The CAR Top 10: legendary paint jobs

Published: 05 November 2013

From Henry Ford’s quick-drying black to McLaren’s infamous aubergine, colour creates (and destroys) icons.

1. John Lennon’s Roller

With its gyspy-caravan-on acid paintjob by Dutch art collective The Fool, John Lennon’s Rolls-Royce Phantom V was considerably more conspicuous than Charles and Camilla’s. But it was considerably less likely to get paint-bombed by rowdy students, or get Yoko ‘poked by a stick’.

2. George Harrison’s Mini

Seems none of the Beatles was happy to settle for beige. George Harrison painted his Mini with mystical Indian scenes from the book Tantrum Art; he painted his house the same way. George, John, Cynthia and Patti Boyd are reported to have folded themselves into the Mini’s tiny cabin to take their first acid trip.

3. The BMW art cars

Most expensive paint job? Probably the BMW art cars; since 1975, 17 road and race cars have been painted by artists whose works sells for tens of millions: Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Roy Lichtenstein among them. We’d be tempted to send some of the early-’90s efforts in for a respray, but Jeff Koons’ 2010 Le Mans M3 GT2 was a blinder.

4. Ford Model T

Any colour you like, so long as it’s black. Or green. Or grey. Or red. For the first six years of its life the Model T actually came in a dizzying rainbow of colours, before Henry Ford turned the necessity of uniform black paint – only black dried fast enough to keep pace with the new production line – into a marketing campaign.

5.  The popemobile

Any colour you like, as long as it’s white: Pope John Paul II personally designed the 1979 Popemobile with its iconic white paintjob. But as it was attached to a particularly unholy armoured V8 Mercedes G-class off-roader, it pretty much killed his Holiness’s career in car design stone dead. Better than the Pontiff’s previous official ride though: the sedia gestatoria – or portable throne – carried through the streets by a dozen sweaty footmen.

6.  Crazy colours, man

Coolest colour names go to Chrysler: its ‘Hi-Impact’ colours for its 1970 muscle cars included Sub-Lime, Go Mango, Panther Pink and Plum Crazy. The guys at Ford thought this was a great idea, so they loosened their Mad-Men-style tightly-knotted skinny ties, lit a massive doobie and came up with Bring ’Em Back Olive, Anti-Establish Mint, Original Cinnamon and Freudian Gilt.

7.  Aubergine, anybody?

Most high-end car makers now offer a bespoke colour service, offering to paint your car any shade you want; some will say no to particularly tasteless requests, but others (Porsche Exclusive) will do whatever you want, for a price. But McLaren got there first; an F1 customer brought an aubergine to the factory and asked them to match it.

8. Ferrari red

Most recognisable road-car colour? Must be Ferrari’s Rosso Corsa. Although it will let customers mix their own shades, Ferrari’s reds and yellows are sacrosanct and can’t be altered.

9.  No paint? That’s €0.2m!

The major difference between the €1.65m and €1.85m versions of the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport is that the cheaper one is painted, and the more expensive one isn’t. Eh? Bugatti says that carbonfibre good enough to be seen costs more; but a whole Ferrari 458 more?

10. Paint’s too heavy?

Actually, why bother with paint at all? VW’s 282mpg 1L concept did without to save weight; we’re not sure how much weight wass actually saved, but we admire the dedication to mass reduction.

By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features