Growing up the youngest of six, I remember my dad and my brothers having a pretty wide selection of cars. That was how I became so interested in them, I suppose –it wasn’t so much the makes or models, or what was inside, but it was about how a car looked. I would always be fascinated by the color and the impact it would make. Those were the days of the muscle cars, and shiny metal behemoths.
My oldest brother had a ’72 Olds Cutlass Supreme, with a 407-engine, two-door coupe, black interior, but it was the most beautiful emerald green metallic I’d ever seen. That Olds replaced the light yellow, almost banana color of his ’65 Mustang, his first car. My sister had a ’75 Ford Mustang II, also a coupe, but this time the color was a little iffy –silver exterior, but burgundy red interior—and impossibly tiny. It was a Pinto with a backseat, really, but I was 8 years old and liked being taken out for a spin.
Somehow some of the colors got a little blander. Another brother almost ran over one of our German Shepherds in a car no one loved: the homely Olds Omega (we were an Olds family) in a kind of cream of spinach green color, with the manual shifter on the steering wheel. I hated this car so much that I refused to learn how to drive stick in it, preferring instead to risk my life in the powderkeg Pinto Wagon of a crazy aunt, and ended up almost ruining her transmission. Mission not accomplished.
Other cars, shameful or shameless, soon followed: the woody Chevy Kingswood Estate wagon that could fit about 12; the burgundy heavy Dodge Magnum, a heap that stalled quite a lot, even on top of the railroad tracks (train coming) moments after driving it off the lot; also, a mandarin orange Chevy El Camino with the tinny Delco stereo system.
I usually got stuck with the family car –the wagon, the sedan, or the cream-colored Cutlass (Olds again) with the spiffy cream colored interior and exterior, the spoke wheels that one day got rear ended as I was racing to take a final in high school. I say “stuck” because I didn’t always like my parents’ choice in colors. The cream color was OK for the first year or so, but I grew tired of it quickly. The replacement car (after the crash) was worse: a rust orange Cutlass (again), and by this time, GM was putting out smaller, more truncated cars but boy, that orange color! I was 17; I had to drive something.
It’s not that I am an expert on cars now, but I do know what I like. And it has to somehow be governed by a certain aesthetic —the form, the design, the shape, the wheels even, but if it isn’t the right color, then I am just not into it. Nowadays I think a lot of people keep things fairly simple. Gone are the days when you had that Plymouth wagon in canary yellow. Now it’s mostly about being functional or utilitarian –I.e., how to get from point A to point B. The choices are probably more limited in range, from a black or white, to a gray or red, and very few hues in between. It’s not as defining as it used to be. After all, when was the last time you saw a multi-striped Camry?
So it’s amusing to see what automotive blog, Jalopnik, has done with its recent “color combination” contest. The website invited its readers last week to submit pictures of cars that have the worst production car color combinations. A week later, the “best of the worst” was an impressively ugly lot –the woody and red Pinto wagon that is exactly like the one whose tranny I almost ruined, the Dodge Viper that looks like mustard on a red hot dog. And while I did not submit a pic of our old snot-green Omega –well, because quite mercifully has been long and buried—I think I have a soft spot for the kinda sleek “sky blue” Esprit Pontiac Firebird with the matching wheels. I remember them well. Would I drive one today? Maybe!