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MAKING IT PERSONAL: Spotlight on Custom Cars | DRIVE,

What Color Suits Your Fancy? Well, White Is a Pretty Safe Bet


Maybe it matched your shoes, your eyes or your dog. Maybe it was what the dealer had available "right now." For whatever reason, you have a car and it has color. Maybe you chose the color, but someone else chose it long before it reached the showrooms. Three or four years before.

"It could be a choice of lifestyle trends," says Margaret Hackstedde, chief designer of color and trim for Chrysler Corp. "Like green right now is very popular for a whole variety of products."

The most fashionable greens of the day are paler than those of a few years ago. The underside-of-a-new-leaf pale. And opalescent. The kind of paint that is as changeable as the carriage horse in the Land of Oz, but more subtle about it.

Greens have outlasted the amethyst and plum and lilac and distant-mountain purple of several years ago. Those colors flared and fell back, but some colors are not meant to last in popularity over time.

"We bring some in for impact," Hackstedde says.

These often wind up on cars like small two-door coupes that seem to appeal to those with a brief attention span when it comes to cars anyway.

"Then there are the classic, staple colors that continue in the palette for a longer period," she says. Black, white, red.

Grays, browns and blues are ubiquitous as well, though their popularity is more wavelike, swelling and receding. Classic colors may vary in tone from year to year. An example: This fall, Chrysler's reds will have more of the influence of yellow (like the chili pepper of the Durango).

Grays run from silver to gunmetal to pewter--lightening and darkening through the years like storm clouds in the sun. For instance, Hackstedde says, the silver platinum of the '80s is getting lighter and "more liquid," thanks to a smaller flake in the paint. It catches the light differently than a larger flake.

The impulsive choice of an offbeat color in a blouse or even a raincoat may be annoying but is rarely calamitous, what with closets to conceal the lapse in judgment. But cars are everyday, long-lived appliances. "What was I thinking?" is not a cheerful afterthought.

Still, you needn't choose black just because you are told black holds its resale value. (Hint: not in the Sun Belt.)


Here are some guidelines to assist you in either making a color choice or rationalizing one you were going to make anyway:

* The greater the immediate impact of a color, the steeper may be its decline on your "love-it" meter.

* If you have more than one car, one can serve as the red shoes or the paisley blazer. Not for everyday but for feeling good.

* A car of a dramatic color that's been a long time in a showroom might be had for a deal. But you must live with it. A good deal on the wrong car is a bad deal.

* In sunny climes, be leery of changing from a light car to a dark one. Dark cars can tax your air conditioning and your patience.

* Probably nothing looks better than a clean, shiny black car. Nothing is harder to keep that way.

* See the model you want in the color you want before you sign. Certain colors flatten the subtle contours of a car; others highlight them.

* Car color in not only a matter of aesthetics and personal taste but a safety consideration.

Visibility is a function of contrast and reflectance. A red car will stand out against a snowbank in daylight, but it fades to obscurity in twilight because it reflects less light than lighter colors. Many fire departments moved to chartreuse trucks because the color is highly visible in all light conditions. (However, some are moving back because red, though less than perfectly visible, seems to mean "emergency" to most people.)

For being seen: Tests show engineer orange, yellow, white, silver--whatever's light and bright--are best.

The most invisible: black, dark browns and dark greens. Actually the most visible is a car with, say, white top, light-blue hood, yellow fenders and perhaps red stripes. You can easily be seen in such a car, but the question arises: Would you want to be?

(But maybe it matches your shoes, your eyes and your dog.)


Denise McCluggage is an author, syndicated automotive columnist and former international racing driver.

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