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.