Each of us who contributes to the curbside cornucopia here seems to have a specialty. For example, Jason Shafer finds lots of unusual prewar stuff and Jim Grey finds a better than average sample of pickup trucks. Brendan Saur kills it with 80’s and 90’s sports sedans and Paul Niedermeyer brings us a ton of cars missing their drivers side interior door panels. Me? I seem to be developing the ability to track and capture classic Pontiac GTOs. I have written up all three that have been featured on these pages (thus far) and have pictures of one or two others in my stash of cars awaiting some time and attention.
After awhile you run out of things to say about a given car, even one as iconic as the GTO. We have covered whether one with a column shift and no console was original, gloried in a fabulous all-original GTO Judge and recalled the memories of a childhood that, from a tender age, was awash with GTOs. But there is one bit of unexplored territory that called to me on this example: its brilliant silver paint.
Have we ever done a CC that centered on a car’s paint color? If not, let’s give it a whirl. It is true that silver could be a tough one to start with. Isn’t silver paint on a car the one thing that makes it fade more anonymously into the automotive landscape than anything else? Today, yes – and this has been true for a long time. I, however, have a few gray (silver, even) hairs and remember when this was not so.
Car colors have always caught my attention. I have taken some of those internet tests (the ones that were probably harvesting all of my personal data) and I ranked in a very high percentile for color perception – particularly among men, who often don’t score so well on that metric. Even now I can look at a car that was common from my youth and tell you if it is painted one of the colors originally offered or if someone has strayed from the factory selections in choosing the color for a repaint or restoration.
This car is a perfect example. I saw it while leaving a restaurant with some friends. I was, of course, asked what year it was. I agonized for a second between 1968 and 1969. Someone more up on his GTO ABCs would have let that rear side marker light make the ID, but not me. I let that silver paint break the tie: it had to be a ’69.
The first person I ever knew with a silver car was my Grandma. The first two of her cars that I remember were a pink and white ’55 DeSoto sedan and a beige ’64 Pontiac Catalina – quite the contrast, I know. By 1969 the beige Pontiac needed a little work done, but Grandma had saved her money and was finally ready to buy her first new car all on her own since being widowed a dozen years earlier. It was a 1969 Pontiac Catalina sedan. And it was silver. This exact shade of silver. Palladium Silver I now discover, as I look the color up online at paintref.com.
Silver was not a common automotive color in 1969. It was not even a color you could necessarily expect to find on the color and trim chart when you went car shopping then. Gold was where all the action was in 1969, at least among the precious metal colors. I recall reading that after many years of white being the most popular color for Chevrolets all through the 1960s, gold would bump it out of the top spot for 1970. Every manufacturer had been offering some shade (even multiple shades) of gold since the mid 60s. But silver? It was more like copper, a color that makes an appearance every few years only to disappear again.
Silver had made a minor splash in the late 1950’s and again in the early ’60s but it was never really a big seller. And why would it be when the color charts of the time were a veritable embarrassment of riches. When in any given year you had multiple shades of blue and of green (and of turquoise in case you couldn’t make up your mind), it was clear that you were in a land of plenty.
So Grandma’s not-gold and not-green Catalina was a novelty and I was actually quite fond of it. The black painted roof on her Catalina made it something of a unicorn, as I have never seen another. I found it quite elegant, though I would have probably opted for a vinyl roof over the painted one to go with the car’s black interior. I can remember the way Grandma usually drove away after a visit. The Pontiac had a very sensitive accelerator pedal. Or maybe Grandma had a bit of a lead foot. In either case, the front of the Catalina would rise up as the exhaust note went from “burble” to “roar”. My mother would often chuckle and say “Hi-ho Silver!” as Grandma drove away.
For those too young to remember, that phrase is forever linked to the Lone Ranger and his horse. Mom had undoubtedly grown up listening to William Conrad just killing that line during his days as The Lone Ranger on radio and then later seeing this early version on television.
