The Geariodic Table: A Visual History of Car Brand Colours
Bond’s DB5, Back to the Future’s DeLorean and even The Blues Brothers’ cop car — all icons in their own right.
When it comes to such motors, however, the paintwork is sometimes just as crucial to their lasting legacies.
We’ve trawled the archives and picked out some of the automotive industry’s most recognisable and influential colours, displaying them in a motorist’s take on the periodic table.
White and silver
White — a colour often reserved for vans and kitchen appliances. When carmakers decide on the paints to launch a new model with, you can imagine it’s easy to skip white and jump straight into the jazzier end of the scale.
But, when done right, it can work. Imagine His Holiness being chauffeured about in a red popemobile with white racing stripes, for example. The same goes for Ford’s classic Ermine White and Honda’s Championship White.
Just above those on our Geariodic Table sits silver. That very colour draped the Aston Martin DB5, in Silver Birch, and was also McLaren’s choice for launching the McLaren F1 — both firm members of the motoring hall of fame.
Although it first appeared in a movie rather than a Nissan brochure, The Fast and The Furious’ GT-R R34 can’t be excluded. The film series spawned a car culture of its own and this car played a large part in that, with its silver paint and blue decals.
These days, a motorway game of ‘I spy’ is over after three rounds; once you’ve spotted green fields, blue skies and grey cars, you’ve just about had it.
So, it’s little surprise the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) found that grey is the most popular shade, with over half a million new registrations and a 22.6% market share in 2019. They also pointed to the VW Golf as the go-to in grey.
It’s a versatile shade, though, as proven by Audi’s performance ranges. The German brand’s Nardo Grey is more of a pastel-like finish, and over the last five years or so has been the pick for its S and RS models, contrasting nicely with their loud alloys and gloss-black detailing.
This one will split opinion. Volvo’s reputation as a solid, safe carmaker is far away from what you’d expect of a manufacturer proudly offering yellow on its options list, but (according to Top Gear) all 2,500 of the T-5R’s Cream Yellow editions sold out in only a couple of weeks.
And nearly 30 years after the 1994 unveiling, a quick Google search for a Volvo 850 T-5R in that colour suggests you can still grab one in decent condition.
Other notable mentions in this section include Lotus’ Norfolk Mustard (looks much better than it sounds) and Renault Sport’s Liquid Yellow, which is still available on its racier models today.
Maurice Wilks, founder of Land Rover and the mind behind its original Series 1, had reasons other than aesthetics for the brand’s early reliance on green.
In the same way he recycled wartime aluminium for body panels, it’s said he also used military paint to finish it off. But, what was once a method of cost-cutting, is now one of motoring’s more remembered designs.
Much like the Ford Mustang’s Highland Green, as featured in Steve McQueen’s Bullitt, and British Racing Green, which featured for many marques, but is more commonly linked with Jaguar.
On the madder side of the colour, there’s also Ford’s Ultimate Green. Similar to Volvo’s Cream Yellow, it really shouldn’t have worked, but definitely did. You certainly wouldn’t be missed in it, and the mini-Lamborghini vibes worked wonders for UK sales. The Focus RS Mk2 that wore it has aged very well, too.
We could’ve picked a few of the Fiat 500’s original shades for this, but we think Celeste Blue (as the iconic blue is now known) is the most recognisable of them. The 500 launched over 60 years ago, but the design has remained true to its roots and largely unchanged.
Beyond that is BMW and its Estoril Blue, a firm favourite among Beemer owners of late. Subaru fans may argue, but it’s not too dissimilar from the Japanese manufacturer’s Mica Blue. What they will agree with, though, is that its backstory is much more exciting.
The colour was made famous in the ‘90s by Subaru rally driver Colin McRae, and has since been copied on countless replicas, alongside the gold alloys and decals.
Last up in this section is TVR and the Cascade Violet colour way. Made up of several colours, the two-tone finish gives the cars it adorns a different look from every angle. For a brand whose ethos is one of featherweight design, overpowered engines and little in the way of driver aids, this paintwork is suitably mad.
Red and brown
This section’s a mixed bag, if ever there was one. We had plenty of Porsche paint jobs to pick from, but it was the Guards Red we had to go for (partly to give the Geariodic Table balance, and also because it’s one of the brand’s best shades).
Where many manufacturers see bright red as a base-level colour, Porsche’s use of it is anything but, and has been a welcome sight for decades now.
Just by it on our table is Rosso Corsa, Ferrari’s ‘Racing Red’, holding an influence of its own. The colour is as synonymous to the Italian supercar builder as it is to Coca Cola or Liverpool FC. So much so that a Ferrari in any other colour may look good, but not the full package.
One that’s not so fondly remembered is the brown of British Leyland. At no discredit to the cars it produced — Austin, Jaguar and Land Rover, to name a few — the browns haven’t aged well, but still represent a memorable time in motoring.
Similar to the whites and silvers on the other side of our table, black can often be overlooked as a non-colour. But, some of the most iconic models ever built were finished in it.
One of those is the Austin FX4, known more commonly as the London cab. Over 75,000 of them were produced between 1958 and 1997, and despite several versions since, the FX4 isn’t hard to come by in the capital.
Initially built by British Motor Corporation and then British Leyland, mentioned above, the rights and production were taken over by London Taxis International (LTI). The company’s now named the London EV Company (LEVC), to support its focus on electric taxis.
And rounding off the Geariodic Table is the Ford Model T. Generally considered the first mainstream motor, the Model T was more affordable than others that came before it. In all, 15 million of them were produced between 1913 and 1927.
Henry Ford reportedly claimed customers could have the car in any colour “as long as it’s black”, and although there were several options available, eight in every ten were black.
It’s the earliest on our table, by some way, but the T’s legacy can be found in almost every car that followed.
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