When Car Interiors Were Colorful

Auto cabins are rather drab these days. Brown, gray, black. Let’s turn back the clock a few years and recall when car interiors from the Motor City were celebrations of color. 

 

 

The automobile is in a commodity phase of its product cycle, it appears. For years now, the most popular exterior colors in the new car showrooms include white, gray, and beige. Interiors are equally nondescript, too: It’s rare to find anything more colorful than monotone brown, black, or gray. And what’s more, no one appears to care. Car buyers seem perfectly happy with these bland, limited choices.

It wasn’t always this way. A few decades ago, automobiles were bold, bright celebrations of color, including their interiors. Here are a very few examples—far from a complete survey to be sure, simply a quick look back. Do you have a favorite colorful car interior of your own? Please let us know. We’re up for a sequel or two.

 

Chrysler was in early on the trend to colorful interior materials, it seems. The carmaker’s popular Highlander trim package, which featured a Tartan plaid matched with rich Oxblood leather, was introduced in 1940 and continued well into the 1950s.

 

The 1956 Packard Caribbean Convertible sported a novel approach in interior materials: The cushions were reversible, with sporty leather on one side and a woven fabric on the other. The two rear cushions in this photo illustrate the choices, which complemented the Caribbean’s three-tone exterior colors. Alas, 1956 was the real Packard’s final year of production.

 

For 1959, Chrysler Corporation (Plymouth Sport Fury convertible shown here) offered a bold palette of upholstery fabrics with an additional innovation: swiveling bucket seats to allow easier entry and exit.

 

In a possible nod to its customer base, American Motors offered a variety of upholstery fabrics in the 1960s that looked more like Grandma’s living room than an automobile cockpit. This 1967 Marlin in fancy blue brocade is a perfect example. In succeeding years, AMC would go fashion forward with interior themes by Levi’s, Gucci, and Oleg Cassini.

 

In the 1970s, the crushed velvet look came to rule the automotive world. Or, “life inside a trombone case,” as it’s been called. Flashy color choices included bright Cranberry like the cabin of this 1975 Buick Century.

 

In the late 1970s, Ford Motor Company dressed up its otherwise drab Ford Pinto and Mercury Bobcat subcompacts with flamboyant interior options, including the Tangerine Alpine Plaid package on this ’78 Bobcat coupe. These far-out plaids weren’t limited to economy cars in these years. Cadillac also offered similar combinations among its broad variety of interior choices.

 

Pontiac was a style leader in interiors in the 1960s—for example, check out the 1963 Catalina convertible in red above. The GM division used a distinctive vinyl material with the trade name Morrikide, which proved to be not only handsome but incredibly durable. Pontiac stylists employed the premium vinyl in a variety of two-tone and three-tone combinations, as show in the 1962 GM publicity photo below.

 

10 thoughts on “When Car Interiors Were Colorful

  1. Back then, the customer made the choice. Now the makers TELL you what you will get. A great loss.

    • Just the opposite of the medical field, where, years ago one went to a doctor and trusted that the doctor would apply or recommend whatever was appropriate. Now a doctor gives a patient a diagnosis and then asks the patient : “So what do you want to do?”

  2. I’ve grown used to the bland exterior colors but daily wish for something other than black or gray inside, No, plastic wood isn’t elegant or good looking. No, leather isn’t enticing any longer when you can get it in all but the cheapest of cars. No, adding a rear wing to the deck doesn’t make anything look more sporty.

  3. We have this discussion all the time on car sites, what ever happened to color? Here’s what I think. Color is usually associated with happy, good feeling times. After the war(s), things were good, people felt good, and expressed that in the color choices of their vehicle. The louder, the better. Look at the 60’s, dripping with color ( remember, Disney’s “The Wonderful World of Color” on TV? Color was a big deal then. My grandfather had the 1st color TV I can remember. It was a Zenith. So, considering the lack of color these days, in everything, not just cars, I’d say, generally, people aren’t very happy and it shows.

