Fifty Shades Today

If this sounds too shady for you, best head to Practical Housekeeping, pronto. This is very blue.

Larkspur Blue. (c) Sherwin Williams Automotive Finishes.

Skilfully avoiding the TV new years sales adverts by heading for the internet, I found a Chevrolet Bel Air for sale. The price and to be honest the car, were immaterial; the colour on the other hand had me transfixed. What turned out to be called Larkspur Blue led me to dig deeper into the world of automotive colours and the differences between manufacturers’ offerings.

Hexadecimal is a cold, clinical sounding code but mighty fine at sorting out those subtle differences between colours. Our eyes, whether myopic or hyperopia, young or old, if blessed with the correct cones in the cornea can differentiate many colours. The shades of all those colours remain the difficult part and we all play ‘name that colour’ when given the option. It’s natural to. The myriad names for blue is huge, hundreds of shades being offered. 

Thus #93c3c5 is the exact Hex-code for Larkspur Blue. And exclusive to General Motors. Ford has similar hues called Glacier Green and Tidewater. Nippon Paint has the slick-sounding Smooth Way. Chrysler once offered the marginally darker Aqua, whereas homegrown Bristol gave us the appropriate Seaport. The sole German offering was Brunswick Blue from Volkswagen whereas for me the final straw was finding a company called Graham & Brown who sell Boy Racer Blue

The 1970’s gave the world some excruciatingly wonderfully named hues to be layered upon sheet steel. From Ford America, you could get your Mustang not just in any old white but Wimbledon White. Should that shade offend, shell out for some Anti-Establishment Mint, a close relative of peppermint. 

Mopar gave the world double trouble; should you choose Plymouth, it’d be In Violet whereas Dodge was Plum Crazy. How about Lime Light to Sublime? Moulin Rouge to Panther Pink? Or Lemon Twist to Top Banana? Notice the absence of blue here: literally, none on offer.

And the reason for this would be fashion trends, an archetypical bone of contention that persists to this day. We may look at a fifty year old Panther Pink Dodge Charger today and recoil in horror, but for one, it’s a fun shade and two, it fits. The then design team had found the zeitgeist of their time and nailed it on with pride. And we’d expect nothing less than a modern Mustang in Need For Green, Orange Fury or Velocity Blue. For an aggressive car shape in today’s anodised world, the glove fits, perfectly.

And the opposite applies; one wouldn’t expect a modern S-Class to be anything but a sober, even austere hue. Obsidian Black, Canvasite Blue or for those a little more daring, Ruby Black. But as we all know, pay a manufacture enough hard earned and they’ll paint your car any damn colour you wish, which is leading off track.

We’re dealing with the names of these standard colours, how it differentiates and their meaning or perhaps lack of. I clearly remember a time when not just the car obsessive knew their colour, it was deemed necessary. Your dad’s Capri was most definitely Sapphire Blue Metallic. Didn’t make it go any faster but, by George it wasn’t just blue.

So just what amount of gravitas does a colour’s name contain? To all intents and purposes, none. But oh-so much. Every single brand is reaching out for you to come and buy a specific coloured car that reaches into, enhances, colours your life. It isn’t just black but Phantom Black, as if the ghostly references make it somehow spookier, deeper. It isn’t just red but Rosso Folgore Metallic on today’s Ghibli, since colour (and just about everything else), spoken in Italian simply sounds better. 


Only then do you enter the modern vacuum that is the subconscious mood swing (akin to horoscopes) and what your car colour says about you and your inner self. Depending on which site you choose (and there are many) red can signify a magnetic personality, hot-headed, racing or daring. Black  suggests strength in depth, classy, defined, strong or mysterious. White can mean vanity, modernity, Apple products, or that it simply came free.

But blue is different. It’s been written here before that blue has a ‘noise’ all its own:  it can bring a calmness to proceedings, friendly, but then riotous, trustworthy, moody in a bad way, dependable or downright nasty. As always it’s purely down to what you want to convey. 

The Bentley driver in the Sequin Blue coloured Continental might just be as much an aficionado of Liam Gallagher, occasional vegetarianism and lighthouses as the next man in his Tioman Green A1 (named after a Malaysian Island). If the name lends itself some romanticism and can generate a smile in addition to making you feel good about the car you’ve chosen then what harm, say I. 

The world needs colour: to avoid buyer remorse, let’s make those fun again. And ditch the grey.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

14 thoughts on “Fifty Shades Today”

  1. Peugeot offered this colour first under the name ‘Gris Kandahar’, later as ’Fawn Brown’.
    One just has to wonder what they drank before they turned colour blind.

    Colours get truly funny when manufacturers change the name for the same colour.
    Citroen once offered a dark metallic ‘Gris Basalte’ that later transmogrified into ‘Vert Neptune’.

    1. I’m all for ditching the grey, but which one? Clarendon Grey, Balmoral Grey, Derwent Grey, Corfe Grey, Tweed Grey? My Joseph Mason Paints (a Derby-based paint & varnish manufacturer from 1800 until the late 1980s and a major supplier to the motor industry) colour samples date from the late ’60s and include some intriguing names. Their code for Larkspur blue, incidentally, is 112/17. Dave’s Gris Kandahar 205 looks suspiciously like Durham Beige (571/17) to me . . .

  2. Porsche offers a very cool colour called Miami Blue:

    You have to pay through the nose for it, though, £1,919 on the 911 Carrera, whereas the Racing Yellow on the second car is a”standard” colour and no extra cost. One wonders what, if anything, is the extra cost to Porsche for the blue hue?

