Theme : Colour – Signature Colours

Most cars are some kind of grey today, a fact we have mourned often here at DTW… 

Signature colours – white to black

But every now and then, a manufacturer decides to market a model in what I call a ‘signature colour’ – one that is closely linked to a car model. Now this definition is somewhat fuzzy, and subjective, too. But as a hint, think of a colour the car was presented in on press photos, a colour that was only available for a single model, or a model / trim variant that was only available in a single colour. Rather than an in-depth essay, I’d like to present a small colourful gallery with some comments.

Greyscale: (See above) This is ubiquitous now. But nevertheless, there are examples of colourless signature colours. The VW up! [1] Has often been compared to an appliance (we here at DTW know that it’s at least a very well designed one). So it’s only logical that it’s mostly seen in Appliance White. And of course, white is also the signature colour of every panel van [2].

If you look for a signature grey, forget silver or any other metallic shade. Fiat does a nice job with non-metallic grey on its 500 Abarth [3], and so does Skoda with the Octavia RS [4].

Black is available on virtually every car nowadays. It’s no longer the trademark of official limousines. We have to go back in time to find some cars where this (non-)colour is really iconic [5].

Signature colours – blue

Blue seems to be the number one choice for any sporty version of a car. Renault choose a very dark, metallic shade for the Clio Williams [6], complemented by gold coloured wheels. Subaru took this scheme over for the Impreza WRX [7]. Ford jumped on the same bandwagon with the first Focus RS – minus the golden wheels, this time.

But non-metallic blues work just as well. Sportiness is expressed here with bright, almost aggressive tones, as can be seen on the Audi RS2 [8] or any sporty Volvo today, like the V40 T5 [9].

A different interpretation of blue comes from the South – they seem to be masters at reviving old colours. For the Alfa Romeo 156 [10], a very light, powdery blue could be ordered. Although it’s typical for this car, it can rarely be seen. When I looked for pictures in Alfa forums, I often read remarks about homosexuality related to this ‘Azzurro Achille’.

Signature colours – green

Blue is not the only fast colour. The British had green as their sports dress. No wonder that an icon like the Mini Cooper [11] had to wear this often. But we here in Europe rather associate British cars with understated luxury than with sports. Thus, a similar green takes this connotation when seen on a Range Rover [12], for example.

Green is also the colour of forests and hunters. What better choice could there be for a Subaru Leone [13], then?

But back to sports now. In its brightest variation, green is at least as aggressive as a bright blue. That’s why Ford had it on their Focus Mk2 RS [14].

Finally, green can be fun. Mix in some yellow, call it ‘Bitter Lemon’, and it’s perfect for a small and not too grave people carrier like the Citroën C3 Picasso [15].

Signature colours – yellow and orange

Yellow / Orange:
Like the bright greens above, yellow and orange are perfect signature colours – rarely seen on regular cars and eye-catching enough.

In the early to mid-nineties, plain, ‘yellow’ yellow was quite popular. The Coupé Fiat [16] was presented and often bought in this colour. They also used it on the Punto – for the faster variants and the convertible.

It’s not often that we see a signature colour on a mid-sized saloon without Nürburgring ambitions. But Volvo presented its 2000 S60 [17] in a warm gold metallic colour. Sadly, most customers weren’t as brave as Volvo’s designers and chose the usual silver.

Ford played the signature colour card very extensively on its sporty Focus models. Not only the RS, also its more civilized brother, the Focus ST got its colour. It was a bit yellower on the Mk3 [18] and really, really orange on the Mk2 [20].

A warm, sunny colour is also appropriate for a fun little convertible, isn’t it? So Citroën introduced ‘Orange Aérien’ for the C3 Pluriel [19], and this time, customers took the bait.

Signature colours – beige to purple

Beige / Brown / Red / Purple:
Non-metallic beige or ivory has been a standard throughout the sixties and seventies. Nowadays, that range is nearly extinct. Only a few manufacturers offer this, for example Renault on the Captur. But most prominently it’s marketed on the Lancia Ypsilon [21], often in combination with dark red or grey.

Brown has been the pariah of car colours for a long time. Some years ago it made a small comeback and was already heralded as ‘The New White’. People bought it in small numbers and it hardly became a part of the automotive landscape, except on a few models like the VW Sharan or, most noticeably, on the BMW X1 [22], where it was the colour for press photos and, presumably, demonstrators.

Is there a car with a red signature colour besides Ferraris? ‘Rosso Corsa’ or similar shades have been popular for a very long time up into the D-segment. Nowadays a bright metallic red is often the only real colour choice for a car, and every manufacturer has it. Still, Mazda [23] accomplished the feat of making exactly this colour a trademark for its whole range! I guess that no other mainstream manufacturer sells a share of red cars that comes close to Mazda’s.

Purple is not a popular colour for cars, and I can’t think of many models that were or are even available in it. PSA however made some effort to bring in into the market. Smaller cars like 108, 208 or C3 are or have been available in purple. But only with DS’s ‘Faubourg Addict’ line [24] (who invents those names, by the way?) purple has become an essential part of the package. If it has the impact of a real signature colour, I can’t tell, because I don’t see any of these cars in any colour.