  4. I’m a bit too young for most of these, but wow they are fabulous. Wish we had some real choices these days!

  5. I used to think that the interior of older cars tended to be more colorful, but then I took a trip back in my memory to my Grandfathers, and my Uncles 1949 Olds 88’s. One a 2 dr. sedan, the other a 4 dr. fastback. Both had a light gray headliner, two tome gray seats, light gold over gray/green dash. The colors were almost identical to my Dad’s 1950 Pontiac Chieftain deluxe. My Dad’s 40 Pontiac 2 door touring sedan had a tan interior with a fake wood painted dash.
    My Dad’s special order ( S/O ) 59 Pontiac Catalina was another story. This special order car that was ordered out of the zone office for my Dad had a NASCAR prepped Pontiac Tri Power 389 engine, but also had a Tri tone Leather Bonneville interior. There must have been a lot of demand for a better interior for Catalina in 59, because the Ventura came out with a nice tri Tone interior in 1960. My 63 Catalina has a Tri Tone interior like the one above, but you must remember that the 62 Grand Prix which replaced the Ventura ( except for a interior trim option into the late 60’s on Catalina ) had a mono color interior which set a new trend. My sister had a beautiful 64 Cutlass that was painted in burgundy and came with a black bucket interior. My neighbors new 64 Malibu SS in yellow also had a all black interior. My friends restored 64 GTO is a black on black car.
    Volkswagen had different colors for interiors. The stipulation on VW was the exterior color stipulated the interior color, the exception would be the standard model which got a gray interior no mater what color. I have a 64 113 beetle that has a beige cream exterior and a beige/ brown inserts on the door panels with beige seat covers. I also have a 65 111 beetle ( standard model not sold in the U.S.) that has a gray only ( except headliner) interior seats.
    I have a 69 Pontiac LeMans H-O that I special ordered. It has a Black body over gold interior.
    I have a 76 Olds Omega Brougham in dark blue that I special ordered with a white vinyl interior ( Broughams came with velour covered seats) . But in the standard Omega you could get a combination vinyl seat with a plaid color inserts similar to that Mercury bobcat above.
    Getting back to relatively new cars it seems like they have reverted back to like my Grandfathers Olds and my Dad’s 50 Pontiac. My Nissan Xterra is black body over gray interior, and my new SL Sentra is Black over Black leather. The plus side of the Sentra is it will do 135 MPH and get 40MPG.

    • My parents had a 62 Grand Prix, white with a white interior that had red carpeting. Still my all time favorite. And they had a 63 Riviera, beige with beige interior with brown carpeting. I remember those interiors with fondness. Heck, even our 56 Chevy 265 wagon had two tone black and white interior which was murder on a hot day.

      Going onto 17 year ownership of my current 00 Mercury wagon with two tone gray interior, no complaints but no feelings for it either.

      When I get the new car bug every January (don’t ask me why, I have no clue) I am put off by the lack of interior color choices. What ever happened to blue, green, and a proper saddle color interior?

      GM offers a brown trim but once I heard it referred to as “dog turd brown” in several publications, I will pass.

  6. You used to be able to order interior colors to compliment or match the outside paint, blue and blue, blue and white, red and whiite, etc. During the 60’s into the 70’s, you could also get sculpted vinyl inserts or seats, like the “Pony Pack” Mustangs with the horses galloping across the back rest. Sometime about the mid 70’s with all the new safety and EPA regulations coming into force and the aded costs with them, I think the beancounters started looking for ways to lower production costs, and all the wonderful color options, interior as well as exterior, started to vanish. Gray, tan, and if you were lucky, black, became your only interior choices, and only in cloth in most models. Exterior colors shrank to more basic colors, too, with the exception of a few metallics.

    Always heard that the factories wouldn’t let you order a color combination that would clash, but I don’t think that was entirely true. I knew a man who bought a new Chevy every year, one year he bought a blue Impala with orange interior! Another year he had a light yellow Impala with a pinkish interior, kind of a pale red. He always had strange cars!

    • Some of those odd ball color combinations were so the dealers could advertise a low ball price on them. Once buyers saw those clashing color combinations they were expected to reject them and buy a more color keyed offering……. at a higher price of course.

  7. Same thing happening with housing: grey and white exteriors and white kitchens and grey tile. Dreary times.

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