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Interiors: Mousey to Rainbow to Mousey Again

Auto interiors are reverting to the “yoostabees” of the past.

by on Feb.01, 2010

The original Highlander interior trim package.

My eyes were drawn to the model designation on a Toyota’s tailgate in front of me: Highlander.

How Toyota ever came by the name of a popular, colorful Chrysler model of the 1940s, I wondered.  However, it also reminded me of the dullness of current car interiors compared to those of cars a few decades ago.

I once wrote a series of articles that I labeled “yoostabees” – taking off from current auto news to reminisce about cars of the past, how things “used to be.”  It is time for Yoostabees to reappear.

Interior of a restored 1935 Ford Deluxe Trunk Sedan at the Michigan Firehouse Museum.

So, it “yoostabee” that automobile interiors were, well, mousey: fuzzy grey or brown fabric seat covers and interior door panels.  The interior of a restored 1935 Ford Deluxe Trunk Sedan at the Michigan Firehouse Museum in Ypsilanti is typical of the era.  Further, most cars featured stamped metal instrument panels painted brown with striping intended to look like wooden panels.

According to auto historian Jeff Godshall, who before retiring led the interior design team for Chrysler’s PT Cruiser, “Regarding the change from mousy to colorful, certainly one of the first examples was Gordon Buehrig’s masterpiece, the 1936 front-drive-wheel drive Cord 810.


“Buyers of a grey Westchester sedan with dark blue broadcloth upholstery, for example, received dark blue seats, door trim panels, carpet and headliner. This alone was radically different, but in addition, the piping on the seat cushions and backs was a contrasting light grey, as was the piping accenting the headliner roof bows. The steering wheel and column, as well as the window crank knobs were also light grey. This completely color-coordinated interior fit well with the Cord’s “art moderne” exterior.