Eighties … Colors?

For almost eighteen months, I’ve been working on an automotive book independent of Eighties Cars, with only 28% of this vehicle’s history occurring in the 1980s. One of the parts of the book that I’ve been working on recently is color charts of the exterior paints, which will likely be in an appendix.

One of the many ways to describe a particular color is the HSB color space—Hue, Saturation, and Brightness. Also named as HSL (Hue, Saturation, and Lightness), HSB is a different way of measuring the RGB color space. The key here is that it nicely separates hue from other color factors over 360 degrees, with the red in ROYGBIV starting at about 345 degrees. So, I’ve been using the Hue in HSB to build all the color charts once I get past the blacks, grays, silvers, and whites.

Sixth-generation Buick Riviera color chart
Draft sixth-generation Buick Riviera color chart

To dive a little further down the rabbit hole, HSB was initially conceived as a way to add color information to black-and-white television transmissions without changing the signal that the black-and-white sets were receiving. It has been around for quite a while—French engineer Georges Valensi invented it in 1938, pre-dating the first consumer color televisions by 16 years. Those first color televisions were astoundingly expensive—the Admiral C1617A’s $1,175 price (about $11,200 in 2020 dollars) gives a hint of why substantial color television adoption would take almost 15 years.

I recently completed the basics of a chart of the sixth-generation (1979 to 1985) Buick Riviera’s colors. Though I have not yet calibrated the color reproduction to my satisfaction, some eighties color trends are readily apparent. There’s a lot of brown and beige, with reds, greens, and blues also notably represented. Rivieras also featured three extra-cost Firemist paints each year (four in 1985).

The charts also show examples of the somewhat confounding color naming inconsistencies that prevailed throughout the Riviera’s life—and in many other cars. A color can keep the same marketing name (i.e., Red Firemist), but be a different painting formulation (changing from PPG 3437 to PPG 3532). Another color can alter its marketing name (Light Blue becomes Medium Blue) but remain the same paint formulation (PPG 3310).


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