Monochrome legend: the famous Model T Ford was only available in black.
In the early days of car manufacturing, colour was a question of luck. Buyers could choose, for example, whether they wanted their cars to be blue, red, green or black, but the end-result was not always certain. Achieving specific colour shades was an impossibility. That was also one of the reasons why many car manufacturers preferred to offer fewer OEM colours. It was only the increasing use of alkyd melamine resin paints after the second world war that made it possible to achieve a greater variety of colours.
Nonetheless the 1950s were dominated by muted and respectable colours, such as black or dark blue. Bright red or yellow would generally only have been found on sports cars. For a while, elegant two-tone paint jobs were very popular and were an obvious choice as ample horizontal chrome bars divided the side panels of many 1950s and 1960s car models, so the areas above and below the bars could be painted in different colours.
The Harlequin Polo from Volkswagen in the 1990s in the bright colours of a parrot.
The 1970s were markedly more colourful. The period and fashion ensured that strong and even garish colours were in fashion – and manufacturers were happy to supply what the customers wanted. At times, shades of red and blue almost reached the same rank as white on the colour popularity scale.
Just a decade later, however, the bright colours were considered passé and cars once more appeared in more muted tones. That trend seems set to last: today colours such as silver, grey, black and, for some time now, also white, dominate around the world. That doesn’t mean refinishers in bodyshops have time to get bored, though. Thanks to advances in paint technology, the neutral colours are now available in countless variations, shades, effects and gloss levels, so matching them accurately is a challenging task.
Photo and video credits for this page
Richard Thornton/Shutterstock.com (Ford T); Thomas Doerfer/Wikipedia (VW Polo)