Another car that I associate with purple is the Opel Kadett Cabriolet [25]. This time, the colour is on the greyish side and changes its looks considerably with lighting conditions. I have come across Calibra’s in the same colour during my search, but apparently it wasn’t available for more serious cars like closed Kadetts or Vectras.

I’m grateful for every manufacturer who offers a bit more than the standard seven greys plus one blue and one red. As we have seen, they often try to tie a colour to a certain car in people’s minds. Success varies, however. Looking at my list, a colour has better chances if it comes with a car that says ‘sports’, ‘leisure’ or ‘fashion’. For saloons or practical vehicles like minivans, customers will buy whatever they consider beneficial for residuals.

32 thoughts on “Theme : Colour – Signature Colours”

  1. Didn’t Subaru have that blue bestowed upon them by a long-time sponsor of their rally cars?

    1. Whether it was self-chosen or not, I think Subaru made a good job out of it. At least here where Subarus once were very popular, this colour combination had a real presence on the roads.

  2. Honda seemed to champion white as the signature colour for its Type R and sports cars for a while… wasn’t this its traditional racing colour?

    TVR had a bold palette in its last few years – like Lamborghini, they realised that their customers were not shy, and would respond well to more extrovert choices.

    1. I wasn’t very aware of the white Hondas, but now you mention it, I think it’s true. Probably white is a bit too common a colour to really stand out.
      According to aunt Wiki, the classical Japanese racing colours were white with a red circle on the bonnet. So yes, it might have been Honda’s traditional choice.

  3. Thanks for brightening the day Simon.

    I’ve not seen that 156 powder blue colour before. It was probably unavailable in the UK, where we are notoriously conservative when it comes to colours. My light blue motorcycle hung around the showroom for quite a while until I came along, more than happy not to have the two more popular cliches on offer, red or black.

    I’m amused at your observation about anxious Alfa fans questioning sexuality by association with that colour. Assuming that they’re using the hackneyed idea that homosexuality implies the effete and ineffectual, it’s amazing what an orange stripe will do.

    The Audi S2 Blue (Nogaro Blue) actually does have a subtle pearlescent overspray.

    I think of Lamborghini’s signature colour as yellow but, unlike Ferrari’s reserve signature colour, Giallo Fly, I’m not sure that Lamborgnini has a definitive hue.

    The Corsa B was offered in a colour that was certainly at the purply end of blue.

    Metallic green, I’ve noticed, usually looks quite unappealing in the UK but, viewed in the light of southern Europe, comes to life.

    1. Thaks for the correction on the Audi blue, Sean. I’ve never noticed this subtlety, but you certainly have more first-hand experience with it (is it the colour of your car as well?).
      Funny that you mention the Corsa B. It almost made it into my list, as it was available in a very bright apple green (non-metallic), but I hesitated to call it a signature colour. That colour wasn’t very frequent, either.

    2. The current Corsa is also available in that green, and it suits it very well, so I guess you could call it a signature colour. I think Richard posted a picture somewhere on here.

    3. Now if only I could find a link to the gallery, I could have a look for that picture…

    4. That shade of Alfa Romeo Azzurro Achille – (thanks for the name Simon) – was a popular shade on Alfa’s of a certain era. I recall early Alfetta’s and Alfasud’s in similar hue, but I suppose after reports of so many Southern European owners of these vehicles suddenly sporting feather boas and flouncing about in kitten heels, a backlash was inevitable.

      This hysterical homosexual panic continues to this day. Some people just feel the need to over-compensate.

    5. Laurent, you probably have this picture in mind:

      You posted that in the ‘hunt for a green car’ comments. It’s really a great colour, but the old one was not metallic:

    6. Yes that’s the one, and indeed I had missed your mention of non-metallic colour. I don’t think that would work too well on today’s car. But in spirit it is a worthy successor.

    7. I agree on the spiritual succession, Laurent.
      But the non-metallic colour still seems a bit more special to me, probably also because it reminds me of this very early Citroën DS colour, ‘vert printemps’.
      If it works well on today’s car I don’t know. Generally I’d like to see more non-metallic colours as Fiat has them for the 500, for example. They usually look refreshing nowadays where metallic is the norm.

  4. The Giulia Berlina was available in a nice powder blue too, though possibly with a hint of green, so that sort of shocking thing seems to have been going on down South for quite some time.

    Yes, Simon, mine is the same Nogaro Blue and, indeed, the pearl is so subtle you only notice it close-up – it took me a few days to notice. But VW also do a similar hue (different name) which they use on Skodas and VWs which is solid.

    I can’t find that picture Laurent.

    1. Sean, that Giulia is probably the same colour as the 156. I might even have read this somewhere. The pictures are a little deceiving here. Your scale model (in artificial lighting?) looks rather too greenish, while the one I chose definitely has a reddish tint.

      The mentioning of gay in connection with colour is only too often, I agree. But what do you want if people already think that a petrol metallic Mercedes SLK is a ‘sissy car’? I think a lot of this comes out of insecurity.

