Pinpointing the trends of car colors used to be a simple affair. Ever since the Great Color Massacre of 1979 (ongoing), when thousands of bold car colors were brutally rounded up and executed, every car was silver or black—that was the end of it. Look at this Plymouth brochure from 1971: not a single monochrome in there. White was for squares and cop cars, broke people who couldn’t afford a paint package. Even base cars came with that exemplary shade from the 1970s, a color that reflected (literally) the malaise of the period: brown, which dominated police jurisdictions, Dirty Harry, and the Streets of San Francisco.
What’s new is old again—brown is on its way back.
Bistre, bole, and bronze. Brown is the in sound from way out! Porsche is one of the more prominent companies to spearhead this comeback, when its new 911 that debuted last year came in a creamy, mocha-worthy Mahogany Metallic in its press photos (thereby ensuring maximum eyeball wattage). Bentley offers a brown on its $195,125 Continental GTC, and rich people are nothing if not the purveyors of restrained taste. Mini will sell you a brown Cooper S with light brown stripes, brown seats and mirror caps, in the Hyde Park package. (Its color? “Hot Chocolate.”) Brown ain’t making a comeback, brother man, it’s already here.
Meanwhile, white is still popular; your humble chronicler drives a white car, albeit one with a charmingly anachronistic blue stripe across the hood. But according to Sandy McGill, chief designer for BMW DesignWorks, the reason people are buying white cars is because of the influence of Apple products—which has got to be the biggest load of brown since someone suggested that angry people buy red cars. Why the link? Because Apple’s wonderfully minimalistic designs, free of superfluity and unnecessary aggression–and therefore exactly the opposite of most 2000s BMWs–are usually white? If so, then why didn’t colors make a comeback around the time the original iMac was introduced? Take a look at that link, and the one for Plymouth above. The only difference is that the iMac comes with less chrome. Here’s a hint: the monochromatic lack of color has been around for a lot longer than the Performa.
White is boring. White is the domain of “undercover” squad cars and Union Pacific logistics trucks. White vans run the gamut from boorish and aggressive—note its use in British lexicon—to creepy. You buy a white car because it’s the last one on the lot, and there’s a reason automakers charge extra to make it interesting (pearlescent paint, metallic flakes, other colors, etc). ”Prior to Apple, white was associated with things like refrigerators or the tiles in your bathroom,” said McGill. Guess what? White cars still fall into that category.
Brown, however, is the color of interesting people, those with a healthy sense of irony and self-deprecating humor. Brown is never sexy, charming, or seductive: but it’s bold and entertaining, the life of the automotive party. Like thick-framed glasses and Gangnam Style, it’s so uncool that it flips around to being cool again. Brown is Zach Galifianakis’s character in anything. Brown isn’t dark red or electric blue, the sexier colors. Brown is the guy at the party who knows he’ll never get the girl, so he acts out outrageously and even genuinely and manages to go home with someone anyway. Brown’s theme song is all low piano keys and cellos, more Lalo Schifrin than Chilly Gonzales. And if it doesn’t make you feel like slipping on some gold aviators and a mustache and reenact the video to Sabotage, then you’re a stronger-willed man than I.
What can brown do for you? Well for one, there’s a shade, belonging to the brown family, that’s called “fulvous.”