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Two-Tone Paint: A Good Idea That Could Catch On

Once all the rage, now a too tepid comeback?

by on Aug.05, 2009

At the peak of the Ike and Mamie good time years...

At the peak of the Ike and Mamie good time years...

Two-tone paint was all the rage in American cars just before we got into World War II, and again in the Fifties. Indeed, it was the hallmark of the celebrated ’55 to ’57 models.

But fads come and go.

Today two-tones could be a route to resurgent demand for Detroit’s cars, a response to what I see as the boring sameness of both domestic and import sedans and the anemic earth tones and somber silver/gray/black paint schemes common to Euro cars and copied by Asians and Americans alike.

Actually, in the last few years two-tone has had an unheralded return of sorts at the edges of the marketplace. A car-knowledgeable PR exec for a Detroit automaker opines that the BMW Mini may have started it.


The popular BMW Mini may have started the return to two-tone paint.

Two-tone has come and gone in recent years as a $295 option on Mercury Grand Marquis.

Today, in addition to the Mini, Ford’s Flex and F-series trucks, Dodge trucks, Chrysler PT Cruisers and Toyota FJ offer two-tone paint schemes in one way or another-either as a regular production option or as standard on a special model.


1940 Buick Brochure

In the faulty memory of my childhood, I always thought it was the 1940 Buick torpedo sedans that pioneered two-tone, but some cold research showed Chrysler introduced it on some limited-production (fewer than 3,500) “New York Specials” produced on the Imperial chassis in 1938. The following model year, these Specials morphed into the long-lasting New Yorker series.

On the whole, though, my memory was right. Buick’s largest selling model for 1940 was the new Series 50 Super, 95,875 produced, all on the “four-window” torpedo Fisher “C” body design adapted from the pace-setting 1938 Cadillac 60-S Fleetwood sedan.