mean your car heats up inside about 10 degrees less than someone who bought black, dark blue, or green. It's not much, but it does cool off a little faster.

So, there is a method to our (boring) madness.
posted by Old Man McKay at 6:34 AM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I drove a white car for fourteen years, no accidents to speak of. Traded the white car for a new Pearl Blue (very dark blue) Lancer. It's in the shop now getting fixed. Had it less than a week before it got scrunched. I watched the guy drive right into me in the rear view mirror. He didn't see me. EDIT: my point being, white == more visible.
posted by jabah at 6:37 AM on December 18, 2013


ceribus peribus I'm told that white is Toyota's best selling colour in Japan by a huge margin. They say that in that market, there's a cultural preference for white cars as status symbols.

I remember watching a German program on Japan, and the Germans found it highly amusing to see the rich Japanese driving around in their status symbol white Mercedes, as in Germany the white Mercs are the taxis.
posted by guy72277 at 6:42 AM on December 18, 2013


White and sliver will absorb less heat. I wonder if that's a factor in San Diego?
It's the reason I bought a light silver car. Easier to keep clean than white, better in the sun than a darker color.
posted by cccorlew at 6:43 AM on December 18, 2013


Seconding ricochet biscuit, we have a yellow car and it is so much easier to find in huge parking lots than our second car, an anonymous white.

Plus, the yellow really pops when it's dull and overcast.

(Pontiac Azteks came in a wonderful selection of bright colors that suited their Lego-like design.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:05 AM on December 18, 2013


We have a white car (that we got used as a gift, so no complaining about the color), except for one panel that we had to have replaced. It doubled the cost to have it painted so we told the body shop to leave it as is, and it turned out to be the most attractive share of green. I wish the whole car was that color.

I think of it as a tasteful accent panel, like when you paint one nail a different color.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:06 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you've seen some recent Mustangs or Challengers, they come in all kinds of interesting colors. Lime green, purple, this awesome sort of candy color blue.

A couple of years ago the girl and I were on a road trip in the Maritimes. The rental car turned out to be a brand new (563 km on the odometer when we picked it up) candy-apple red Charger. It made such an impact that at one place we stayed, the manager mentioned that a week earlier, other vacationers had been there with the very same rental car.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:08 AM on December 18, 2013


cars should be required to be in high-contrast to the color of things like streets.

Are you talking about whether other drivers can see them? When cars are automatic, it won't matter what color they are: they'll each be a bright blip on the maps of all the other cars.

Or are you talking about pedestrian safety? In that case, yes, require them all to be something obvious, but maybe that would mean bright blinking lights.
posted by pracowity at 7:08 AM on December 18, 2013


I love love love the "Grabber Blue" on Mustangs. One was parked outside my office and I couldn't stop staring at it.

Colorful cars are cool. My Subaru is a pretty boring green but at least it's not white.
posted by ghharr at 7:10 AM on December 18, 2013


I find white/grey/black cars boring. I have my preferences in other colours, but mostly I want a car which is an actual colour. (I had a blue car. Now I have a brown car.) At least compact and subcompact cars usually have colour options.
posted by jeather at 7:13 AM on December 18, 2013


White and sliver will absorb less heat. I wonder if that's a factor in San Diego?

Anecdotal evidence: yes. My parents would cast a skewed eye at darker colored cars or ones with dark interiors.

Also, white cars don't show dirt as much as darker ones, at least for the type of dirty our cars get around here.
posted by LionIndex at 7:16 AM on December 18, 2013


My favorite part was how the colorful San Diego taxis were part of the "others" category at the end.
posted by birdherder at 7:16 AM on December 18, 2013


I sold new cars for a living for a few years in the mid-2000's. When asking about color preference, a lot of people don't really care that much and even if their first choice was blue or something bright, their second choice was often silver or dark silver/charcoal. This is in Minnesota so white was out because people are afraid it will blend into the snow (though I drove a white car for years with no problems) and is hard to keep clean and a lot of people don't like black because it is dirty with minutes of cleaning it. We ordered a lot of silver and charcoal because those were the colors that we could sell. Having a car in a stand-out color would very rarely help us sell it and not having them was never a deal-breaker while certain options could be.

