The fabulous Day-Glo colors of the muscle car era
When people started to turn on, tune in, and drop out, fashionable colors only got brighter, bolder, and more saturated. Considering that the youths of the 1960s defined popular culture (thank you, Baby Boomers!), it was only a matter of time before Day-Glo colors trickled down to Detroit.
From the late 1960s through the early 1970s, you could count on manufacturers offering bright colors for their performance cars (and, sometimes, for more pedestrian models too). Which color was the most popular during this period saturated with fluorescents? We examine the regular production hues that were most popular among the manufacturers.
Pretty much every manufacturer with a performance car offered a vehicle in some form of bright yellow. Starting in 1969, Chevrolet and Pontiac offered Daytona Yellow and Goldenrod Yellow, respectively, with the latter restricted to the Firebird except by special order. Both were continued through 1970, which was the same year Oldsmobile joined the fray with Sebring Yellow. Buick offered Saturn Yellow for the 1970 GSX, but it was a slightly different paint formula than the above colors.
In Dearborn, the Shelby Mustang was the first FoMoCo product to offer “code 9” Grabber Yellow, which appeared later in the model year for the Boss 302 Mustang (Bright Yellow) and Cougar Eliminator (Yellow). For 1970 the color changed slightly to “code D” Bright Yellow/Competition Yellow, respectively, for the Mustang and the Cougar. The color continued into 1971, though that year Ford changed the name from Bright Yellow to Grabber Yellow.
In 1970, Chrysler offered “FY1” Lemon Twist (Plymouth)/Top Banana (Dodge); while that color was offered for a few years, “GY3” Curious Yellow/Citron Yella (a chartreuse yellow) was only used in 1971.
American Motors didn’t offer a bright yellow for its high-performance cars, but Mellow Yellow made for a sportier Javelin in 1973–74.
Bet you thought this would be the most popular color of the bunch, but this reddish-orange falls in second! Pontiac introduced a mid-year 1968 color called Carnival Red. A similar color called Carousel Red was introduced the following year, but it was a completely different formula. Chevrolet called its version Hugger Orange for the Camaro, and Monaco Orange for both the Corvette and the Chevelle (an extra-cost color for the latter). Both brands continued the color into 1970.
Oldsmobile offered the extra-cost Rally Red in 1970. Although it looked like Hugger Orange/Carousel Red, it actually was a different color.
Although Ford offered Poppy Red for the 1965 Mustang, the color joined the psychedelic era in 1968 as a regular-production Mercury Montego hue called Calypso Coral. Shelby used it in 1969 as Competition Red, with the color appearing as Calypso Coral/Competition Orange for the mid-year introductions of the Mercury Cougar Eliminator and Ford Mustang Boss 302 (though it was still available for Montegos). In 1970, the color was renamed Vermilion for the Ford Mustang and Torino series while at Mercury, Competition Orange was expanded to all Cougars. Mercury would offer this color through 1971, but only for the Cyclone Spoiler.
Over at Chrysler, “EV2” Hemi Orange was introduced in March 1969 for Dodge models; the color was phased into the Plymouth line in 1970 as Tor Red. This color was available through 1972.
Big Bad Orange was the name American Motors used for a similar color in the spring of 1969 for the Javelin and AMX, which included painted bumpers. The color lasted through 1970 with expanded availability, though with conventional bumpers.
Green is a strange color; out of all the hues from the muscle car era, green tends to age the worst to contemporary eyes. Among the Day-Glo-obsessed, however, green perhaps glowed the brightest. General Motors didn’t get involved with bright greens, but FoMoCo did, first with Grabber Green for the 1969 Shelby Mustang. For 1970, Grabber Green was folded into Ford and Mercury’s palette, with the latter calling it Competition Green. In 1971, Ford and Mercury offered Grabber Lime and Bright Lime Green, respectively, for the Mustang and Cougar. Bright Lime, a similar yet distinct color, replaced it for 1972.
Chrysler offered two distinct greens in this vein. In 1970, Plymouth and Dodge introduced the popular High Impact color “FJ5” Limelight/Sublime. During that spring, the darker “FJ6” Sassy Grass Green/Green Go were added to the High Impact roster. This color was continued into 1971.
Like Big Bad Orange, Big Bad Green graced the flanks of the 1969 AMC Javelin and AMX, with expanded availability in 1970.
Like several other colors, the 1969 Shelby Mustang introduced Grabber Blue, which would be carried over into 1970 for Ford (Grabber Blue) and Mercury (Competition Blue). It was carried over into 1971.
Chrysler had a fleet color called Corporate Blue that became the signature color for Richard Petty. In 1970, Petty Blue became one of the available colors for the Road Runner Superbird. Then, for 1972–73, Plymouth introduced it as Basin Street Blue and Dodge as Super Blue. Big Bad Blue, like its orange and green brethren, was available 1969–70.
Chevrolet introduced Rallye Green, a medium metallic green, mid-year for the 1968 Camaro, which lasted through 1969. Also available for the 1969 Nova, this color was a Chevrolet exclusive.
While Ford and Mercury carried over 1970s Grabber Green/Competition Green into 1971, the ’71 color was a completely different formula and color, more of a distinct metallic shade than what was used in 1970. Why both manufacturers kept the same name for a different green is something that only the product planners know.
Chrysler offered a similar color in 1969. On the Plymouth side, Rallye Green was a Road Runner exclusive introduced in the spring; though coded as a special-order color, it was a regular production hue. Yet Dodge strangely offered “F6” Bright Green that looked the same (although was ever-so-lighter). Availability was not restricted in the same manner, as any Dart, Coronet, or Charger could be ordered in this color.
For 1970, Pontiac product planners decided on white as the signature color for the GTO Judge, especially with the “WT7” package that included black spoiler and yellow/black/red stripes (versus the white’s standard yellow/blue/red stripes). It was not making an impact in sales, so Pontiac soon drafted Orbit Orange as the signature Judge color and an option exclusive to that model.
More tangerine than mango, Grabber Orange first appeared in 1969 for the Shelby Mustang, which was then adopted by Ford and Mercury in 1970 as Grabber Orange/Competition Gold. Only Mercury continued the hue into 1971 and only for the Cyclone Spoiler.
Over at Highland Park, Plymouth introduced “EK2” Vitamin C as a spring 1969 color for the Road Runner. In 1970, it joined Dodge’s lineup with the name Go Mango. The color would not continue into 1971.
What are your favorite shades of American muscle cars? Let us know below.