Next time you’re watching The Rockford Files, starring James Garner, pay attention to all the cars on the road as he's being chased by the bad guys. You'll see every color under the sun in all sorts of tints and shades: burgundy, maroon, pink, cherry red, bright orange, bright yellow, banana yellow, banana cream, lime green, forest green, teal, electric blue, baby blue, navy blue, turquoise, and at least four varieties of violet, in addition to browns that run from sandy tan to rich, burnt sienna. There are some white cars. Black is reserved for Lincolns, Caddys, and limousines. Gray, well gray is gray and nobody in the 70s wanted to be gray, so there's not many of them. Watching the exciting chase, it's as if all the crayons in a Crayola 64-pack are on wheels, Jim Rockford driving the gold one.
Next time you’re driving down the road, count the number of car colors that you find. If you drive long enough you'll eventually see all the colors of the rainbow, but it turns out that, today, cars are predominately silver, black, gray, and white. Of course, there are some blues and reds and greens, but they’re almost all toned down to be a very dark blue, red, or green. (Happily, there are still some bright colored cars for an occasional contrast.)
I believe part of this color shift comes down to economics - there's efficiency (cost cutting) in offering just a few colors. For twelve years, between 1914 and 1925, Henry Ford made the Model T only in black, famously saying, "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it’s black.” The basic reason was that numerous specialized paints were required for the various parts of the car - the metal fenders needing a different paint than the wooden dashboard, for instance. In fact, 19 different black paints and lacquers were used on each car.* The earliest Model T automobiles did come in red, green, gray, and blue, (not black!) but, upon further tweaking of the highly streamlined, assembly-line manufacturing process, the company realized how cumbersome and uneconomical it was to stock and apply the many colors, so they eliminated them all, leaving behind black.** I think that today's car companies have been thinking like Henry in terms of color: less is more (more money in the bank).
The other part of the color shift has to do with changing taste. Specifically, the taste of the once-flower-child-everything-is-groovy baby boomer. Let me ask you this, boomer to boomer: would your first choice in the color of a brand new 2021 car be Lime Green? Amber Orange? Sunflower Yellow? (If you said yes, you'd be the exception.) Let's face it, we're turning gray and bright colors simply don't suit us as well as they once did. Silver! Now, there's a color for ya. It's a "neutral" color with "richness" built into it. I don't think it was by accident that the car companies started making today's color choices just as the largest part of the market gave its paisley ties, red Adidas, and burgundy suits to Goodwill. But there's good news! The Millennials and Generation Z are beginning to assert greater economic power in the marketplace and they won't be settling for black, white, and gray (in all of it's varieties, intensities, shades and tints, including silver) for much longer. Bright yellow, orange, red, and lime green days lie ahead!
*Someone's research on Model T paints. Many parts needed unique (black) paints.
**Is black a color?
The Rockford Files, detective drama. NBC. Sept. 1974 -Jan. 1980. Still in syndication.