When Volkswagen Beetles and other cars were the color of bathroom tile


We took it for granted back then. Cars were the colors of bathroom tile.

Yes, in 1962 for example–and this car, seen recently, ago could be a ’62 although I’m not certain–Volkswagen Beetles were offered in black, white, and red.

But they were also turquoise green, Pacific blue, Gulf blue, and–ye gods!–Beryl green.

The phenomenon of bathroom-tile cars was not specifically a VW thing. Especially during the 1950s, plenty of American iron wore these colors: Hudson, Nash, all of the Chrysler lines, Buick, Cadillac, Ford, Chevrolet.

Pinning down the trend’s origin is a challenge I want to take up.

The minty freshness expressed something specific. Postwar optimism, I always say.


By the early ’60s, people hadn’t exactly sobered up, but the trend shifted, a refreshing naturalism took over. My mind’s eye sees a gold Oldsmobile; a color chart for 1962 shows about half of the paint colors ending with “mist.” Sahara Mist. And there was Sand Beige.

When I was eighteen, I bought a ’53 Chevy, paying $100. The car was twenty years old, the engine exhausted, the turquoise body and white roof faded and chipped. Feeling certain the world would be able to get along with one less green Chevy, I painted the body red. With a brush.


A look at today’s VW Beetle color palette shows the progression of taste. Moonrock silver metallic proves that the trips to the moon did in fact produce more than rocks, they produced a paint color. Think of the advances in automotive fashion if we ever get to Mars!

The 2015 Beetle is offered in eight colors: two silvers, a gray, black, white, red, Denim Blue, and for nutty people, yellow.

May the divorce between cars and bathrooms be a lasting one.

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