A lot of older people seem to like light tan/gold (Champagne Mist Metallic!) but shades of brown (like real, actual brown) we referred to as stay-around-brown because they were impossible to sell.
posted by VTX at 7:25 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have a theory (based entirely on anecdata from people in my statistically insignificant world) that silver/grey cars get rear-ended more than any other cars. Everyone I know who's gotten rear-ended at a light has been driving a silver/grey car on an overcast/rainy/yucky day. They seem to just disappear in those conditions.
posted by headnsouth at 7:28 AM on December 18, 2013


Brown! That reminds of a new Boxster I saw recently that was like, root beer jelly bean brown. It was even a metallic paint, so it "fizzed"! I am not at all a fan of brown cars, but that plus the black accents just looked awesome.
posted by indubitable at 7:36 AM on December 18, 2013


I am old enough that I remember when cars came in many colors, but when I bought my Prius last year, I chose silver after much hemming and hawing. I needed something that would absorb less light (summers where I live are frequently over 100 degrees), something that showed less dirt than white, something that wouldn't fade (like the blue in my old Camry) and something that would be easier to sell down the line. And I liked the sort of Applesque aesthetic, too.

And yeah, I think silver tends to disappear at dusk and in poor weather, I've had a couple near misses. I just leave my headlights on all the time now.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:43 AM on December 18, 2013


VTX, I'm going shopping for a car this spring, I would absolutely buy a brown car if they gave me a price break because they wanted to move it. I mean, I'd love a bright candy green or blue, but I would also enjoy the sort of in-your-face ugly (and easy findability!) of a brown car. They don't show a lot of dirt, either, at least our brown LTD in the 70s didn't. That sucker was ugly, but I have good memories of it cause it ran like a tank.

The last time I went car shopping, the one I wanted was white or a more-expensive blue on the lot. I didn't have time to haggle then, which is too bad because I loved that blue one.
posted by emjaybee at 8:00 AM on December 18, 2013


Forgot where I read/heard this, but a truck driver had opined that, from where he and his like sat (piloting tons of steel down the road at significant speed), modern cars came mostly in 3 colors; fog, concrete, and asphalt.

Less "arrest-me red", more "Don't-accidentally-crush-me-beneath-the-rolling-monster-of-physics-that-is-an-18-wheeler red".
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:26 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I just bought a new car. At least in the compact car world, a range of colors is certainly available. I suspect that people don't buy the brighter colors because they've got their eye on resale value and want to remain broadly popular. And because it delays and complicates things if a car of your preferred color isn't already on a lot near you.

Also, people have complicated feelings about what they want in a car and what their choice of car signifies. Bright colors can make a perfectly practical car seem more frivolous or show-offy.

I'm not worried about resale value or what the neighbors think, but I didn't consider any color except black. Because I like the color black.
posted by desuetude at 8:27 AM on December 18, 2013


I haven't driven in years, but I have very fond memories of my last two cars: a little candy-apple red number called Ladybug and a hunter green Plymouth Sundance named The Green Hornet. I have no idea what I'd name one of the "Look Away Gray*" jobbers.

I hadn't considered the fact that the gray shows less dirt, though. That certainly would be a plus here in the mud and snow.

*The name of the shade of gray they paint buildings in Disney parks they don't want you to notice. If they want it to blend into the foliage, they use "Go Away Green."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:35 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


At least in the compact car world, a range of colors is certainly available.

This might have something to with the range of options available (or at the options packages that people tend to want). If there aren't many different configurations for that specific model, dealers can have many different colors with the same configuration so people don't have to compromise on as much. With more expensive cars, there are more configurations (engines, power-trains, options, etc) and people will (in my experience as a salesperson) tend to compromise on color first.

It might also have something to do with who the average buyer for that car is. Compact cars will tend to be sold to younger buyers who might care more about color while older buyers tend not to care as much.
posted by VTX at 8:43 AM on December 18, 2013


Yeah when I went to school in South Florida, dark cars were only for the vampires or people with garages. You could melt an egg on vinyl seats, too, so cloth was de rigeuer if you couldn't spring for leather. Nowadays it's probably not as much of a thing as automotive AC units have gotten better.
posted by Mister_A at 8:44 AM on December 18, 2013


I miss cars from the seventies when they came in bright yellows, purples, oranges, lime green, etc.


