A weekly guide to all that’s rotten about car ownership, plus some good bits
Choosing the correct colour for your spanking new chariot, inside and out, can be the difference between receiving praise from family and friends, or getting the shades so wrong your ability to sell it in good quick time is lost. No one wants a car if a brash shade or orange unless an exhibitionist.
Telling a best friend their new SUV in ‘Cascading Barf’ livery is a shocking error of judgement will activate deep insecurities. Usually, the car dealer offers extreme coloured cars at a discount – to get rid of them. I see vivid lime green cars around, their owners oblivious they have clashing red signal lights and a bright yellow registration plate at the rear. There are the fitted kitchens whizzing around, all-white cars, outside, inside, even the steering wheel. And then there is the craze for cars the colour of burnt orange. They stand out in the crowded car park, but not for the rights reasons.
Colour choice can thoroughly bamboozle all of us without an aesthetic education, the basics of art school studies. Watching a couple at the paint shelves in a B&Q store in agonising dither trying to match a hue from a paint chart with a swatch of carpet or wallpaper is a painful sight to behold. As for the seriously colour blind, the disability ought to be eligible for welfare assistance.
First there are shades of colours to consider, and then there is proportion to volume. Lastly, there is the quality of light, not only the light under which you scrutinise a colour, but daylight. A bright yellow sports car looks cheerful in sunny Spain, but turns a weird green in Scotland’s dull winters. Colour choice is a minefield of traps.
Men who following the fashion of ordering an iridescent ‘flip’ paint are trying to out-do the car’s designer. (See the TVR sportscar illustrated.) Flip paints, like matt colors destroy a car’s lines. ‘Reflective’ paints, the kind you’d only ever consider for a waistcoat or a posh handbag, change the shape of body panels. The human eye is disturbed, confused.
We know if you park your car outdoors in all weathers the paint will fade in time, acid rain, sun, aphid spit from overhanging trees, bird droppings, all take their toll. Colours need intensity. Cars need more than one top coat. How many of us are aware adding a new coat of paint adds weight? Added weight reduces miles per gallon. Trying lifting two 5 litre tins (cans) of paint to understand what I mean. Buy a car cover.
A vehicle’s cabin is a small space. Breaking it up with contrasting ‘inserts’, vivid colours, disintegrates visual cohesion. Avoiding disharmony isn’t always easy. Manufacturers are just as tempted as we are to produce cars with interiors that look like patchwork quilts. There are any numbers of people who design a car, once it has left the initial designer’s sketch book, approved by the head of design.
Design staff are divided into engineers, body, and then cabin designers, and the cabin is broken up into seats, doors, carpet and ceiling, transmission tunnel, fascia and dash. Then there is the instrument style to think about and how they are lit. If they don’t all work together they can end up creating an automotive pudding.
Good cabin designers try to alleviate funereal black or charcoal grey interiors with instrument highlights and illumination, aluminium instrument bezels, switches and door handles. The Audi TT is a good example of clear, well balanced objects to hold interest on dash, console and doors. Today, cabin designers are using ambient light to make a difference to an interior’s gloomy space. Illumination in the foot-wells, and door handles often gives a comforting, cosy feel.
Subtle is achieved by ordering car seats and door cards stitched to match the car’s colour, red, blue, yellow, or white as a neutral choice, or ask for a strip of bodywork colour up and over the seats. Embroidered initials or flamboyant images on seats backs is very fashionable.
Manufactures offer dash materials clad in leather, metal, textured plastics, or in the same shade as the bodywork, a choice offered to modern Fiat 500 owners. Up market there’s machine turned dashes or wood veneer. Why cause visual clutter by breaking up a cabin interior with all sorts of clashing materials and colours?
Subtle instrument illumination helps. Blue, as used in Jaguars, offers a calming effect, a strong red used in BMW sport saloons is known to inflame a driver subconsciously, to make a driver aggressive, ask any Spanish bull about why bright red affects its mood. (Incidentally, bulls can’t drive, they have no thumb.)
In Seventies Edinburgh the interior of a double-decker bus was grey and dark red. Passengers began complaining they felt nauseous. Corporation officials, it was not a council back then, assumed there was something wrong with the bus suspension until it was pointed out battleship grey and maroon combined in large doses makes people sick.
