Boomers Influenced Car Colors

Cars exhibited an explosion of color in the1950s, including two-tone and tri-tone paint jobs. In the late 1950s and early ’60s, car companies were looking to show families that “the woman of the house” needed a car of her own. Consequently, they painted cars in colors formerly called “feminine,” like yellow, mint, blue and pink pastels, in an effort to appeal to female car buyers.

As the decade went on, auto manufacturers tamed their color palettes along with their tail fins. The fashion world was erupting with form and bright colors by the mid-60s, yet the car companies decided “tasteful” was the way to go. There were a few exceptions here and there, but generally speaking, the tones were not the look-at-me displays of the decade earlier. As a result, by the end of the decade — 50 years ago in 1969 — family cars were offered in a spectrum of colors considered to evoke stability and calmness, including blues, greens, aquas, grays and siennas, with an occasional burgundy or light yellow mixed into the selections. Additional jewel tones presented a pragmatic, calming look befitting an era filled with strife and discord.

The first family car to break the early ’60s color trend came about with the introduction of the Mercury Montego in 1968. It was the Mercury equivalent of the Ford Torino, an intermediate-sized car available in two-door or four-door models. One of the colors the company offered on the car was called Calypso Coral, a bright red-orange that was sure to advertise the car’s presence blocks before it arrived. Mercury quickly made it available on the sporty Cougar line. The color was a big success, so by 1969, American Motors, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler followed suit and all had a red-orange or orange-red color of their own on select car lines.

Meanwhile, boomers were growing, and the oldest boomers were buying cars of their own. The car companies had a need to cater to this burgeoning market, and did so with high-performance muscle cars from the middle of the 1960s into the early 1970s. Muscle cars presented the auto companies the perfect place to display a splash of color. Plymouth Barracuda, Road Runner (in Barracuda Orange) and Dodge Charger (with a color generally called Charger Red) sported a bright red-orange color, and Ford made Calypso Coral available on Mustangs. Yellows got brighter, greens more Kelly and less Forest, and blues more Sea and less Sky. As 1970 arrived, companies employed even flashier, neon-bright colors for their muscle cars that now embraced descriptions of electric blue, lime green and grape purple. Were they trying to give boomers a bright reminder of eating Trix cereal? Or was it the fashions of the 1960s that changed the palette? Either way, boomers had an influence on the colors that cars were painted.

Mister Boomer’s father had a two-tone car in 1957, followed by a light blue, then a dark blue one. Mister B’s favorite, a turquoise color, came after that in the mid-60s. Since Mister B bought used cars from people his father worked with, his first two cars were white, then a dull brown. His first new car, however, was gold-bronze, followed by green. Brother Boomer went from an older brown color in the early ’60s to baby blue, then moved into a black muscle car that was so shiny it reflected its entire surroundings. Mister B’s sister’s first car was yellow. She followed it with a purple one.

By the mid-70s, car colors were being tamed as they were a decade earlier as consumers opted for darker shades. Today, you can see the color palette has once again shifted to include all types of brighter colors.

What does the future hold for car colors? Prognosticators are predicting that self-driving vehicles, the future of personal transportation on everyone’s mind, will sport lighter colors — at least in their early days. The sensors needed to locate other vehicles react better to lighter colors than darker ones. These predictors are suggesting whites, grays and silvers may be the order of the day for the introduction of self-driving cars. Nonetheless, even though darker colors require more sensors, manufacturer spokespeople are predicting that consumer tastes, as always, will dictate future car colors.

What is the wildest color you ever had on a car you owned, boomers?

Of Course Boomers Had Driveways!

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution was underway and the country was shifting from an agrarian economy to one based on manufacturing. Populations shifted from farms to cities and as immigrants came in, these cities grew. Housing was quickly built to accommodate the influx of workers that would signal the nation’s progress up until the Great Depression. Since the automobile was a new invention, it was purchased by upper class citizens who could afford it, so working class people in working class houses had no need for driveways. In fact, only about a third of city dwellers owned their own homes at that time. Many boomers — especially early boomers — will recall living in this type of urban housing.

Henry Ford tried to change all that by producing a car he felt everyone could afford. To make sure his workers could afford it themselves, he instituted a $5 a day wage that was unheard of at the time. Of course, that wage was not granted equally among his employees, but that is a matter for another time. The spread of the Model T into the 1920s initiated the first working class houses built in cities, with personal driveways attached.

The wealthy always had driveways, though not in the sense that boomers might recall. For centuries, the driveway up to the manor was an important path, intended to impress and reveal the occupants’ status, education and wealth. The end of the driveway was usually a circle from which visitors and owners could be dropped off at the front door. The carriage and horse were then stowed in the stables away from the main house.

Driveways in rural communities were most often dirt or gravel, and were more for moving farm equipment than the family car — which was most often a pickup truck, as soon as they became available in the 1920s. Barns and sheds housed the equipment necessary for the main job, so any auto or truck was going to reside outside on or near the driveway.

The rise of the driveway slowly continued as new housing was built before World War II; a new status symbol for a generation that grew up riding streetcars and city buses, a driveway indicated a certain level of modernity and upward mobility in a rising middle class. It was in this era where the driveway was treated as part of the house’s landscape; instead of a concrete slab, it was composed of two strips separated at a wide enough distance for a car’s wheels to tread, with a grass median between the concrete.

It was after the War that the driveway really came into its own. Returning soldiers got married and started families, which signaled the dawn of the Boomer Generation. Housing was an immediate concern, but cities were crowded, with little or no land for these new families. New suburbs were the answer, where land was readily available and inexpensive, or at least affordable with GI veteran assistance programs. Since a worker’s commute was now a serious concern, the fathers of boomers making the move to the suburbs had to own a car. Virtually all of the houses built in the late 1940s and into the ’50s featured a place for the family car, as a “standard feature.” Some driveways led to a garage behind the house, but most stopped at the back end of the house. In just two generations, the evolution of the driveway had come from a centuries-old symbol of “to the manor born” to one of middle class, utilitarian car-parking slab.

A typical car parked in a Midwest driveway, circa 1950s

At this point, the vast majority of families owned one car. For boomers growing up in these houses, the driveway was empty all day since their fathers took the car to work, so it became a boomer play space. Girls might draw hopscotch games in chalk on the family driveway, while boys were rolling homemade go-karts up and down. Many boomers (including Mister Boomer) recall flipping hula hoops up and down the driveway, or roller skating — with metal skates — back and forth.

Driveways became personal and an integral part of the house, as was the family car parked on it. In the early days in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, less than a third of homes had garages, where a driveway extended to the garage positioned in the yard behind the house. As the 1960s pushed on, several of his neighbors had single-car garages built, all the more to leave the driveway empty. That space was soon needed as boomers grew and got cars of their own. For Mister Boomer in his mid-boomer era, it was practically a rite of passage to acquire a car shortly after getting a drivers’ license. Driveways would have to serve for parking at least two cars; at one point in Mister Boomers’ house, there were three cars for household members, two of which resided in the driveway. With no garage, it was a constant shuffle to move vehicles so that one or the other could exit.

While we often consider certain television programs, toys, fashions or music as defining symbols of the Boomer Generation, Mister Boomer humbly submits that the driveway was an important part of the culture that molded our generation.

What memories do you have of your families’ driveways, boomers?