Buzzard puke green. Our family Hornet was eye-searingly buzzard puke green, and one thing you could say about it is that it was certainly visible. You could see the Hell out of it, and say to yourself "Fuuuuuck me, that is an ugly car."
posted by louche mustachio at 9:26 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, and the seats were Diarrhea Brown because the 70s.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:27 AM on December 18, 2013


Do the bright yellow cars have any statistical advantage?

They do make it easier to play Yellow Car.
posted by asperity at 9:40 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ugh, every time we buy a new car I swear I will buy something bright and pretty like yellow or blue or green, and our current cars are black and white, because we buy used and go for the cheapest thing with no extras and they're ALL FUCKING BLACK OR WHITE. White is especially the worst, it's hard to see AND it's so generic and boring. Also, gray/silver is IMPOSSIBLE to see in the rainy Oregon weather.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:42 AM on December 18, 2013


What was the name of that horrific yellow colour that Ford used for a couple of years in the 1990s? IIRC, it was originally a colour intended for motor shows to make the cars stand out, but people buying the fast Mondeos and Focuses kept requesting it for road cars. It was a weird acid greeny yellowy shade...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 9:48 AM on December 18, 2013


Ah, Douchebag Yellow.


I think there is a toxin in the paint that makes people drive like assholes.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:53 AM on December 18, 2013


There's always the DIY Plasti Dip option. I don't know anything about it, but it looks cool.
posted by ghost dance beat at 10:18 AM on December 18, 2013


Brown cars are coming back. It's the third most popular color of Tesla I see around here on the SF Peninsula, behind black and navy blue.
posted by purpleclover at 10:22 AM on December 18, 2013


When I was buying my car I had an affiliate pricing thing through work, which meant that I could be as picky as I wanted and they still couldn't charge me more than invoice. Which came in handy, because there was only one good color offered for the car I wanted, it was the first year that color was offered, and it was a low-volume car.

I sat in the dealership for at least half an hour while they tried and failed to find one in the right color with the right options. Then, right as I started to get up and leave they miraculously found one at a dealer elsewhere in the state that they could get shipped over in a few days.
posted by ckape at 10:37 AM on December 18, 2013


I like my brown. It's pretty. And it's one of very few brown cars in this city, which means I can always see it. I'd be worried that brown is coming back, except that it still won't make a dent in the sea of non-colours that are cars.
posted by jeather at 10:44 AM on December 18, 2013


I never planned to own a red car, but when a Colorado Red Passat went by some years ago, my husband & I both simultaneously gasped and soon one was ours.
posted by mogget at 10:57 AM on December 18, 2013


Best brown car ever: Steve McQueen's brown Ferrari 250 Lusso.

My current car is grey. I didn't want grey. I wanted red. But I bought it used and got the one that was the best deal for what I needed/wanted. I could only find one red one in my city for sale like it, and it had too many miles. My wife's car, though, is sort of a deep cinnamon red, and everyone in our town recognizes it as hers. So I guess she better not rob any banks. And several years ago, I had a pickup truck that was painted bright candy apple red metal flake. The only way to miss it would have been to close your eyes - but then the muffler broke, so that took care of that problem.
posted by The World Famous at 11:16 AM on December 18, 2013


One of the new colours introduced for the 1999 model Corolla was "Twilight Blue Pearl", a hue somewhere in the no man's land between blue and purple that was likely the result of some marketing focus group. It didn't sell well. The first one wasn't made until late afternoon of the first production shift, coming in last in the informal 'which colour will we make first' race that year.

A few days into the new season, Dad was crossing through the plant and noticed three or four of them in a row coming down the line, a rare sight. He walked up to a random paintshop QC team member and asked what she thought of the new colour.

"I'm hoping it grows on me" was her diplomatic response.

It was discontinued after model year 2000, and replaced with "Indigo Ink Pearl", which sold much better and did an 8 year run.