The best modern artists taught designers how colour and its intensity swings emotions. Mark Rothko, abstract expressionist, the greatest proponent of colour study, proved that in his giant canvases. They took years to create. He layered his canvasses with different hues. Car designers do that today to give a colour depth, as if glowing from underneath the top coat. Get it wrong, for example place modern micra paint on a classic car, and you can see how it destroys a car’s visual and historical integrity.
There are as many shades of black as there are shades of white. Some colours are warm, some are cold. Warm means there’s a portion of red or yellow in it, cold means a lot of black or grey. Put the two together and the eye tells us something is incompatible even if the head doesn’t know why. Some shades have no intensity. No matter how bright the sun the shade won’t reflect light to delight the eye. By trial and error we discover using one shade for everything doesn’t guarantee uniformity. Different materials absorb colour in different ways, carpet, leather, metal, plastic, and so on.
Those who scoff at colour care are the first to admit a bright red sports car is a magnet to speed cops. And you don’t have to own a Doberman Pincher to choose an expensive model in black with a chocolate brown interior. You can just be stupid. Or you can be Porsche who will sell you that exact combination for a lot of money. Choosing colour is as important as choosing the car itself. Of course, there are folk who don’t care. They buy a car, rust, scrapes, and vinyl roof, just to get from A to B.
If you care about a car’s aesthetics but forget everything you’ve just read, remember: Keep. It. Simple.
GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS
Shopping mall robbers
Last week’s mention of charges for parking too long or in the wrong way in your local Tesco or B&Q car park elicited a lot of angry responses. A shopping mall car park is technically a private parking area. I know that should not be the case, but until kicked into touch by an independent-minded nation, that’s the reality. Try being a pensioner, a student, or a single mother with kids and get swiped for an extra £100 charge. Expect harassment and intimidation by the English-based thieves operating those scams. The charges are unenforceable. The companies rely on your fear of reprisal to make you pay up. They are not a fine, they are only an invoice. I’d forgotten SNP MP Pete Wishart instigated a co-sponsored Private Members Bill to combat the blackmailers after his local Perth UKCPS began photographing drivers who had broken retail park rules. Private parking companies have no official right to fine you, though they may try to make you think they do. All they’re doing is advising you of what they deem a breach of contract. The cowboy owners will refuse to respond to press interviews or the like. They exist to remove your wallet. The Scottish Government should alienate the sods altogether.
Los Angeles Auto Show
I’m usually in Tinsel Town at this time of year plying my scripts, available to pay a visit to the annual car show in the downtown area of pseudo-skyscrapers and apartment blocks, where television serials are shot pretending to be in Manhattan. Few new models are premiered, those are left for the big European or Japanese shows. What you get are wild and wacky one-off concept designs from students in the prestigious Pasadena Art Centre of Design, their car design course one of the best in the world. One bRit car will be there: the new version of the massively successful Range Rover Evoque, the car launched by Mrs Unsmiley Beckham. The current Evoque, about as big as any family needs in an SUV, transformed the company’s financial bottom line. Sales have not dropped below 100,000 units annually, even six years after its launch. I suspect little will be done to its ‘sat-on-by-an-elephant shape. Expect changes to the interior, maybe an all-digital dash. An electric or hybrid is welcome. The planet is running out of time.
Glasgow Airport parking woes
A reader tells me, some while back she left his car at Glasgow airport for a short business trip, returned at night in the pouring rain, and drove home to Ayr. Next afternoon she discovered the rear bumper misshapen. It was clear to her, her car had been hit by another, probably reversing into the bay behind hers. “The airport authorities were not much interested in helping me.” She began the process of reporting the matter to the police. When the police took action they were told security camera recording discs get wiped after 48 hours. Some security service. What if a theft of a car or an injury? Her insurance company sued the airport. So much for security concerns that have you remove shoes, belts, briefcases, backpacks, cameras, computers, jackets and gold filled teeth before herding us to the gift shop! Lesson: no matter how tired you are, walk around your vehicle on arrival, use your iPhone to photograph damage and the car behind, or next to you if your door is dinged or dented.