Theme : Colour – Big Red

Recently, a red Fiesta was added to the DTW fleet. Is red a Marmite colour?

2010 Alfa Romeo Pininfarina 2uettottanta
Was any other colour even considered? 2010 Alfa Romeo Pininfarina 2uettottanta

No actually that’s a very murky brown. I mean of course that red is one of those colours loved by some, usually a red car’s owner, and hated by others, usually their fellow road users. Red lives at the hot end of the spectrum and is seen as the colour that stimulates – the aggressive colour. As such, the red sports car is, to many, a red rag to the bull.

At one time all Formula 1 cars were painted in the colours of the country of the entrant. Red had become the racing colour of Italy following the Peking to Paris race of 1907 but with the disappearance of Lancia, Maserati, ATS, Serenissima, Tecno and others from the grids, it has become seen as the colour of Ferrari who, despite the use of British Racing Green by Jaguar and the short-lived Lotus Racing was, until Mercedes returned to Formula 1, the only manufacturer that stuck doggedly with its national colours following the advent of sponsorship.

The actual red used deviated from Rosso Corsa for quite a while however, both because of the need to overcome the shortcomings of older TV sets that muted reds, and from the need to compromise with the branding of their main sponsors.

Not all red racers were always Ferraris
Not all red racers were always Ferraris

As Italian brands born out of racing, red became the default colour for both Alfa Romeo and Ferrari production sports cars, though not really for Maserati, who used a broader selection of hues, or Lamborghini, who never officially raced. Over time, it became the default colour for all sports cars so that, although many sports cars aren’t actually red, there is the underlying feeling that, rather than being blue, green, yellow, etc, the colour they are painted is more ‘Not Red’.

The more affordable Red pigments are notoriously fugitive, a process that is sped up by exposure to bright sunlight. Most Ferraris are kept in garages and, moreover, their manufacturer can afford to spend a bit more on good quality paint, but a 15 year old mass produced car that has lived on the street all its life can look a sad thing – not really pink, yet certainly not really red.

A conclusion might be that red, the colour of fire engines, is one of the more visible colours, thus one of the safest colours to paint a car. Against that, it is probably the most provocative colour so, consciously or unconsciously, the reaction of other road users might be more extreme. So why buy a red car? Generally red is not a colour that makes you feel comfortable, but it does make you feel noticed.

Although my choice of cars might belie this, my general desire is not to be any more conspicuous on the road than I need to be. On the other hand, my desire not to stand out personally should not get in the way of my general antipathy to the achromatic. A street of silver, white and black cars is a dour prospect and we should be thankful to those who enliven it with colour. And I once had a red Renault 5, though it wasn’t an eye searing red and, in any case, small red cars are a bit more discreet.

I’m not sure how discreet Chris’ Fiesta is in the metal, but a hot hatch is a different thing from a sports car, and thus avoids being a cliché when delivered in red. So too are very big red cars, which are far rarer, if you discount the deeper, regal burgundy type colours. Notable are Mercedes who offered red options on both the ‘Adenauer’ 300 of the 50s and the mighty 600 of the 60s. These are cars you would notice and, unlike a red MX5 or 488 GTB, so improbable that I rather like them. Indeed, I’ll even admit a soft spot for a Bentley Continental GT. But my favourite unlikely big red car might be this.

XJ12 Fire Car at Silverstone
XJ12 Fire Car at Silverstone – additional cooling required or was that bonnet lock replaced on warranty? image : Motor Sport

12 thoughts on “Theme : Colour – Big Red”

  1. Back in the 80’s, I was visited by my uncle who lived in Canada and his second wife; a velour track suited Canadian who made the rather odd comment that she’d seen a lot of red cars in England and this was probably because there were lots of socialists here.

    1. That’s perfectly true Mark and I have long been planning to ask why Jeremy Corbyn has omitted his 2 year tenure as a Silverstone Fire Marshall from his CV.

  2. Interesting – that red Maybach parked in a street looks really not like an expensive luxury car. More like a cheap chinese copy of it.

    I see a lot of red cars – at motorshows or in tv-ads or prospects. More than on geman streets. Red seems not to be a colour for every day. No more.

  3. The tasteful deployment of red is a matter of great skill. Numerous factors are at play: the size of the car, its segment, whether its shapes are romantic or geometric, the particular shade of red.

    My Fiesta can carry off a strong red with a high proportion of yellow to magenta, because it is small and softly shaped. Yet the same colour on a Focus does not quite look right, and on a Mondeo would be entirely wrong. Then again, applied to a Mustang a strong red would probably look great.

    VW products never look particularly good in red because of their rational designs, the exception being the Golf GTI. An Alfa Romeo by contrast is red by default, which is a shame as they typically offer a well considered palette of colours.

    And then you have the matter of a red Lamborghini. It’s a minefield.

  4. It really depends on the shade of red to me; I particularly liked the dark ones FIAT used to offer. And Alfa…

    I loathed Fiesta red, almost as much as the blue. It looked like the cheapest truck-fleet paint imaginable.

    Honda New Formula Red is strange; the car is base-coated a sort of orange and a red-tinted lacquer applied. It therefore flips from Heinz tomato soup to home-made tomato soup, according to the light.

  5. The red Mondeos I’ve seen managed decently. There’s one here in this site’s archive, fully loaded and specced. What Ford don’t now offer is flat red for the Mondeo: only metallic red. Opel have a flat red for the Insignia. Has anyone seen a red 5 series in the last decade?
    Is red a marmite colour? I’d call unusual colours marmite colours. Red isn’t strange while Kermit green or avocado would be.

    1. I really meant that, as a choice for a car, it was ‘marmite’. You’re right that, if you show someone a red colour card, they won’t go ‘yeughh’ in the way they might to lime green.

  6. Yes, I figured you meant that but I want to hammer home the distinction. Red’s a bit boring in many ways. It’s the obvious non-grey/black/white colour.

  7. For the Astra-lovers here – there was a special series Astra Linea Rossa – with a lot of red in the car too.
    Unthinkable today – i am sure.

    1. Choice. Is that really something people would wrinkle their noses at? The red is not strident and is an accent not the main theme. Compare with the MG Maestro and you’ll see the GM is more understated.
      There are not many Astra fans here though maybe we can lure them to join the Peugeot 406 lurkers who regularly drop in. My gallery of Astra Fs is, alas, quite neglected.

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