Wherein The Author Engages In Red-Baiting (no, not that kind)

I have previously groused about white cars and how I have found myself owning an oddly high number of them, especially when I don’t really like white cars that well. Today I ask a question – what is it about red? I am referring specifically to cars painted that metallic red shade that is well-represented in every parking lot. Why are “red people” catered to so consistently while those of us who might be “blue people” or “green people” or “earth-tone people” are not?

I was sort of in on the ground floor of the metallic red movement. I am not talking about plain, old, garden variety fire engine red, but the metallic red that has taken over. The first car I remember our family having was painted that color. It was an unusual shade at the time – too light to be a real maroon, but definitely not the hot, fire engine red so often on cars back then. It was a 1961 Oldsmobile station wagon (not the “real” Oldsmobile, but the new compact F-85 model that eventually became known as the Cutlass, so I guess I am on the ground floor of another automotive phenomenon too.

About the time we got rid of ours in 1964 I met my best friend Tim whose family bought a new car right about that time. The extremely unusual Studebaker Avanti, and theirs was painted in a color that looked to me just like our newly departed Oldsmobile. I later learned that it was the exact same paint formula that Studebaker picked up during its final effort to stay in business. Tim’s father kept his Avanti for decades and car-crazy me noticed that it was a color offered by pretty much nobody else all through the rest of the 60s and into the early 70s.

My mother was shopping for a car in 1974 and bought a Pontiac LeMans painted metallic red – though this one tiptoed right up to the line of a proper maroon. It was an unusual color in that sea of earth tones that was the early 70s and I liked it at the time. But right about then it seemed to catch on and become really popular. Not every model in every year common, but many models over many years common., so that by the late 70s it was more often than not one of the choices at your new car dealership of choice.

As color availability has slimmed, there have been constants that you can always count on in a car lot – silver, white, gray . . . and metallic red. Really, it doesn’t matter the class of vehicle or the decade. Metallic red has been on the color chart almost constantly whether you wanted a minivan in 1984,

a convertible in 1994,

an SUV in 2004 or

a pickup truck in 2014. Go ahead and look in any parking lot or line of cars at a traffic light and see if I am not right.

It has been my experience that when you ask someone “what’s your favorite color” you get answers that cover the spectrum. Literally – who here remembers Roy G Biv as an aid to remembering the makeup of the color spectrum? So, why is it that Red Car People have been catered to regularly and consistently while those of us who may be Blue Car People or Green Car People or Earth Tone Car People are often ignored? Yes, I know that every dog has its day and if you like purple or turquoise cars you had better be prepared to wait about 30 years between new rides. And if you like the less common colors you are used to having to settle for something else. But why is it always red for which we usually have to settle?

Is it that Red Car People spend so much more money? Do they answer surveys more frequently? Or are they just the kinds of people who will gripe incessantly like spoiled children until they get their way? I’m actually betting on that last one. We Non-Reddies must just suck it up and take what they hand us. Or go back to silver.

I am finally starting to wonder if I am getting close to squeezing all of the useful life out of at least half of the JP automotive fleet (the half that is white), and I am serving notice: My next new car is going to be a color. A real color. And I am going to pick it because I like it. I may even pick it if I don’t really like it, just because it isn’t black white or gray. So, automotive industry, if you want my money you had better be prepared to cater to my whims. Those Red Car People have gotten their way long enough!

None of the vehicle photos is of an actual vehicle owned by me or anyone in my family. Each was a random picture from the internet and/or a promotional shot by a vehicle manufacturer. No red cars (or Red Car People) were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

38 thoughts on “Wherein The Author Engages In Red-Baiting (no, not that kind)

  1. I feel like with greens, yellows & all the earth tones that depending on the shade & personal taste you end up with very positive or very negative reactions, so I can see people being more hesitant to go with those. On the other hand it seems hard to go wrong with blue. Are there really fewer blue cars, or do the red ones just stand out more?

    For what it’s worth, my ’04 LeSabre is the only car I have actually picked out the color I wanted…Crimson Pearl Metallic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am just now reminded that Chrysler did that metallic red for a few years in the mid 60s – your convertible, for one.

      I got to pick a color on a used car exactly once. When I bought my 94 Club Wagon the Ford dealer had two nearly identical 1-year-old versions on the lot – one the dreaded metallic red and the other that dark green that was hot in the 90s. Fortunately, the green one had the bigger engine, making the choice a win-win for me. Had the red one had the big engine I might have become a Red Car Person, if involuntarily.

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  2. Yes, I’m tired of the red car people too, because so often we have wound up with their hand me downs. Red cars we’ve had start with the Mercury Topaz (which was very close to maroon and not metallic), then the Windstar, Focus and Caravan were all metallic red. I figure Chrysler must have gotten a great deal on that shade of red, it seems like a third of Caravans were painted so for a decade.

