A celebration of colour

250 GTO

Why is it so rare to see cars in two-tone colours these days? The magnificent combined colours of the ’30s and ’50s gave way to grey, black and, consistently at Maranello, red. Here is the answer

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

There’s a proverb in an Italian dialect that goes ‘cinc sghei püssè ma russ’, which means, more or less, that I’m willing to pay more provided it’s red. Perhaps this is the reason that children all over the world want red model cars, even if their dad’s car is usually black or grey. Personally, I don’t think so. My opinion is that this magical red colour reminds them of a racing car that comes up on their TV screen at home, or when they catch a fleeting glimpse of a marque that is different from all the others in the street, with a Prancing Horse on a yellow background on the bonnet. Whatever the reason, red has a special power as far as cars are concerned. This may be because I am Italian and so have been used to seeing red cars since I was a child, but I can’t forget when my father took me to see car races and said, ‘This one is red so it goes faster.’ Unfortunately I didn’t have time to ask him whether he said this because he had a noisy but poorly performing blue Salmson. I could never have reproached him for not having won, even if it had been red!

All these disquisitions about colours tie in with this issue of The Official Ferrari Magazine, whose main theme is colour. We could say that colours form a greater part of our lives today than they ever have. If you look at the range of choices you get when you order a car, what with normal, metallic, mica and 1,001 paints of this kind, you might think you were living in a world of colours. But it’s not like that at all. Car colour preferences are going from grey or black to white. Indeed, around six per cent of Ferrari’s total production output in 2008, corresponding to 400 cars, was white. Why is that? It seems to be a reaction to extremes, a way to counter-balance excess. In fact, cars nowadays are getting more and more elaborate in shape. In terms of form, what the motorcar industry has been offering us in the past few years is far superior to whatever the best ‘panel beaters’ of 50 years ago could do.

Sometimes these forms are so sophisticated and sculpted in such detail that they demand simple colours. I don’t know whether it was like this in the past. Today, however, everybody knows that certain cars ‘wear’ colours better than others, as if they are models about to parade up and down the catwalk. This evolution of form, which is due to the possibility of deep-drawing (a sheet metal-forming process) the metal of a car body in a manner that was impossible before, is certainly the main reason for the drastic reduction in two-tone cars. Before the war, and also in the ’50s and ’60s, cars were made with two body colours; they were absolutely spectacular.

I’m not talking about the stripes or coloured bonnets of the racing Ferraris, justified by the need to recognise them when they were on the track and, above all, during the pit stops. I mean the elegant cars, the ones that were shown off for their refined beauty. Ferrari had some of these too, which were mainly coachbuilders’ interpretations. It’s sufficient to recall the splendid 166 Touring Barchetta that ‘l’avvocato’ Gianni Agnelli had painted blue and gree, an apparently impossible match that turned out to have a highly refined elegance.

At the Ferrari Christmas party, Luca di Montezemolo asked the old, much-loved coachbuilder, Sergio Scaglietti, to step onto the platform to receive a standing ovation. Scaglietti felt almost embarrassed in his unaffected simplicity, so embarrassed in fact that he said he did not understand all this gratitude since, in his time, the right-hand side of a car was often not the same as the left! This simple purity of form, paradoxically, became a natural palette for daring colour matches that are unrepeatable today.
You can breathe easily, however. All this doesn’t mean that colours are any less important. On the contrary, now an original choice can make the difference as it never did before – on the road and on the racetrack. The many articles in this issue that talk of colours prove it. And then, away with the taboos. Colours are often more impressive than reality. Just think of the episode of the driver at the 24-hour Le Mans, competing at a time when participants took a short run on foot towards their lined-up cars: this pilot got into the red Ferrari 250 of one of his adversaries instead of getting into his own – which was blue!

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  • Maruf

    Greetings from Bangladesh.

    In my childhood, we had a black and white color TV that looks bit like a microwave oven these days. In gilette world sports special they sometimes saw F1 news. I had no idea what kind of cars they were, I didn’t understand english back then, and there was and still is no local channel that shows F1. But one day I saw this amazing crazy looking car that was so low and had fat tyres and ran so fast. Whats most interesting is that I assumed it was red. But it was an incredibly powerful sight. I was fascinated by it and took in every detail of the car. Now I know for sure it was a 1990 Ferrari F1 car. Whats amazing is that I saw it in a black&white screen and yet assumed it was red and I was right. So in response to the first paragraph, I its more than just Italian to assume red cars to be special fast cars.