Silver cars did not really take off right away after GM featured this color in 1969-70. If I had to guess, the one thing that gave silver its first real boost in popularity probably came in the fall of 1971. Private eye Frank Cannon drove a silver Continental Mark III (and later Mark IV) in the television show that starred William Conrad. (Wow, just watch the themes in this piece weave themselves together.) The silver Lincoln was an expensive and prestigious car at the time and the color stood out after several years of earth tones dominating the popularity charts.
Lincoln jumped on this trend when it offered the Silver Luxury Group as a $400 option on top of the already expensive Continental Mark IV in 1973. Suddenly everyone knew when they saw a Mark IV painted in Silver Moondust Metallic that it was no ordinary Mark IV but a special edition to cater to Lincoln’s most wealthy and stylish customers, a marketing tactic that would beget the Designer Editions a few years later.
This association between silver paint and expensive cars could surely not have been hurt by rarefied German cars’ use of the color in racing going back to the 1930’s and by the fact that it approximated the color of polished aluminum as used on high-tech air and space craft.
A clear, bright silver did not jump to prominence overnight. Both GM and Ford tended to feature a dirty, more pewter-like silver paint in the 1971-74 era and Chrysler tested the market for a darker metallic gray. But by 1975 silver had become the new “it” color on cars in all segments of the American market, and it has rarely been absent from a manufacturer’s color choices ever since.
My own history with silver cars has been a little muddy. After being smitten by Grandma’s Pontiac, I watched silver cars take over the world. In the summer of 1978 I took a part time job working for a business which had a large fleet of silver vehicles. I was suddenly surrounded by silver cars and didn’t really like that it was displacing a lot of more interesting colors.
I also watched the finishes of those silver cars degrade much faster than those of some darker paints. A good friend was learning the trade of paint and body work and explained to me that paints formulas that used a lot of clear were very unprotected against UV rays, which would burrow down into the finish and “cook” the paint from the inside, resulting in microscopic cracks that made for a dull finish.
This was particularly true on GM cars which still used softer lacquer finishes which made them all the more subject to damage from sun and car washes. Even Grandma’s Pontiac, which spent much of its time in the garage, was starting to see some environmental damage to its “Magic Mirror” acrylic lacquer finish by the second half of the 1970’s.
I will admit to becoming a little bit of a “silver snob” over the years. Most silver cars hold no appeal for me. But there have been a few particular shades that have come fairly close to that bright, clear silver with the super-subtle metallic that I first loved on Grandma’s Pontiac. Honda and Chrysler used a similar shade in the late ’90s and early 2000’s and I felt my anti-silver thing start to recede a bit. My daughter’s 1998 Civic is of that era and I am not at all bothered by its particular formulation of the color.
I had not, however, seen a really nice silver GM car from 1969-70 in awhile, though I did remember the color hitting a sweet spot with me when I found and wrote up a ’69 Cadillac convertible some years back. Wow but does my current Samsung phone take better pictures than my old Blackberry did!
But this one – – this one – – was sweet. Although I prefer to find original cars, there is nothing like the paint finish on a high-quality modern paint job and this one was just stunning. This silver paint looked like it was still wet and an inch deep as I photographed this GTO. Although I wished that this one had sported a black interior to better mesh with my personal history with these, the blue goes with the paint quite nicely.
Alright, I realize that there has not been all that much written here about this particular GTO. They really are quite interesting cars and were covered fairly intensely when I wrote up The Judge of the same year. But really, when was the last time you saw a silver GTO?
And so a Palladium Silver ’69 GTO scratched a unique itch in me. I salute the owner in choosing for his restoration this color that is at once so common yet so unusual. Of course, he had no way of knowing that he would also allow me to be ten years old all over again when I saw his car. If only Grandma would have chosen a GTO instead of her garden variety 350-powered Catalina. Then we would really have seen “Hi-ho Silver!”
1966 Pontiac GTO hardtop – A Goat Or A Mule? (J P Cavanaugh) (In Reef Turquoise)
1966 Pontiac GTO convertible – The Perfect Childhood (J P Cavanaugh) (In Candlelight Cream)
1969 Pontiac GTO The Judge – Here Come Da Judge (J P Cavanaugh) (In Carousel Red)