Are pink cars making a comeback? | Axon's Automotive Anorak
It was probably just a bizarre coincidence, but the morning after the striking Strawberry Moon recently shone over the British Isles, I spotted an unusually high number of pink-coloured cars on the road the following day.
Maybe it was temporary pink eye blindness, or my rose-tinted spectacles, but taking a quick bike ride down the shops for milk, I was passed by a vivid two-tone pink late-1950s Vauxhall Cresta.
Moments later, a pale pink-coloured Daimler Double Six Coupe, sprayed in ‘Heather’ pink, was wheeled out of a local garage. The owner has been restoring this underrated and elegant two-door V12 coupe for some years now. The last time I’d seen this car on his driveway in mid-restoration, the coachwork was in prima, so his colour choice of the correct pale Heather was an unexpected but pleasant surprise as the Daimler was originally painted green.
Seeing two pink cars in as many minutes was quite a surprise. Pink is after all on record as being the least popular new car colour choice in the UK (and most of the civilised world) for many years now. This soothing but feminine shade last peaked in popularity in the optimistic post-war 1950s. There was then a brief resurgence of interest in the 1970s with a handful of special series models such as the Hillman Avenger and Dodge Charger coupe.
Although pink remains the rarest of new car colour choices on our shores, the colour has seen an increase in demand in recent years. It’s seen a growth of almost 83 per cent in total UK new car sales since 2017, when 19,958 new pink cars were registered, against 22,728 in 2020, to account for 0.14 per cent of all car sales. ‘Domestic appliance’ white remains this Country’s most popular colour choice for new car buyers. An increasing number of celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Nicki Minaj and Katie Price, have had their Lamborghinis, Bentleys, AMG G-Classes, Hummers and Range Rovers resprayed in ‘luxury’ pink.
Animated stars of both the big and small screens have also turned to their wheels being pink to help capture the imagination and create a cult following. The TV cartoon Pink Panther travelled in a far-out bright pink wedged creation with a large side entry door and plush wrap-around cabin couch, devised by Hollywood custom guru George Barris in the late 1960s. International Rescue’s aristocratic British agent, Lady Penelope, was famously chauffeured by Parker in her extravagant six-wheeled, glass dome-topped pink Rolls-Royce ‘FAB 1’ in Thunderbirds and in the latter movie adaptation, a pink Ford Thunderbird six-wheeler.
Arguably though, the most notorious of all pink-painted passenger cars has to be the infamous ‘land yacht’ finned Cadillac model line-up of 1959. Shot to fame by the Bruce Springsteen song ‘Pink Cadillac’, this catchy ditty was originally released as the non-album B-side of Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’ worldwide hit single in 1984.
Springsteen was reportedly inspired to write the hit song when he saw images of Elvis Presley with his 1955 Cadillac (first painted blue, not pink), but the celebrated ’59 Caddy was used in the song’s promotional video. This image stuck in our collective minds, with the pink Detroit monster becoming associated with the nostalgia of the 1959 model year. It was a pinnacle year for Cadillac and rocket age design trends, with countless posters and associated memorabilia still depicting a pink 1959 Cadillac gracing many bedroom walls.
Ironically, General Motors’ luxury Cadillac division only officially offered a rose-coloured exterior hue for its 1955 models, a pink factory-painted ’59 Cadillac not being offered at the time. This myth and association stems from Elvis’ Caddy, actually a 1955 model that was repainted from blue to pink, but this fact hasn’t stopped many from depicting the exact car as a ’59 model, painted pink.
Cadillac was not alone in adding pink to its palette in the mid-1950s, with fellow American car makers Chevrolet, Ford, Hudson and Chrysler also marketing rose-coloured cars, the most extreme of which was the 1956 Dodge LaFemme. Built between 1955 and 1956, Dodge positioned LaFemme as the first car specifically marketed to women, the model being painted with a pale pink exterior, complete with a matching pink umbrella, a pink handbag and lipstick holder, among other features and accessories. This daring concept failed to attract female buyers though. The LaFemme was quickly and quietly dropped from the Dodge product programme.
Closer to home, and within recent living memory, a limited handful of pink special edition models have been released by a few daring manufacturers.
In 1991, Fiat introduced a bold pink limited edition Panda, playfully marketed as the Pink Panda. In 2010, Fiat revisited the colour for its successful retro-modern 500, with just 500 ‘Pink’ examples made, aimed a ‘young women and free-thinking drivers who have a distinctive personality’, inspired by the positive reaction to Fiat’s one-off 500 Barbie show car of 2009. I spotted one of these rare rose 500s parked up at the side of the road the same day that I saw the pink Vauxhall and Daimler.
The special edition Fiat 500 was sprayed externally in a similar shade of pink paint to the unique Barbie concept car and toy, but with a more conservative interior in black, not pink and silver. Buyers got a pink key cover and special pink carpet mats to remind them of the wild colour. At £11,700, the 500 Pink was only available to buy online (something of a UK first), the model costing a mere £1,000 more than the 1.2 Lounge on which it was based. It was a bit of a bargain, mind, coming with £1,500 worth of extra equipment, including a sunroof.
Even more overt (and scarce) than the pink Fiat 500 was the drop-top Nissan Micra C+C 1.6 Sport in pink, an example of which I also spookily saw in a supermarket car park later that same day. Released in 2006 in aid of a Breast Cancer charity, the then-BBC Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond road-tested the pink Micra folding-top convertible on an early edition of the TV show. Hammond was so embarrassed by the pink machine, he refused to drive it without a bag over his head and, eventually, to avoid further disgrace, he left the Nissan at the side of the road and chose to walk.
Considerably more popular (in its home Chinese market) is the Lingbao BOX Pink Family Edition, a small cubed pink city car that resembles a pig if you squint. At the opposite end of the automotive spectrum though is Ferrari. It considers pink to be ‘possibly the most unlikely colour for a car.’ Ferrari’s exclusive Atelier division, which personalised models to individual clients tastes, simply refuses to paint any Ferraris pink, sticking rigidly to its rule; no pink Ferraris allowed, despite there being plenty out there, retrogradely resprayed rose.
Although not all of Ferrari’s customers are quite as discerning as the cars’ creator, the British Special Air Service (SAS) were less particular when it commissioned The Pink Panther (also often referred to as Pinkie), a heavily customised Land Rover Series 2A built specifically for desert warfare operations in the Middle East in the 1960s – the one place on the planet where a pink car wouldn’t stand out too much. Pretty in pink, or just pretty awful?