Theme: Colour – White

In Japan it’s the colour of death. In the west it suggests purity and simplicity. In a building it invokes introversion and despair. White. What’s it like on a car?

Pearly white
Pearly white

White is the new black. In recent years white has changed its social status in cars and gone from being a poverty-spec colour or the choice of Meditterraneans to being, well, just another colour actually.

Great white
Great white

The standard view is that white suggests modernity, simplicity and cleanliness. In product design it’s mostly used on kitchen appliances though there has been a trend to use bright colours on “designer goods”. Think of those cheerful and very expensive MoccaMaster coffee makers, for example.

Three times white
Three times white

In the realm of cars, white summons up impressions of wedding cars and stretched limousines of dubious taste. White interiors are a definite sign of a lack of good judgement. Next door to white is off-white and this is somehow vastly more acceptable. White is an absolute and perhaps pure white interiors, like pure white suits, are far too far. They say “I don’t care about dirt”, for example. Yet white interiors are always vinyl or leather. Has anyone produced a cloth white interior? If we move from the upholstery, white on the trim can add a modern touch so long as its in the detailing. Renault’s Twingo has nearly-white plastic panels and Honda´s N/box kei car does so as well (please stop and look at that interior – nobody outside Japan touches this for good spirits; think of all those graphite constellations of tortured mouldings we get. The IP is not up to the doors and seats though. Note the rear centre armrests).

Honda N-Box-Slash kei car: source
Honda N-Box-Slash kei car: source

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White works better on cars with strong or angular forms which is why it is acceptable for the Opel Adam, Ford Ka and VW Up.

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On the Simca here it’s simply a base-model colour, redolent of a Ford Transit commercial van.

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For the Mercury Monarch white is matched with a light grey interior and a black vinyl roof. Again, the form is strong and angular. Put that colour on a 90’s Toyota and the vehicle reduced to a markedly formless and bland blob.

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On this photo you can see the subtle shaping of the body side and VAG’s careful refinement of what might be a rather dull theme.

Still, white works despite the car not because of it. I suspect we may be at the top of the curve when it comes to white’s popularity. It has appeared interesting because it is slightly or less than slightly wrong and sometimes wrong is mistaken for innovative.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

3 thoughts on “Theme: Colour – White”

  1. Sensible Mediterraneans. White is Poor Man’s Air Conditioning, since it reflects, rather than absorbs solar heat.

  2. A thought I have had for some time. It is not red, but variants of off-white, that should be considered the natural colour for Alfas. The 156 works beautifully in just about any colour (excepting the genuinely miserable metallic beige that was the launch hue for the 2003 facelift), but there is a rare cream-tinged off-white that really highlights the subtlety involved in the flanks and frontal treatment. Same with the pearl white finish on the 147 GTA. The 159, current Giulietta and 8C Spider, too, suit white, as do a lot of the classic shapes from the 1950s and 1960s – Duetto, Giuliettas, Giulias, and 2600 Sprint. Even early Suds look attractive in white. Mitos are pretty nasty regardless of colour, but at least white is less offensive than most other shades. The glaring exceptions in the recent past have been the wedge cars – Giulietta, 75, 90, etc. But I suspect that is as much to do with the acres of plastic cladding as the shapes themselves.

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