    That all came to an end when we bought our current vehicles. We told our father in law (the now retired Ford sales guy) “That’s it!, no more red, we don’t care how much it costs!” So now we have a silver Caravan, blue Focus and VW, black Mustang and motorcycle.

    I might be prepared for another red car at some point, but not yet. We’ll be looking for that well kept (and non-red) Studebaker to replace your white Fit soon JP.

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    • It appears that red cars have targeted you in the way that white cars have targeted me. And who knows, given the crazy-tight supplies and high prices on both new and used cars, a nice daily driver Studebaker may actually make financial sense. 🙂

      Red was one of the choices when we bought our 2012 minivan. But Marianne wanted tan interior and at the time both my mother and her brother had metallic red cars with tan interiors and we were feeling overexposed to the combination.

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  3. The first thought that comes to mind regarding red is how the color seems much more extroverted. It stands out, gathering attention, much like an extroverted person. Whites, grays, and silvers could be viewed as the introverts by blending in to the crowd.

    Of course I could be all wet.

    The ’62 Ford my father and I had was red as was my ’07 F-150. There have been whites, blues, grays, and a black along the way also plus the champagne on my ’63 Ford – a hard color to classify.

    I will predict your next car will be a blue or green.

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    • “I will predict your next car will be a blue or green.”

      I like both of those options. I remember a time when you could count on multiple versions of each available in any given year. Now, you never know. It has been long enough that I could almost deal with brown again. Or maybe not.

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  4. I’m a blue car person. Yet I’ve only managed to own one blue car. When I bought the one new car I’ve owned, I was staunch about it having a manual transmission. I’d have to special order that in blue, but they had one with all the options I wanted in maroon on the lot. So I went with maroon.

    I have never liked red cars — UNTIL that stunning metallic red that Mazda uses now. It’s gorgeous.

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      • Unfortunately that red is an, I believe, $800 option. My uncle Dave, who you’ve met, finally got sick of his silver silvermist Jetta TDI and got a brand new Mazda CX-30, about three weeks ago. He’s very happy with it. He was interested in the red until he found out it was extra cost. Wound up picking one in a metallic navy blue with black interior.

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      • I would love to know the backstory on those ultra-expensive optional paint colors. Is it really materials cost? Extra labor and production hassle? Or is much of it a chance to squeeze people for what will be a popular color choice? Maybe some of all three. The navy blue sounds nice, though.

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  5. I bought my used Jaguar S-Type because it was red!

    Color choices reflect the present culture. Today’s culture is (except for the high technology) largely barren, dumbed-down, and suppressed. So we have cars that are usually seen in basic tones: black, silver, white, and this common red. Compare that to the choices available on your beloved ’59 Plymouth–14 shades in all + 2-tone combinations. There were many subtle pastels, with romantic names like Starlight Blue, Flame Red, Bittersweet, Daffodil Yellow, Palomino Beige.

    Looking at real estate listings, it is so common for all rooms to be painted all-white, or all-gray! Moldings, doors, everything! What does that say about society? In my own house, I have rooms in light beige, orangey beige, pickle green in the kitchen; in bedrooms Opal Silk (aquamarine), one room is a light blue with a little purplish tinge, and the master bedroom is yellow (with a dark yellow ceiling!) But almost no wallpaper, which is hardly ever seen today.

    Eventually, probably, vivid and pastel colors will come back, because color is a part of nature–eternal and unchanging.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, taste-change is eternal. And I can’t say that I actively dislike metallic red cars, but if there were other choices I would probably prefer them.

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      • Regarding white cars, I always thought that white looked good on 1960-63 Mercury Comets, 1955-63 T-Birds, 1960 Fords, 1960-61 Chryslers, and the 1960 Cadillacs. Some of the pastel colors of the ’50s come off better two-toned with white. And what we often call “white” is really various shades of cream, like Ford’s Colonial White and Corinthian White.

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    • I remember that color on those and liked it a lot. I had a 66 Fury III, so just a year off. I could take or leave the white paint but I loved the turquoise interior.

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      • Besides all the other plusses, if something went wrong you didn’t have to be a computer programmer to fix it. Just have some basic wrenches and screwdrivers for most jobs.

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  6. I generally consider myself a white car guy, although my 300 is black. The cavalier we had before was – black. Oh and we bought a Civic that was, um, er, black. However my Escape is white, my last Caravan was white, and my Voyager (Gen 1) was white. I used to like that sky blue shade that GM did in the ’70s, and my Chevy was that colour.