  3. Thanks for this Andrew, a well done essay on colour names and the psychology associated with them.
    I do admire the times (even though I was born only after the glory period of colour names enjoyed its peak) when just about all car manufacturers actually took the trouble to think about fitting names for their hues. Citroëns ID/DS always had good names as well as good colours in my opinion: Champagne and Vert Printemps for the very first ones for instance, and later colours such as Capucine, Absinthe, Bleu Delphinium, Jaune Panama, Marron Glacé, Joncquille, Gris Palladium and Gris ciel lourd. Unsurprisingly, the American makes let their self-confidence, imagination and ambition shine through in hues like Vegas Turquoise and Gotham Gold (1959 Cadillac), Presidential Black, Desert Frost and Velvet Turquoise (1962 Lincoln), Wedgewood Blue and Pine Mist (1964 Imperial), Persian Maroon and Bolero Red (1955 Pontiac),
    Tahiti Coral and Castle Grey (1956 Buick), Playboy Pink (1960 Ford) and Evening Orchid (1965 Chevrolet).
    Here’s to hoping that colour will return some time to chase away the dreary, unimaginative grey that has flooded our streets for far too long now.

    1. If there was ever a chance of gainful employment for poets, colour naming must be that chance. Some of those names are akin to two word poems. Desert Frost is a very compact way to sum up a whole environment at one special time of the day and year.

    2. How about “light black” or “dark white” instead of grey?

  4. Car colour names – truly a great topic, thanks for picking it up. Is there any website that has a good overview of different manufacturer’s colour names from different times? Could browse around these names and colours for hours…

    (Also, deserving a mention in this context are the formerly great Mercedes colour names from the 70s and 80s: calssicweiß, signalrot, barolorot, hellelfenbein, rauchsilber, mimosengelb, diamantblau, almadinrot, bornit – just to name a few. Certainly a lot more exciting than most of today’s colour choices, though, truth be told, since the latest A-Class, B-Class model changeover colour variety has improved a bit.)

  5. Funny how they can come up with joyous paint names of great imagination at the drop of a hat, but struggle with car names.

    The Germans seem transfixed by alphanumerics on premium vehicles. S Class, E450 – how imaginative. Audi A*, Q*, etc. A name is so much more cuddly, I think. Perhaps they can hire the paint boys for some inspiration – give ’em a whole afternoon and they could rename the entire fleet to be far less boring, whereas the consultant PR industry can’t come up with a name after years of reflectively and relentlessly staring at blank walls for inspiration, while running up a tab.

    Porsche at least tries, but Boxster is a bit rum and Panamera is unlikely and inappropriate for the hulking brute parked before you. Let’s have a BMW Grille-o-Licious XFour. Audi Outrageous Eight. Mercedes Road Warrior AMG Turbo Sturm. Etc. VW Sparky EV or Crosswhiz Lightning. VW has nasty made-up names they think are actually fun, like ID Cross. So stolidly unhip, so Golf EV.

    One wonders whether there has been any study correlating sales with car names that Fit like Jazz.

    I owned a door-flapping four year old Pinto in Anti-Establish-Mint for four months. Pore l’il emerald thang. The door flapped because the door bottom had rusted out leaving the inner and outer panels separate. The paint didn’t even bravely hold the two halves together so I have been anti Anti-Establish-Mint for lo these past 45 years. But thanks to Mum and Dad for giving me the beast to get around in when I first got back from Blighty!

    My current Mazda’s colour is Titanium Flash Mica. Take that, America! Not available in the USA. And the car has a name everywhere but here — Atenza, which sounds like a dandruff shampoo but is better than Mazda Mazda6, no spacing to the 6 allowed. Boring.

  6. The mid-sized Mazda was traditionally named Capella, which sounds suitably mellifluous and exotic, but means ‘nanny-goat’ in Latin.

    The 78-82 iteration was a 626 for mainland Europe, but Mazda UK chose to name it “Montrose” after a rather unremarkable – though historically significant – port burgh on the east coast of Scotland.

    Montrose has no notable automotive connections, unlike Arbroath, its neighbour 13 miles to the south, which gave the world David Dunbar Buick.

  7. This morning I walked past something of a catch; a Citroen Pluriel which was painted Bleu Lucia over silver. The car was battered and bruised but still going.
    And with what has been said above, makes me think out loud – cracking names for colours, numpties for names. Perhaps there’s a role in some manufacturers cellar area for us to combine our skills with better names all round? We wouldn’t charge much for this nomenclature consultancy, maybe a His And Hers company car…

  8. Another interesting article Andrew. Love the names manufacturers give to colours, apart from Vauxhall’s Digital green? I had a Signum that colour. What colour is Digital??

    1. Hi Tim. You had a Signum? I wonder who owned the other one?

      Only kidding! I thought the Signum was an underappreciated design. It tried to do something different by offering limousine like interior space without the typical corresponding overall length. It had a handsome, rational “industrial design” look, at least before the unfortunate facelift imposed that beaky front end on it:

      Most cars’ boots are empty 90% of the time, so why drag a large empty space around behind you when it can be used instead to accommodate passengers in greater comfort. Just drop the split rear seat(s) when you need luggage rather than passenger space. Yes, I know you’ll occasionally need space for four/five people and lots of luggage, but a roof box will solve that conundrum.

  9. Hi Daniel. It was a very comfortable car and performed well. Mine was the 3 litre V6 diesel. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but that was part of its appeal to me 🤣.

Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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.