It’s a lot of fun to recast a tired-looking muscle machine with bigger, badder, bolder graphics, and if you go with vinyl coverings, it’s cost effective too. We asked six designers to revisit some classic graphics, like Murray Pfaff did with this ’68 Charger.
Extreme machines call for extreme ornamentation, so it’s hardly surprising that muscle cars and wild graphics schemes have peacefully coexisted for decades. Whether it’s a screaming chicken or a pissed-off bumblebee, the most iconic muscle cars of all time have relied on clever graphics for that extra bit of visual pop. Unfortunately, applying graphics can be a touchy proposition. There’s a fine line between boldness and tastelessness, and one wrong move while walking the tightrope is the difference between gloriously reaching the other side or ending up at the bottom of the cliff. To get a fresh take on modern graphics that pay homage to the past, we consulted with the top automotive designers in the business, and had them sketch some cutting-edge ideas that can be applied to any ride. To make things more interesting, we intentionally selected some less-than-mainstream muscle to use as blank canvasses to further reinforce how profoundly a simple graphics scheme can change the entire personality of a car.
Although hot rodded Novas and Chevelles outnumber Fairlanes by a large margin, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be cool. With the right paint and graphics scheme, Tavis Highlander’s take on a modern Pro Touring Fairlane doesn’t play second fiddle to any Chevy. “With some Grabber Blue paint and custom satin black stripes, this Fairlane pops in a way that Fairlanes usually don’t. This is one case where the graphics don’t just add to the look of the car, but completely transform a car’s attitude,” he says. “If you’re looking for paint scheme ideas, always consider your engine as a possible jumping-off point. You can call out the engine with OEM-styled graphics or something totally new. This car has a Kaase Boss ’9 engine in it, so alluding to that with the graphics gives them purpose, which is very important. Try pulling ideas from different models and years within your same make and remember that original graphics don’t have to stay original, either. Manipulate the shapes to make them fit, call out a custom engine, or play with the colors. Just make sure your idea looks good before you go to paint!”
It’s easy to get fixated on bright paint colors as a means of achieving visual flair, but that’s the easy way out. With the right accent colors, even plain white paint can get the job done. “White does the best job of showing off the terrific body lines of a car without the reflections of the world showing up in photos of your car. As an added bonus, white is also typically an inexpensive paint color,” Murray Pfaff says. “With this Camaro, simply adding a platinum gray stripe outlined with orange accents changes the look of the car dramatically. Painting the headlight bezels and bumpers results in a nice monochrome effect. As long as it’s done in small doses, the monochromatic look is back. Painting the wheel face gray and adding an orange stripe on the wheel lip ties everything together.”
The right graphics treatment can make even an ugly duckling look good. Brian Stupski’s rendition of a ’74 Dart is a perfect example, as it’s a body style that hasn’t exactly gone down in the history books as a pageant winner. “The idea was designing something that offered a ton of bang for the buck without a lot of effort. I wanted something retro, but not so far out of the box where a guy at home couldn’t replicate the look,” Stupski says. “In essence, it’s simply a flat-black hood with billboard ‘Hemi’ graphics that makes use of primary and tertiary colors, but the result is pretty dramatic. Since a car like this doesn’t have a long hood to begin with, I terminated the back of the hood graphics before the windshield, which creates a body-colored border around them. The block-style lettering makes it easy for anyone at home to mask off, and outlining it in blue makes it really stand out. The lowercase ‘Hemi’ font is something different from the norm, and it merely suggests there’s a Hemi instead of screaming ‘Hemi.’ ”
Owning a mainstream project car can be a double-edged sword. Sure, parts are plentiful and easy to find, but it’s tough to give cars like this a unique look that hasn’t already been done a million times. Fortunately, something as simple as a stripe package can go a long way. “I’ve always felt that the early ’70s A-bodies lacked a cool stripe package. The standard SS racing stripes are timeless and work well, but something the car would have really benefitted from is a stripe that helped cut down the massive sides of the car,” Kris Horton says. “The ’70-72 Chevelles have beautiful body lines, but there’s no denying or downplaying their massive sail panel and rear quarter-panel bulges. The stripe package I came up with helps remedy this problem and adds a bit of character to an already aggressive-looking car. I debated adding wording to the stripe, but ultimately decided that it would detract from an otherwise clean car. I think this look is a cool alternative to what was available back in the Chevelle’s heyday, and I invite anyone who loves these cars to give this stripe a shot.”
In the fickle world of automotive trends, two-tone paint seems to be on the way out. From certain angles, Ben Hermance’s interpretation of a modernized ’70 Cutlass takes on certain two-tone cues without going down the same hackneyed path. “If you just paint the hood black, you can end up with a car that looks primered. To avoid that, the black extends into the top of the fenders, the top of the doors, around the windows, and down the A-pillar. This nets a two-tone effect without painting the entire top of the car. It also adds contrast and separates the hood from the rest of the car. For stripes, I wanted something different than the typical Rally Sport treatment. The solution was adding an asymmetrical stripe on the driver side only, much like they used in some vintage race cars.”
During the muscle car heyday, no one pulled off wild graphics like Chrysler, however, instead of rehashing the bumblebees and glorified cartoon characters of the ’60s, Keith Kaucher toned down the garish factor and aimed for a more understated look. “I’m not a big graphics guy, so in the rare instance that I add them, my goal is to accent a car’s body lines, not take away from them. I don’t like graphics that run diagonally and break up the body lines, like the Starsky & Hutch Torino,” he says. “The ’68 Charger already has a distinct Coke-bottle shape, so I accentuated that with dual hockey sticks, one that follows the hipline of the car, and another that follows the lower rocker line. This balances the flow of the car from front to back, and draws your eye to the ‘Hemi’ lettering that warns people of what’s under the hood. This vintage of Charger had fenders that bowed out at the wheels, and back in near the front doorjamb. This creates a void at the door, and the graphics fill in that gap.”