    My son got a used Escort, and it was red. I drove it for a time, and we washed it and kept it bright. It was twelve years old when we finally sent it packing.

    I remember a boss I had used to buy a new Impala every few years, and it was always light green. He made the mistake, er i mean wise move of of bringing his Mrs along for his next new 1982 Chevy, and when the sales guy asked if he wanted the normal colour green, she piped up and said “NOO!” They ended up with a two tone maroon and silver car that looked quite striking. Nevertheless we all gave him what for it seemed for weeks on end.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My father was like your light green boss, only with white cars. My brothers and I used to groan every time he got another one, which was almost every time.

      I like black, but my experience was that it was hard to keep looking really great. Maybe it is easier in the clearcoat era.

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  7. I don’t know what irritates me more — that 90% of cars now seem to be some version of white/gray/black… or that most of the remaining 10% are red. Yes red, the one “real color” that I don’t want for a car.

    I owned a red car once: an ’88 Mazda 323GTX that I bought from my parents in 1997. Since it was already nine years old, it had faded to a reddish-orange, but a red(ish) car was just too extroverted for me. I told myself that I wouldn’t buy another red car.

    Well, my next car was black, which is a whole other story. Oven-hot and impossible to keep clean. No more black cars for me either.

    Then my two most recent cars have been silver minivans. the dullness and commonness of silver have made my kids demand that we never buy another silver car, and I can’t say I blame them.

    So my next car can’t be silver, red or black. Since blue, green, and most other real colors don’t exist in automotive palettes anymore, I’ll probably join you in the White Car Brigade.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have owned just one genuine red car – my Miata. Red is hard to avoid with old Miatas. And it DEMANDED regular polishing to be presentable. Interestingly, about half of the car had been repainted with a modern clearcoat and never seemed to degrade – which made it easy to see when the other half needed polishing so it would all match again.

      I have lived with white so long I may be forced into silver next time. On second thought, I think I’d take the metallic red first.

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  8. I’ve avoided red painted cars like the plague since the dawn of my car buying, mostly because dependent how how “bright” the red is, they fade to a dull finish like crazy. You can see many bright red cars after a few years that don’t even have a shine any more. As someone with a mis-spent arts education, red is one of the most unstable pigments, and even in early video production was a color that would “fringe out” and be problematic! My mothers 65 Ford wagon, in red, looked like red chalk within just a few years. If you notice the pictures you’ve used above, most of those cars are not really red, but some form of “maroon” with a lot of gray or other pigment in it. That addition, as well as modern UV clear-coating solves some of the problems, but you rarely see a bright red…

    I missed your entry on white cars, but I bought one once, didn’t really think about it until a few months in when for some reason, I realized that birds crapped on it all the time! It was always covered with bird crap! Do they see it from the sky and think it’s a guano field? I have no idea. I washed my hands of the American car industry way back in the mid-70’s, been driving Asian, and happily so since then. I asked my Toyota dealer once why there were so many white Japanese cars, and he said it was the color the Japanese preferred to drive; and they had to actually pay people in the paint dept. more money to paint a car black, as it was a bad omen! That info was 40 years old, so who knows now. Ditto with EF above, I just turned down a black car on my last purchase, as had dark cars before and impossible to keep clean! Looked dirty all the time…

    Since I’ve been driving Asian cars since the mid-70’s, I’ve gotten used to the idea that I have to take what they shipped over. Sometimes the dealer can do a swap and get you a color you want from a different dealer, but you’re not going to be able to control the “extras”, it is going to have what it’s going to have. There’s none of the old American car “ordering” the exact features you want, with the exact color (in fact an American car salesman I know says for most things, it doesn’t work that way any more anyway, you’d have to ordering a 75K truck). My last car purchase of a Kia Soul, I always drive manual trans, by the time they found a few within a 100 miles of the dealership, I had two choices, black and silver….silver it is…that car never looks dirty!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve noticed that the Kia Soul has been better than most at offering actual colors. What a bummer that the stick shift made getting one a problem

      You are right that “real red” is hardly ever offered unless you are shopping for a sports car or a pickup truck. Which is fine with me because it would be my absolute last choice.

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  9. Ha, I went back and read your “white car” entry! Your magic marker story made me laugh, and here’s a tip I learned from living in the bad neighborhoods of Washington D.C. Cheap Hairspray! Someone vandalized one of my neighbors cars in D.C. with a marker, and one of the neighborhood “wags” rolled up and said: “…hey, just get a can of Aquanet and saturate spray that and wipe it off…”. We all laughed, and then tried it…geez, worked like a magic trick! Your mileage may vary, but for that era, and that eras paint and magic marker, it worked like a charm!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, good information that comes decades too late. Of course, had I started spraying mom’s hairspray on the car after everything else, a paddling would surely have followed. 🙂

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  10. I may have mentioned this before (?!), but my father loved Studebakers. I don’t remember all the colors. One was maroon, and then came the snazzy two-toned “chadron and beige.” Chadron, a color I’d never heard of before or since, was a kind of deep salmon. It was actually quite nice. But chadron in the real world is a thistle plant with purple flowers—nothing like the color of our car. That was some creative marketing.

