We look at 2-Tone, refuge of the indecisive.
Starting on a pedantic note, I use the term ‘two-tone’, knowing full well that, like the term ‘colour coding’, its use in regard to car painting is usually incorrect. A tone is technically a greyer, less colourful, version of a single colour. Frequently, cars described as ‘two-tone’ are, more correctly, ‘two-hue’. Nevertheless, let’s stick to the generally accepted vocabulary.
I became aware of two-tone, as a child of maybe four. My Dad had a dark green Mark VII Jaguar which, one day, returned from the garage with light green flashes down either side – I’ve recaptured this crudely on the attached photo. A few months later, they disappeared and the overall dark green was reinstated. I never knew why he did this, or why he undid it – it was one of the lesser questions that remained unasked and unanswered between us during his lifetime – but to a young child, just becoming interested in cars, it was hugely confusing. Cars could be white or black or dark blue or light blue or, even, red, but I never realised until then that they could be more than one colour.
Despite being born in Balham, my father, with his Jags, his narrow ties, fancy filter tips and shiny American style suits, was always a bit on the flash side for mid 20th Century Britain. He kept it in check for much of the time, but it would leap out sometimes, embarrassing his small, conservative son. I think I instinctively realised that his mad dalliance with a two-tone Jaguar had brought a degree of shame onto our family, living then in the sleepy Cotswolds, and ever since I have viewed two-tone cars with suspicion.
However, the market didn’t agree. My Dad worked for an American company, and had been visiting the US since the late 1940s, so I suspect that is where he got the idea from, since Detroit was always looking out for ways to up the flash. Until then, two toning had been the province of the coachbuilding industry at various levels, used even by William Lyons to delineate his rebodied Swallows from their mundane Austin 7 bases. It was hard enough getting a good finish in a single colour during mass-production without the need to mask off and clean out the gun. It did find a pragmatic use, such as on the first Citroen DS, where the fibreglass roof could be finished in a different colour from the metal panels, ensuring that any imbalance looked intentional. In fact it’s rather too easy to paint just the roof a different colour, let alone if you just cover it with naugahyde, so I’ll generally, if not entirely, omit two-tone roof jobs from this survey.
But, if my Dad was ahead of the curve, and certainly more prescient than his reactionary small son, by the late 1950s, two-toning was well and truly established over in the UK, not only with the obvious suspects, such as US inspired Ford Zodiacs and Vauxhall Crestas but even with the discreet transport of Middle England, such as Standard Vanguards and Rover 105s and with Bill Lyons, who had doubtless heard of my Dad’s experiments, offering both Jaguars Mark VIII and IX in two tones.
But two-toning turned out to be a feeding frenzy. By the late Sixties it had generally disappeared, its demise probably welcomed by manufacturers as one less problem for the production line. But it never disappeared entirely. Japan has always retained a liking for two-toning and, in the Sacco era, Mercedes used the lower plastic panels of the W124 as a reason to subtly re-introduce 2 toning but, when they re-introduced the Maybach brand in 1997, it was clear that subtlety was no longer on the menu in Stuttgart. As for Bugatti, somehow the charm of Ettore’s pre-war two-tone paint jobs, which even looked elegant on the gargantuan Royale, seem unduly fussy as applied to the bloated Veyron and Chiron hypercars.
Of course there’s another variant of two-toning, achieved by using interference pigment paint. Look at it from one angle and it’s maybe rusty orange. Look at it from another and it’s maybe green. Long popular in the Custom Car world, more technically sophisticated pigments saw this spread into production cars. Back in the Peter Wheeler era, TVR were an obvious candidate and it suited their ‘outgoing’ appearance, but conservative old Nissan, after trying it on the Primera in the late 90s, using it to their shopping trolley second generation Micra, labelled ‘Mystique’, was yet another unexpected pleasure from the Japanese industry.
I’ve railed against the multi-function apparatus on these pages before, so maybe I can expand that to the multi-colour apparatus. Conveniently disregarding the fact that I once sprayed a motorcycle in a mother-of-pearl finish, I suggest that two-toning should be seen as a lack of commitment. Orange or Green? Make your mind up.