Carmakers used to offer some pretty dazzling, whimsical and bold color options to consumers. From “candy apple red” to “big bad blue,” check out the backstories behind some of automotive history’s most memorable car colors.
Driving home one night somewhere in California, legendary car customizer Joe Bailon became entranced by the glowing taillights ahead of him. Bailon thought the lights were so pretty he began wondering what an entire car painted the color of a taillight might look like. According to the tale, Bailon worked for the next decade mixing and layering various paints, trying and failing to find the perfect red. Then it 1956, history was made when he “threw some gold powder on the bench, mixed it with Sherman-Williams extra-brilliant maroon and clear lacquer.”
Although he wasn’t the only hot rod enthusiast toying around (and having some success) with candy-colored paint formulas in the 1950s, Bailon is today considered the first to discover the basic formula. But it wasn’t until 1966 that the color went mainstream when Ford began offering candy-apple red as a paint option on Fairlane, Falcon, Galaxie, and Thunderbird.
When Donna Michelle was named Playboy’s 1964 Playmate of The Year, Ford decided to drum up a little marketing hype by giving Ms. Michelle a 1964 ½ Ford Mustang convertible in a color they called “playmate pink.” The magazine ran a picture of the car (see above), which resulted in rush of the special order paintjob.
Ford’s playmate pink, exterior paint color is often confused with “dusk rose,” a then standard color (Code S) that Ford offered in the 1967 model year. Today, genuine playmate-pink Mustangs are rare. While no solid data exists regarding total production figures, the quickest way to tell an original is by the six-digit DSO on the data plate and a blank exterior color code.
One of the most iconic automotive colors of all time, “plum-crazy” purple was just one in an entire palette of flamboyant colors Chrysler introduced in 1969 for its groundbreaking muscle car lineup, which included the Charger, Challenger and Road Runner. Like red Mustangs and black Model Ts, plum-crazy purple and the Dodge Charger now seem like a car/color paint combination made in heaven.
When Chrysler debuted its “High Impact Paint” or “H.I.P.” (get it?) exterior paint hues in 1969, the hope was to “rev up” sales with a fun and stylish new color palate that would compliment the exciting new direction the company was taking with its cars. While plum-crazy purple and HEMI® orange were two colors from the era that made a lasting impression on car enthusiasts, a few others—like “sublime”—were not so well received at the time. Sublime was only available for the 1970 production year. Today, however, original examples of Chrysler and Plymouth vehicles done up in this wildly bold color are coveted by virtue of them being quite rare.
Big Bad Blue
Chrysler wasn’t the only company to capitalize on what became a sadly short-lived color revolution that came over the automotive world in the early 1970s. In 1969 and 1970, AMC offered three “Big Bad” color options on its model year Javelins and AMXes.
While AMC’s neon green and orange big-bad color variations were far better sellers, big-bad blue was something truly unique. According to the AMC Big Bad Javelin and AMX Registry, each big-bad color option in 1969 also included matching color bumpers and special chrome front bumper trim.