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    • Shadron is a new one on me. But finding it in a modern dealer lot would be as easy as finding a Studebaker there. Which would be quite cool if it could actually happen.

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    • Annie, my Dad liked Studebaker as well, as a Purdue graduate in engineering, he always considered it an engineers car. Before he married my Mom, he said he had some version of the Hawk (I’m sure the cheap one), he he said was his favorite car ever; and it was totaled when someone ran a light and t-boned him. By that time, it was obvious Stude wasn’t going to last, so that was it. He still talked about that car 30 years later.

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  11. I agree re the lack of color choice. My preference is blue and it’s one of the reasons I don’t trade my blue Honda. I still love the color and it’s in great shape. The Honda choices are black, gray, white (of which I’ve already had two cars and don’t want a third) and a bright neon blue that makes me sick to look at. Toyota has a nice silver-grayish-blue color which is quite attractive and I’m thinking I could easily learn to love a Toyota. But then my other dilemma is hybrid…..I need to do some research…but keep putting it off because with the pandemic I don’t go anywhere anyway…

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    • That seems to be the modern rule – you can have the car you want or the color you want, just not at the same time.

      I really like blue too and am amazed at how few blue cars have been in my life.

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  12. Oh, and I think 1st generation Mustangs look good in white.

    My favorite 50s-60s car color may be sapphire: the ’59 Chevrolet called it “Crown Sapphire”; 59-60 Lincolns had “Sapphire Metallic Poly”; a ’58 Olds in “Turquoise Mist Iridescent” with “Polaris White” roof would be sublime. Plymouth had a 1960 color called “Chrome Green” or “Crystal Green” which I also like. Then there’s “Ice Blue” on the ’59 Mercury . . . Lots of great choices, but oddly I have never had a car in a color even close to any of these favorites!

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  13. My last car was ruby red with a wide metallic stripe and a thin white pin stripe beneath it. And a Landau roof. It was a 1988 Buick Regal and I saw it on the corner of the car dealership as I drove past. It came “fully loaded” which made me feel like a princess after the Pacer with zero amenities. Someone had ordered the car, then cancelled the order … I was Lucky Pierre to go home with it. I had it 21 years and parted with it sorrowfully after too many electrical problems deemed it unsafe to drive.

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    • That’s a shame, it sounds like it was nice. I understand things wearing out from use and I understand things rotting from non-use. But a car that develops electrical gremlins as it ages – ferkryinoutloud those wires do nothing but sit there and they are not insulated with rubber and cloth anymore. Or perhaps you got a taste of why General Motors’ market share plunged from close to half of the US market in the late 70s to a tiny fraction of that today.

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      • Yes as to GM and I think I mentioned before I was part of the GM brakes litigation case – my boss had a GM car which name escapes me – we both were part of the case where the rear brakes rusted and had to be replaced. They told me it was from inactivity. I had multiple electrical issues with that car the last few years and I didn’t feel it was safe to drive anymore.

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  14. Green is a tough color to get just right on a car. I’ve seen several shades that don’t work, assuming you’re trying to stay close to a natural palette. Acura had a “Forest Green” in the early 2000s, and I would’ve gone for it with my MDX purchase at the time had they’d been able to find one. I assume they produced fewer cars in that color than in other colors.

    Instead, my MDX was “Red Rock Pearl” – virtually identical to the red you show in your photos. Never tired of the color in thirteen years of driving. Curiously, I replaced it with the exact same car, only in white. Maybe it’s true what other commenters say about color preferences changing with the times.

    As for an expensive, showy sports car, it’s got to be red or black every time, am I right?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree on the greens, I always preferred those on the bluer end of the spectrum to those that tend towards yellow (as were popular a few years either side of 1970).

      You are probably right on sports cars. So I guess I’ll get the black one. 🙂

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  15. I have been more than casually looking for a replacement for my 21 year old, 181,000 mile Town Car Cartier. Over the past month I have test driven both a 2018 Cadillac CTS AWD and 2018 Lincoln MKZ 2.0T, which were Adriatic Blue and Burgundy Velvet metallic, respectively. And my friend at the Lincoln dealer called Saturday to tell me they just got in a 2017 Continental in Jade Green. 35,000 miles. Hmm…

    Liked by 1 person

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