      But, if I think of it – although I’m not shy on showing colour (be it in clothes or in cars), I’m really not sure if I’d want to be seen in that pink Fiat 500.

  5. Super article, Simon. You’ve saved our theme.
    I’m bashing my cranium to think of an ivory white car: the last Corsa or current one has it.
    My sojourn in Germany allowed me time to see a fair few metallic brown Audi A5. Is that a signature colour?
    How odd you mention the purple metallic Kadett cabrio- the one cabrio Astra (F) I saw was that very colour. If Kris is in Hamburg he’ll see it driving about. That colour, dark green, dark red and dark blue were very early 90s colours. Peugeot and Opel used them.
    And green: I saw a metallic grey green Vectra C in Bad Bellingen in Oct ’14 that looked very alluring with a tan interior. No, in the former UK that combination is unhappy; in the sunny south its lovely.

    1. Thanks Richard! I’m glad to have helped. As I have mentioned, the idea for this article has been there for a while, but the theme now gave me a kick to finally write it down.

      I remember these dark metallic colours from the ’90s. They were also used on the XM. They actually had two greens. One similar to the ones I showed above for the Mini and the Range Rover that was used on many models. Then there was ‘Vert Véga’, a pearlescent bluish green, which was exclusive to the ‘hot’ 24 valve XM in the beginning (a signature colour?). Later it was spread throughout the whole Citroën range.

      Grey-green with a light coloured interior sounds nice, too. It probably comes a bit close to what I have in my C6. Anyway, I miss those ‘in-between’ colours today, what we see is mostly clearly red, blue or green. And grey, of course, but seldom a mixture.

  6. I remember the dark metallic blue and the dark metallic green well. The latter didn’t suit the car or made it seem quite boring. That may have been the idea. The series 1 colours of gold, mandarin red and metallic light blue went down poorly with customers.
    Incidentally, that Volvo gold up there is Maya Gold and I used that on my XM when respraying it.

    1. I’d like to see that Maya Gold XM. I always thought that the gold/beige colour that was available on the XM suited it very badly. But with a bit more yellow in it, I might like it. I also liked the dark green, by the way, but my absolute series 1 favourite is ‘Vert Amandier’, a very light, silvery green. It was even less popular than the colours you mentioned.

  7. Simon: Google “1990 Citroen XM 2.0 SEi” or root around here with Simon S’s patented DTW search tool.
    That green: have I seen it once? Maybe. I saw three champagne cars and of those I owned 2. The colour lacked richness which I why I selected Volvo’s gold metallic.

  8. I think the Prius is the car with the highest rate of a colour. I assume 8 or 9 cars out of 10 are white.
    And i would choose it also in white – any other colour won´t work (maybe silver is an exception).

    A very nice colour was shown for th new Citroen C3 – this is an unique green which will probably not go out of fashion as quickly as some other striking colour.

    1. I really like that green/grey. It even pays homage to the XM I showed above – the colour is called ‘Almond Green’ (isn’t it a pity they dropped the French colour names?). I doubt that it has the potential for a signature colour, though. People will stick to white, grey, black and the occasional red, and after a year or two, the colour will quietly disappear from the charts.

      Regarding the Prius, I think this blue looks quite good. I haven’t seen many of the new Priuses yet, probably two (both in white…), so I find it difficult to judge the effect of different colours. I agree that for the two previous generations, light colours work best. It doesn’t have to be white, though. My boss had a metallic beige Prius II and I thought this looked quite good. It carried an air of American taste.

      By the way, the colour I see most often on the Prius is bright yellow. The biggest local taxi owner has his fleet in this colour (no, I havenn’t moved to NY).

  9. Here is the VAG solid version of their signature blue.

    As for the Prius, when the Mark 2 was introduced, the colour most seen in London was black after they became the caring face of then New Labour government officials on the move.

  10. Red (in conjunction the important caveat of charcoal alloys) must surely be considered a signature colour for the 155.

    1. Yes, a flat mid-red. How much does it differ from Ferrari red? The thing with the 155 is it looked good in a lot of colours. I’ve seen black, bright yellow, metallic blue, metallic light grey and white. Red could be the least interesting choice.

    2. The ‘Sporting’ versions probably had the same yellow as the Fiat Coupé in my text.
      The Seicento also had some interesting two-tone schemes with beige, including matching hubcaps. I’ll have to look it up.

    3. Yes, Broom Yellow. I am slightly less enamoured with the beige-over-beige, once it became the 600. One could never call a Cinq or derivatives vault-like, but somehow painting it that colour suggests even more of a throwaway quality than usual – perhaps because it takes on a marked similarity to the shade of various flimsy plastic objects, such as hearing aids.

  11. Yes, it does. I’ve seen green as well, which I like, and I came across one this colour in Italy recently, which might be my favourite of the lot:

    For the red… blame Tarquini, Giovanardi, etc.

    1. I think the flat red was awful. Too much of an Italian sportscar cliché and looking faded and ugly after three years. I might like blue, too.

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