Car Culture: Colour Choice

A weekly guide to all that’s rotten about car ownership, plus some good bits


When I think of TVR, I think of bad taste

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.


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.

Happy motoring!


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9 Responses to Car Culture: Colour Choice

  1. angusskye says:

    Glasgow Airport parking? Grrrrr. Two weeks ago we took 8 days in the (official) long-stay for £43; flight home was cancelled due to high winds and so arrived back 22 hours late. Extra charge – £27! What a rip-off! It’s back to one of the off-airport parking areas from now on.

    And car colours – one black car, one white and we are very happy with that.

    At long last I have my Suzuki Burgman 400 and the only choice was matt black or gloss white. I’ve gone for white and noticed when cleaning it after its 250 mile trip home from the dealership that it had a nice Saltire light blue fleck in it in the sunshine.

    Finally – where the heck does all the tar come from in a wet November? The big downside with white!

  2. greig12 says:

    Hot hatches all seem to have their statement colour, the old Lambo Orange ST being a good example and I think in their case, outrageous colours can work. Nissan, a while ago however had a pink micra which was ugh and old folk like me will remember the browns and beiges of the 70s. That said, not all the colours from that era were ghastly. I once owned a 1972 Triumph 2.5 pi in a lovely maroon colour. It was my pride and joy, doing 0-60 in a back then, blistering 10 seconds. I totalled it through no fault of my own unfortunately. It’s still to this day one of my favourite cars of all time but at 15 mpg not viable.

    I’ve been looking for a secondhand car lately because I’ve drawn a line under the thousands of pounds lost buying new. Although I won’t go near anything outrageous, the colour becomes almost secondary when buying used. Condition, miles, service history are all more important to me than colour or matching interior although if it’s nice it’s a definite plus.

    The airport car park story struck a chord because like many I’ve also been a victim of driver carelessness. Many folk just don’t seem to give a toss and it can be quite sobering observing driver behaviour in car parks. On one occasion I was sitting in a Sainsbury’s car park waiting for my wife when I saw someone in the process of reversing into a space hit a car quite badly. The driver had a quick look round and buggered off PDQ. I took a note of her registration and stuck an explanatory note under the wiper of the damaged car. Interfering busybody or right minded citizen? It depends where your sitting I expect.

    I’m now one of those people who parks at the uncrowded far end of the car park and walks the extra distance to the store and I consider this well worth it for peace of mind. It’s also a bit of extra exercise if you can avoid getting run over in the process.

  3. Grouse Beater says:

    You did the right thing leaving a note for the driver of the damaged car. You can never tell if the owner is just managing to hold things together financially, or a single mother struggling to look after her kids.

  4. Grouse Beater says:

    Buying new as a private individual is a sucker’s game. Pre-owned is wiser, and if you can afford to buy from a franchised dealer you get a warranty. And like you I park a distance from other cars mainly because the size of British bays is way out of date. It doesn’t take into account how much wider cars have grown in the last decade.

  5. Lanark says:

    So that explains why BMW drivers are so “assertive”, red dials. I wonder if Audis and Mercedes have them too?

  6. Grouse Beater says:

    Ha ha! Well bright red instrumentation is a proven ‘cue’, plus a powerful rorty engine, and the feeling ownership of a BMW makes you a physical cut above the rest, all combine to make you that bit more aggressive than the driver in the pale blue Fiat 500.

  7. Hugh Wallace says:

    I’m just in the process of replacing my aging black (shows the dirt) Vauxhall with a rather lovely blue Ford & am delighted to have been able to avoid the nearly ubiquitous white (better than black but also looks manky PDQ) on sale in my price range. The last one we bought is a kind of grey/brown colour & I’m pretty sure it’s (nice low) price reflected the colour scheme. Three year old cars are my preferred buying age & I tend to run them until they are ten before selling them on.

    The outgoing Vauxhall got dinged in a supermarket car park by someone opening their (white 4×4, judging by the height of the mark & paint residues left) door into ours. No note left, of course. I never bothered to fix it & have probably lost something in the resale value but probably not as much as it would have cost to fix. These days cars are simply tools for getting from A to B in reasonable comfort & safety not objects of aesthetic desire as they were in my younger years. (Not saying that wouldn’t change if I win the lottery: note to self, buy a ticket…)

  8. Donald McGregor says:

    In my current world, you can’t beat a bit of Volvo ‘Twilight Bronze’ on a V70. Weird to like a Volvo and weirder still to like metallic dog poo brown.
    Hurry up with independence! I’m getting old.

  9. Ricky says:

    Car colour is very subjective , like cars . If you have say black or silver , finding your precious in a large car park can be hell . Okay most of our cars have been black or silver a couple blue and one red , but colour hasn’t been a huge decider in choosing a car . Having said that , Austin Allegro brown still makes me shiver even after all these years ,

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