Theme : Colour – Don’t Watch That…Watch This!

We look at 2-Tone, refuge of the indecisive.

Wolseley 15-60 chales01 wikipedia
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.

Jaguar Mark VII - Copy
Something Like This

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

14 thoughts on “Theme : Colour – Don’t Watch That…Watch This!”

  1. Regarding interference pigment paint jobs, I’ve seen a blue-green version a few times on Alfa 156s. It seems it was factory-applied but I have no idea what the name for it was. I’ll have to do a search to find out more.

    1. Well it didn’t take much time, thanks to some excellent archives. The colour is called Cloud Blue and is described as follows:

      ” Cloud Blue is a paint shade that merits a detailed description. The name reflects a pearlescent colour that aptly describes the lightness and transparency of a shot-silk shimmer of sky blue flecked with yellow. It took long and careful research to develop this irridescent effect, which depends not just on the composition of the Alfa 156’s Cloud Blue paint but also on the new and rather complex technological process involved in its application.
      The process begins with the application of a pale grey undercoat to the cataphoresis-treated steel of the car body. Next, five different coats of pearlescent enamel are sprayed on. The process ends with a final coat of transparent paint.
      The end result is a surface shimmer of colour that looks different as you shift position or as the light is reflected. That is because light is refracted differently from the metallic and non-metallic components in this special new paint. As if refracted through a prism, the light itself breaks down into the various colours of the spectrum to create a rainbow effect.”

      http://www.alfaromeopress.com/press/detail/6054

    2. Thats one of the colours I liked very much on the 156, together with the flat pastel blue (Achilles Blue) we featured here some time ago.

      Another slightly iridescent colour that comes to my mind is an olive-ish green that to my knowledge was only available on the Citroën Xantia estate. It was not very popular, but I really liked it and it would be the colour of my choice for this car.

    3. That’s a very mouth-watering description for a potential owner, Laurent. Until they realise that they might end up having to pay for the re-spray when they can’t claim on insurance.

    4. Also Melle, very rightly, pointed out the other day the unpleasant conditions under which natural mica is mined. But this doesn’t have to put you off buying a glittery car, as long as you choose the right colour. Looking at pigment manufacturer Merck, their Colorstream range offers ‘Pacific Lagoon’ (turquoise to blue to violet) which uses natural mica flakes plus oxide coatings, as does ‘Royal Damask’ (velvet red to bronze to aged gold). But if you choose ‘Tropic Sunrise’ (green to silver to red to orange) it uses a synthetic silicon oxide flake as does ‘Autumn Mystery’ (warm red to gold and bronze to green). Like 4WD vehicles, it’s unfair to tar all interference pigments with the same brush … or spray gun.

    5. Can’t vouch for veracity, but the story around Nuvola (Cloud) Blue when the 156 was launched was that if a respray was required, the car needed to go back to the factory…

    6. Stradale. Bearing in mind the difficulty in applying semi-transparent paints to get a consistent result, it’s perfectly believable that, even if they didn’t get shipped across Europe, damaged Cloud Blue Alfas would have had to go to a very limited number of specialists. I doubt whether insurers liked that sort of thing, and manufacturers need to keep them sweet.

    7. There is a factory-fresh Nuvola Blue 156 in the recently-reopened Alfa museum collection at Arese. It really is a stunning colour when not impacted by the detritus of the real world.

      On the subject of delicate paint, one of my less successful purchases over the years was a slightly-down-at-heel Eunos 500 (Xedos 6), a car once described as blurring the line between a car and fine bone china. The paint was not the reason that particular car was a dog, but the lacquer was starting to peel in a few odd spots and these things were notorious when new for having exceptionally advanced paint technology that reportedly cost a fortune to put right.

  2. Nissan have always been oddly adventurous with two tone colours for the Micra. The mark 1 was available in black over silver:

    The mark 1 Micra was also a prominent part of the odd 1980s-1990s trend to paint anything below the rub strips grey, presumably to disguise the grey bumpers:


    The strongly linear forms of Rovers of the time lent themselves to this treatment:

    The Rover 800 / Sterling had a nicer treatment, using properly coloured bumpers:

    They were still at it with the face-lifted 800:

    1. The first generation Panda is another prominent (and early) example for a grey lower body.
      Painting the lower parts silver or champagne was very common in the 90s and 00s – predominantly in Japan, I have the impression, and most often on off-roaders or SUVs.

  3. You could argue that two isn’t indecisive. It’s really brave to have another design element along with the complex forms. Some cars take well to this and benefit. A Talbot Tagora wouldn’t but maybe a Rover 75 might.
    The Bugatti shown above doesn’t work though. It breaks up the car into front and back. Vertical layering and panels are easier to execute.

    1. Richard. Are you the sort of person who can’t decide what to eat in a restaurant, so orders the fish and the meat?

      The two tone finish suits a 30s Bugatti and, in similar form, a Duesenburg but, on a modern version just looks kitsch. Not that it has done sales any harm it seems.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.