Car Design: Classic Brown Interiors

There has been a revival of brown automobile interiors in recent years.  Although this alone would not prompt me to purchase such a car today, Audi, BMW, the Land Rover Evoque, upscale Toyotas and the loveable little Fiat 500 (among many others) offer retro-style brown/saddle interior options.

BMW Cohiba Brown Interior

Contemporary BMW Cohiba Brown Interior

I was a boy in the 1970s when brown was a popular color for cars, kitchen and bath fixtures, appliances and shag carpet.  Brown is a color I grew up with.  The new car interiors are very nice – see the BMW interior to the right –  but I really admire the design and beauty of classic automobiles, so here follows a short list of some favorites.

The Citroen SM.

Interior: Citroen SMThis car was one of the most advanced automobiles extant on its debut in 1971.  Featuring a lovely Maserati V6 and the trademark hydraulic suspension (among many other great technological hardware) the SM unfortunately cost Citroen its independence as the cost to develop the car was never recovered.  The perfect “personal car”, this executive-class coupe was all luxury inside.  One picture is not enough… here is a nice montage of SM details:

Citroen SM Details

Next up, a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia from the American brochure of 1971 (courtesy enthusiast website Drivers Found).

1971 Brown Karmann Ghia Interior

In the mid-70s, I used to peer over the window jambs of the few old Volkswagens in my neighborhood.  In the summer, especially, you could smell the horse hair stuffing if the windows were open (or the top was down).  I have not smelled this lovely odor for many years now, but I know it would take me right back to that 10-year old wandering around on his bike in NJ.  I had many, many Volkswagens over the years (I have a 1977 Scirocco today – guess what color interior?).  Not an expensive machine, but such a quality old motorcar.

Since I am reminiscing about cars of my youth, I’ll need to mention the Mercedes 300D.  My neighbor’s dad had one of these, and it was a lovely, solid piece of rolling art.  This was a slow-moving car, but it motored majestically on all-wheel independent suspension and those fantastic MB-Tex psuedo leather seats. (note: to this day, I do not like actual leather seats.  Probably another reason I will not be buying a new brown car – everything is leather these days).

Brown MB-Tex Interior

Here is a 1970s 450SEL Mercedes interior.  You can see the all-encompassing devotion to functionalism.  These old Mercedes have particularly large-diameter steering wheels.  I don’t know if the modern Benzes stick to this tradition, but that larger wheel gives you a nice sense of, lets call it, relaxed entitlement.  Note the wood control panel; the little VW above got along with a nice wood-grain decal, but be assured the Benz is the real thing.

70's Benz Interior

It is time to drop the mid-70s bomb that is the Porsche 928 Op-Art interior.  Originally conceived as a replacement to the venerable 911 model, the 928 was perhaps a wee-bit advanced in style and feature set for the traditional Porsche customer.  In fact, this car is very much like the Citroen SM in this regard – a little ahead of its time.  Little Brown Porsche 928

The picture to right is a scale model, but I wanted to find a brown exterior shot to support the incredible interior you are about to see.  This automobile was designed in the early-mid 1970s, when Porsche was still a very small boutique manufacturer.  Although they had recently had success at the top of motorsport (overall victory at the 24 hours of Le Mans), they were not yet the cash-flush company that would threaten to buy VW outright (like they almost did in pre-recession 2008/2009).  This car had the motor in the front, as opposed to the rear like all Porsches did in the 50s and 60s.  And it was a modern liquid-cooled V8 unlike those aircooled little 4 and 6 cylinder units of prior models.  To celebrate this technological breakthrough, the company styled the otherwise functional and rigorous interior with the most incredible seat cushion inserts you can imagine.

928 InteriorIt is just… mind blowing.  I’m not sure how many years they offered this seat option, but it came in a orange-toned color as well:

Orange 928 Interior

Note how the instrument binnacle is still in black.  I’m sure the idea is to keep the driver’s eyes on the road and not distracted by that lustrous interior color.  The binnacle would actually move up/down with the steering wheel height adjustment – quite novel at the time.

Porsche Op ArtThe center console was quite influential, as many makers (Acura most notably) copied the long, integrated sweep towards the gearshift and armrest.

There are so many great cars from the 60s and 70s I want to post about, so this will have to be a multi-part post.  As a parting shot, we’ll use the interior from a VW Scirocco.  This is not mine; I hinted above that I had a brown interior in my 77 but it is actually a light tan color called Bedouin.  One of my favorite colors for Sciroccos was Brazil Brown, a metallic copper-like tone.  The interior was a little darker than Bedouin, so we’ll use this.

VW Scirocco Brown Interior

Any favorite car interiors you have, brown or otherwise?  Share your thoughts with me.

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2 thoughts on “Car Design: Classic Brown Interiors

  1. Ah the 77 VW Scirocco. My very first car. I bought it brand new when I was one year out of High School. It was cobalt blue with a beige leatherette interior. It had a 1588CC engine that put out a whopping 78BHP. but it would go from 0-50 in under 6 seconds and deliver almost 40 MPG. I went everywhere in that car and even raced it in SCCA Showroom Stock B. Thanks for the memory jog.

    • Thanks for the comment! My 4th car (and fourth VW) was a ’79 Scirocco which I had in college days. Platinum silver with that wonderful red interior. I was just on a favorite boulevard yesterday, for the first time in years, and it made me remember a time when I went light-to-light with an E30 M3 way back when. He could not drop me in first-to-second. That little 1588cc motor is quite a gem. The Cobalt and Bedouin combo is gorgeous and everybody loves it, so classy. Giugiaro really got it right with this car.

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