I named this column “Unconventional Wisdom” for a specific reason. So often through the years, I have been involved in situations in which statements were made that were considered absolute by the speaker. “They never did that.” Or its inevitable twin, “They always did that.” The topics that engender these absolutes can wildly vary, but one that comes up time and again is that of color. Since the first impression a motor vehicle makes on us is an aesthetic one — and in some cases might be the most lasting — the way color influences the effectiveness of a design is important. Color is listed on many concours judging instructions and training documents. Judges are asked to decide if the colors on a car are attractive, appropriate for the period and the model — and, many times, whether they are the ones first applied when the car left the manufacturer’s premises for delivery.

How important is original color?

It’s here that things become a bit dicey. How important is it that a car retain its originally delivered color scheme? Is it the same for every car? I would — and have — argued that the answer to the second question is positively no. Of course, I could argue “maybe” and sometimes “perhaps.” This most often comes up when it concerns vehicles that are very expensive or sometimes valuable (and no, they’re not the same). It first came to me personally when I embarked on the somewhat accidental restoration of my 1963 Lancia Flaminia Pininfarina coupe. It had been repainted once before in the Argento Auteuil that it wore when it left the Pininfarina shop. The warm silver suited the shape well enough, especially combined with the natural leather upholstery. When I drove into Wayne Carini’s restoration shop in Connecticut, I had little idea that what had begun as a localized touch-in would become a full restoration — of course, starting with a bare-metal respray. There were very good reasons for it, but we don’t need to cover that here. After the paint was gone, Wayne and I both realized we were faced with a choice. The simple one was to go back to the silver. However, on a recent trip to Italy I had seen a Flaminia coupe in a stunning deep green — Turchese Mereweld. Looking at the color of the interior, I thought it would be very attractive on my car. The idea of going from a light to a dark color was also in my mind as I had also not long before been in the presence of the 1957 Lancia Florida II, Battista Pinin Farina’s personal car and the prototype for the Flaminia coupe. Stunning in black with Battista’s favorite teal upholstery, it showed the essential elegance of the form. In my opinion, Flaminia Pininfarina coupes look best in dark colors, which emphasize their elemental quality and allow the light to reflect best on the sharp edges of the bodywork. In looking at the color chart for the Flaminia, my eye fell on a rich, warm, dark metallic gray, Grigio Newmarket. I had also seen a photograph of a PF coupe in a two-tone finish, with a black roof and trunk. While more often seen on the Flaminia sedan, the bright trim on the coupe also left distinct areas for second color delineation. So the die was cast, the decision made. After spraying test panels, Wayne agreed and the work was done — Grigio Newmarket and Nero. The result was truly beautiful, lifting the already attractive car to a new level of presence. While I was going through the process, I had been posting to an Italian-cars bulletin board about my hunt for the right colors. By the way, I no longer post to boards, preferring to spend my time instead as a confirmed lurker. But a short while later, when I decided that the Flaminia had to go to make room for another car in my collection, I consigned it for sale at Gooding & Company’s Scottsdale, AZ, auction in 2014. It attracted a great deal of attention and sold well — to a collector with great taste and lovely and important cars. I was certainly pleased, as were many on the bulletin board on which I had posted in the years before. Except one — an acquaintance from Europe who self-identified as a member of the “color Taliban.” He wrote that he had held his silence but now that the car was no longer mine he felt free to share his opinion that “obviously I had been led down a bad path” by my restorer, who willfully ripped the poor Lancia from its history by painting it a different color than they did at the factory in Grugliasco. I quickly disabused him of the notion I had been coerced, explaining that the choice was mindfully and thoughtfully mine. Then followed a brief exchange online about the balance of rights and responsibilities of owners and the historical record. I freely shared my opinion, which is that there is a big difference between a car that is an historical document and one that isn’t.

Historic cars and color

Broadly, if a car is noted and documented as a one-off, launch vehicle or historic in any other way — with its appearance as a part of that notoriety — then strict adherence to the colors as delivered and recorded can be very important. However, given that many such cars were also costly when new and built for and/or sold to people of means and strong opinions, it is often true that the first owner might have immediately changed the colors to suit a whim. More important for me, then, is whether the colors are appropriate. Are they colors that the manufacturer or coachbuilder regularly used at the time for models such as the subject? Would these colors have been available to the owner at the time the car was built? Do the colors suit — and indeed flatter and enhance — the lines of the car? Those are the factors that matter most to me. There are some examples of cases where the original color schemes were chosen for reasons other than the highest aesthetic values. If the car has not retained its original finishes and would benefit from a color upgrade, I say why not? I’ve more to share on this subject in a future column, so I look forward to hearing from you. ♦

One Comment

  1. Totally agree that, except in certain unique circumstances, color changes to a contemporary shade are perfectly acceptable. One caveat, however. The repaint must be complete and correct. No one wants to see a red car with a green engine compartment and trunk. Do it right or stick with the original color.