The auto companies hear you, those of you asking for bold colour choices. They usually introduce at least one or two experimental colours each model year. Unfortunately they don't often meet the minimum sales figures necessary to keep them on the roster long term.
posted by ceribus peribus at 11:20 AM on December 18, 2013


My car is light silver, aka european beige, and I reluctantly bought it (used) after hunting for months for the specific set of options I wanted* in a black or charcoal car. I compromised and bought the sedan instead of the wagon I wanted and often think about buying a spray gun and having a go at it.

The hit list is dominated by 1960s Mercedes flat 'light grey' which is probably not available in modern paint systems, and a variety of high-flake charcoals from the Porsche and Lambo back catalogue. Because I like invisibility with a touch of class.

*quattro, 6-spd, 3.0, sport package
posted by a halcyon day at 11:22 AM on December 18, 2013


ceribus peribus: "The auto companies hear you, those of you asking for bold colour choices. They usually introduce at least one or two experimental colours each model year. Unfortunately they don't often meet the minimum sales figures necessary to keep them on the roster long term."

I think the trouble there is that the dealers don't order those as floor models, so they never sell.
posted by Karmakaze at 12:17 PM on December 18, 2013


Among the many joys I've felt from the return of sweer sweet Fiat to the US, the Italian comfort level with distinctive colors and design has been a big one.

In the US, at least, most people are flat-out dullards when it comes to their dully dull-dull dullmobiles and come to regard any little detail or design flourish that's even remotely distinctive as "ugly." It doesn't help that our lame US auto journalists are all cut from the same tiresome cloth, and say that the plastics are "hard" or that the controls are confusing. I drove French cars for years, Swedish ones before that, and in every review, the placement of the horn on a stalk was said to be a confusing complication that amounted to a safety hazard, and yet, because I'd driven my car for more than an hour, I knew where everything was and how it worked (down to the rubber button brake on a Citroën, which always gave them panicky feelings) and had no trouble with the horn.

We, as a collective of excess-fearers, haaaaate the Nissan Juke and we roll our eyes at the Nissan Cube and we couldn't get over our snickering about how the Honda Element looked like a "bread van" and so on, and everything's the same damn color, with the same damn interior that's straight-up funereal grey and black from door to door. God forbid the joyous little Renault Twingo had ever made it to our shores, with it's cute color-splashed interior—there would have been rioting and the wretched stand-up comedy fad would have been prolonged another five years.

Twenty-five years ago, my daily driver, replacing a burgundy MGB/GT, was a 1980 Fiat Strada in a wonderful, delicate shade of red they called "oriental red," which was a non-metallic red with a sort of lovely undertone of orange. The interior was brown brown brown plastic and mottled tan everywhere, with every switch and control some sort of individual 1970s futurist masterpiece that Sylvia Anderson would have died for, and the ignition key went into the left side of the steering column. It was not a particularly reliable car, and I was so adept at push-starting it I could get it going in a five-foot run, and there was a fuel problem that set the engine compartment on fire once a week or so (I found it easier to keep a couple cases of diet grape Shasta in the hatch to use as extinguishers rather than actually fix the fuel line issue), and yet I miss it, and how distinct it was from everything else on the road.

When the Fiat 500 showed up and you could get it in metallic brown, for the sake of the almighty goddess, I was overcome, and when I realized that I could, if I wanted, order one in the soft velvety green I so love with a lurid red and white interior with a white steering wheel, I nearly started dancing, hooted "Viva Italia!" a number of times, and watched Amarcord over and over until it was bedtime. If I ever end up in the new car bracket again, I may have to share the road with a sea of silver Corollas and murky gold Camry sedans, but at least I'll be able to do it with flair.

Then again, the Smart Fortwo may not be the most fun to drive, but you can get it in plaid.
posted by sonascope at 1:31 PM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Copacabana, 1960s
posted by Tom-B at 1:38 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


As someone whose daily driver at one point was a dark grey Fiat Croma Turbo D (which I loved for numerous irrational reasons), I strenuously dispute the notion that Fiat has something that could fairly be described as "the Italian comfort level," except to the extent that the "Italian comfort level" is a term of art intended to mean "a blast to drive, sorry about the medical bills for your back."

