High Impact Colors on Classic Muscle Cars

1971 Dodge Charger in Sassy Green
Photo by Mark Gittelman

When you're walking around the local car show take note of the automobiles attracting the most attention. Often it's the rare muscle cars painted in high impact color like this Green Go 1971 third generation Dodge Charger. Plymouth called this shade Sassy Grass Green.

The bold factory color palette on cars from the 60s and 70s set these automobiles apart from the vehicles that came before it and the plain looking cars from the 80s and 90s. Here we’ll make an attempt to uncover some compelling information about these eye-catching hues.  Keep in mind that unique or limited edition pigments can add another layer of value to an already collectible automobile.

Brief History of Paint Colors

It's hard to pin down the first car that carried an unusual shade of paint. If we look at the Model T, Ford offered at least four different colors from 1908 through 1913. These included red, blue, gray, and the most popular black. For the next 10 years, Ford would only offer the Model T in black. This was meant to simplify the production line process and reduced manufacturing costs. Many believed this is when Ford said, they could have the Model T in any color as long as it’s black.

In the early 1920s, paint technology evolved and with it the palette available to consumers. General Motors offered three different shades of brown, blue and red. This allowed car buyers to customize the look and stand out from the crowd. With competition increasing and sales beginning to sag, Ford started offering alternative colors again in 1926. By the late 20s car manufacturers like the Oldsmobile Corporation started offering luxury automobiles with two-tone paint.

The Great Car Color Explosion

When the 1950s rolled around, Americans were enjoying a booming postwar economy. Upbeat automotive color started to represent the mindset of the consumer. Unique colors offset by primary base colors became a popular choice for automobiles in the mid-1950s. A great example of this is the 1955 Chevy Bel Air that used a white roof to offset bright colors like red and Robin’s Egg Blue.

In the mid-60s, with the muscle cars gaining in popularity, car manufacturers took a step back from the two-tone look of the 50s. Shockingly bright solid hues like yellow, purple and shades of green became all the rage. Chrysler led the charge offering a dizzying array of wild colors. Pony cars like the Challenger and the Plymouth Barracuda wore Plum Crazy purple. Dodge and Plymouth used different names for the same high impact colors like Lemon Twist or Top Banana. Whether these cars came in vitamin C, Hemi Orange or Butterscotch they turned people's heads.

Wild Looking Colors from the Factory

The term high impact is associated with Chrysler products. Although they had the widest selection of these eye-popping colors, by 1969 all four major American car manufacturers had jumped on the bold paint bandwagon. The American Motors Corporation called their line of wild looking pigments big and bad. Colors like Big Bad Blue, Red and Green found their way onto midsize muscle cars like the 1969 and 1970 AMC Rebel.

Chevrolet jumped into the competition, emphasizing their Daytona Yellow, and Hugger Orange. Although they're most popular on the Camaro, they also complimented the Coke bottle shape of the second generation Chevy Chevelle SS. The Ford pony cars from 1969 and 1970 also had some interesting paint choices. The Grabber Blue, New Lime, and Calypso Coral colors looked amazing on the Mustang.

Resurgence of Automotive Colors

In the early 1970s, the automotive industry had its hands full with the onslaught of government regulations and an impending gas crisis. The economic mood of car buyers also shifted from fun to functional and affordable. A return to basic earth tone finishes of the past became the new normal by the mid-70s.

With the resurgence of the muscle car in modern times, Chrysler reintroduced its High Impact Color line up in 2006. Ford and Chevrolet followed suit with their retro muscle cars the Camaro and Mustang. In 2014 Dodge announced its re-release of the Plum Crazy High impact color available on the Dodge Charger and Challenger models.