Also, as someone who thinks the Honda Element is one of the most boring designs in recent memory, I do admit that I'd be first in line to buy one if it actually looked anything like a bread van.
posted by The World Famous at 1:51 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


sonascope: I want the lavender one, on the bottom-right.
posted by easily confused at 1:52 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fiat has something that could fairly be described as "the Italian comfort level,"

I meant that in terms of their comfort level with design, not physical comfort. You want comfort, you buy French (mind you, I have short legs and long arms, so Italian cars have always fit me perfectly). You want a beautiful speedometer or a headrest and fine lines on a little car that is inexplicably joyous to drive for something so cheap and tinny and that goes in interesting engineering directions, Fiat will do you fine.

I don't think the Honda Element was particularly beautiful, but for function and adaptability, it's the latter-day Microbus, but people were too ready to fuss over every weird detail to give it a chance.
posted by sonascope at 2:01 PM on December 18, 2013


I suppose it's a chicken or egg question. Do people buy inoffensive colors because that's what dealers stock? Or do dealers mostly stock inoffensive colors because that's what people buy?

Here's the thing: a car isn't a shirt or a pair of shoes or a handbag. It's an expensive investment that you will have for many years to come, and that you probably can't afford two of. It has to work in all situations, and that includes not making you stand out or look foolish when you can't afford to stand out or look foolish.

Now, there are lots of people out there who don't think that garish automotive colors have that effect, or who don't care. There are also lots of people out there who can afford a really garish, obnoxious car + color that they think is cool, and also have a tasteful high-end car at the ready for picking up a conservative relative at the airport or pulling up to a classy restaurant for their wedding anniversary. Good for all those people.

For most of us, though, an inoffensive car color is the safe bet: always appropriate, never garish, and the worst thing someone might call you is uncreative or boring...and nobody calls you that if you step out of a white Toyota Corolla wearing a wacky, colorful, tasteless outfit. From that perspective, stronger colors drive a "halo" effect to spark interest in the product, and yes a few will sell, but mostly that bright orange (and attractive) Dodge Dart is going to sit on a pedestal driving sales of white, black and grey Darts all year long.
posted by davejay at 2:16 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I miss cars from the seventies when they came in bright yellows, purples, oranges, lime green, etc. Cars got boring in the eighties and never recovered.

Head to your local Dodge dealer. I won't speak to whether the cars are any good or not, but the stronger colors are fantastic to look at (especially on the Dart and the Jeep Wranglers.)
posted by davejay at 2:18 PM on December 18, 2013


You want a beautiful speedometer or a headrest and fine lines on a little car that is inexplicably joyous to drive for something so cheap and tinny and that goes in interesting engineering directions, Fiat will do you fine.

In my mind, the new Cinquecento's only major fault is that it's not an early-90s Fiat Uno with a turbo on it.
posted by The World Famous at 2:37 PM on December 18, 2013


In my mind, the new Cinquecento's only major fault is that it's not an early-90s Fiat Uno with a turbo on it.

That, and it is terribly misshapen for someone of my (tall, skinny) size and shape. My kingdom for a telescoping wheel so that I don't have to reach my arms all the way out and pull my knees all the way up; I'm more comfortable in a 2nd gen Miata, and I can barely close the door in that.
posted by davejay at 3:01 PM on December 18, 2013


A telescoping wheel should be mandatory in all modern cars. Traction control? Stability control? ABS? Sure, they're nice. But give me the ability to adjust my driving position.
posted by The World Famous at 3:09 PM on December 18, 2013


louche mustachio: "Diarrhea Brown"

The least popular blaxploitation character.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:00 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think the Honda Element was particularly beautiful, but for function and adaptability, it's the latter-day Microbus, but people were too ready to fuss over every weird detail to give it a chance.
The Honda Element debuted at the 2001 North American International Auto Show [and] lauched in 2003 . . . The 2007 Element received a mild refresh, which included . . . [redesigned front seat belts] that allows rear seat occupants to exit the vehicle without the need for a front occupant to disconnect his or her seat belt --WP.
. . . which for previous model years were mounted on the rear (front-opening) doors.

That is not a 'weird detail', that is a shockingly bad design for 21st century vehicle.

Also, it didn't get any better fuel economy than the VW Bus did forty years earlier.

I get what they were driving at, but I don't think they got there.
 
posted by Herodios at 4:03 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I get what they were driving at, but I don't think they got there.

Given that a front seat occupant has to open their door to allow the rear doorlet to open, the seat belt thing just seems like a quirk of the configuration to me. If you have to open your door, is click-open-close-click really that bad? It's not a vehicle for everyone, but neither was a Microbus—it's a peculiar, incredibly utilitarian vehicle, not an everyday mushy sedan. For the kind of people who need those side barn doors, they're just the business.

The gas mileage of the Element wasn't great, and is actually about the same, plus a couple, as that of the average Microbus, but that's discounting that (a) the Element has 100 (!) HP more than the Bus and (b) the emissions from the Honda are squeaky clean compared to the burning oil refinery that was the VW boxer engine. The manifestation of the former is that you can actually drive on a hilly road without having the acceleration profile of a roller coaster, and you presumably don't get stuck doing what people driving early Type 2s had to do for really steep hills, which was to reverse up the hill because it was the lowest gear available.

Of course, the public and the auto press fussed, so now the Element's gone. Sad.
posted by sonascope at 4:41 PM on December 18, 2013


Eh. The Element had a 9-year run without a redesign or any meaningful refresh. If there's one thing Honda's good at (and there's really more than one thing they're good at, mind), it's taking a not-well-received initial vehicle debut and tweaking and refining it to something extremely successful (see the Odyssey). The Element arrived at the tail end of SUVs' popularity and rode the last of that wave all the way in to the beach.

It was a cool, interesting car with some great ideas and some sacrifices to go with them. No great car is without its glaring faults. A car that is everything to everybody is really just boring.

I don't consider the Element a failure, but merely a fleeting cool moment in Honda's story. It could have come out with a next version if it wanted to, and created an enduring name for an increasingly-boring vehicle. But they already make the Odyssey, which is ultimately everything cool the Element had (except that it costs way too much).
posted by The World Famous at 4:51 PM on December 18, 2013


Of course, the public and the auto press fussed, so now the Element's gone.

The public and the auto press fussing didn't kill it; declining sales did. 2003 (first year) saw sales over 65,000 for the year, but by 2010 sales were under 15,000 for the year. At some point, it's not profitable to keep selling a model, either because the factory can be better utilized for a new/more profitable model, or because the cost to continue production at that sales level is too high.
posted by davejay at 6:50 PM on December 18, 2013


When you don't update a model for a decade, sales tend to wane.
posted by The World Famous at 6:57 PM on December 18, 2013


davejay: "I miss cars from the seventies when they came in bright yellows, purples, oranges, lime green, etc. Cars got boring in the eighties and never recovered.

Head to your local Dodge dealer. I won't speak to whether the cars are any good or not, but the stronger colors are fantastic to look at (especially on the Dart and the Jeep Wranglers.)
"

Yeah, I'm sure that they're nice colors but I've owned a Dodge before.
posted by octothorpe at 7:05 PM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


When I was teenager in the early 1980s my brother and I were begging for extra allowance money so my stepfather "allowed" us to wash his silver Ford Granada car for five bucks apiece (big money back then!), but we had to do "a really GOOD job".

My brother and I scoured that car, dried it with a chamois, and waxed it to perfection. We earned that ten bucks.

Once the moisture fully evaporated (a few hours later), tell-tale circular patterns appeared in the paint, the result of my brother and I having LITERALLY scoured the car with S.O.S. pads!

Our dad asked us repeatedly if we had used anything other than sponges and we both denied having done so. We expected some pretty severe punishment regardless but in the end mom and dad seemed to just forget about the whole thing.

Looking back, I'm guessing it's because we both did do "a really 'good' job", even leaving physical evidence of where we'd scrubbed! (The circular pattern was EVERYWHERE: the bumpers, the lower parts of the panels, doors, etc.)
posted by mistersquid at 9:30 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Our car is boring silver, but (as true nerds) we realised soon after registering our car that our license plate number was the code for a very nice shade of lavender in hexadecimal.

For years I've thought that the next time I have a few spare thousand dollars lying around, we're going to paint it that exact shade of lavender. How awesome would that be?
posted by forza at 9:55 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


You could save a lot of money by getting vanity plates with the hex code to match the car instead.
posted by headnsouth at 4:34 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Police don't like stopping a white car as it's a four point penalty.
posted by salmacis at 6:06 AM on December 19, 2013


Yeah, I'm sure that they're nice colors but I've owned a Dodge before.

Ladybug was a Dodge Shadow and she ran like a dream. The only thing that killed her was going downhill around a blind corner in the middle of a heavy Central New York winter, hitting a patch of black ice, doing a 360, going through a guardrail and into the gorge, plowing headfirst into the cement wall under the bridge, and sinking into the icy creek.

The nice thing about her and Green Hornet the Sundance (same car. really) was that they were simple enough for the average Jane to keep running. Mind you, not as much as the beloved Chevette I learned on. That thing was as sure-footed as a mountain goat, and put together like a Model T.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:26 AM on December 19, 2013


("Going downhill around a blind corner in the middle of a heavy winter, hitting a patch of black ice, doing a 360, going through a guardrail and into the gorge, plowing headfirst into the cement wall under the bridge, and sinking into the icy creek" is the New York equivalent of "Falling over, burning down, and then sinking into the swamp.")
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:28 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Erm, I would contend that the car that single-handedly ruined brown for a generation (well, I err—it was probably a two-way effort with the brown Pinto) was the saddest car ever manufactured. These things needed a trailer with a trombonist to continuously herald their shlumping pleasure-free sadness. Anytime I was trapped behind the wheel of one, I always marveled at how you could make a tiny car feel so freaking heavy and lifeless.

Ironically, though, they were, throughout their lifespan of constant sorrow, the most reliable vehicle GM produced, but oy vey, even the communists made more joyous cars.
posted by sonascope at 3:04 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


the brown Pinto

Heh. When I was a kid, our family had a brown Pinto wagon. I have happy memories of riding, loose, in the way way back and sliding and bumping around. Good times. And safe!
posted by The World Famous at 3:11 PM on December 19, 2013


My sister had a brown Pinto hatchback, and while riding in the back, she managed to somehow shift down to first at 50 MPH, which was like slamming on the brakes and had the curious effect of one of my feet plunging through the rusty floor to the highway below, which instantly burned a quarter inch off the gum rubber sole of my chukka boot and left me walking lopsided until those shoes wore out.

All those American lump experiences (Chevette, Pinto, '76 Sunbird, Fairmont) served to drive me away from American cars forever and, while I've owned some fussy, insane, unreliable cars from strange lands since, they've always been joyous, fun, or larky in some way in exchange.
posted by sonascope at 3:18 PM on December 19, 2013


Kandi Keri Kristine Kendrick had a brown pinto hatchback my senior year of high school & we utterly rocked out in that thing to AC/DC, Van Halen and Judas Priest. I was already getting into punk pretty much, but you listened to what Kandi wanted to listen to when you were in Kandi's car, and that was that.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:02 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I... I can't wrap my head around the idea of the Chevette not being joyous. It was like the beagle of cars.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:31 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had a '76 Sunbird. Total piece of crap but damn was that thing fast. That giant Buick 3.8L V6 in a tiny little shitbox? Could do some serious donuts in that.
posted by octothorpe at 5:44 PM on December 19, 2013


I was just reminiscing the other day about the time we crammed twelve people into a two-door Chevette to get to the cast party after a high school play.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:57 PM on December 19, 2013


It was like the beagle of cars.

In order to be the beagle of cars, a car has to have the same sloppy joyous flip-floppiness of character as what's manifested by the ears of a beagle running down stairs. A Beetle had this, a 2CV had this, a Mini had this, a Fiat 500 had this, but a Chevette did not have this. For the record, my '81 Datsun 210 didn't have it, either.
posted by sonascope at 4:47 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


The opossum of cars, maybe.
posted by sonascope at 5:16 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Datsun 210! My family car growing up (after the Pinto station wagon was rear-ended and blew up) was a brown Datsun 210 hatchback. It looked pretty much exactly like a turd. It got stolen twice in a 2-week period in the late '80s since I guess parts were hard to come by after Nissan stopped making them, so they got stolen a lot.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:21 AM on December 20, 2013


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