Our colour red, 9 June

This morning heading out to the beach I noticed the reflections of our trees

We never owned a car for thirty years in Sydney. We didn’t like cars and didn’t want their environmental cost. I have previously written about cars, their terrible death toll (more than a million people die on roads every year[i]), the pollution, their transformation of culture and cities, their acceleration of capitalism – capital, production (Ford) and marketing.  Alfred Sloane of General Motors initiated ‘planned obsolescence’ during the Great Depression, pioneering new models each year with advertising inciting dissatisfaction with cars people owned. Apple has used this environmentally disastrous strategy, brilliantly.

Living in the country, a car is a near necessity, but we have one car between us. And the one we have we enjoy, especially its colour. And I have just remembered my little red pedal car I loved as a child.

In his ‘Natural History’ (78 CE), Pliny the Elder noted that red was said to be derived from the blood of dragons and elephants. James Fox writes, ‘Though hundreds of thousands of years have elapsed since our ancestors first started using hematite, red’s oldest associations—with blood, love, life, danger, anger, sin, and death—are still intact.’[ii]

The Aztec emperor, Montezuma alone had the right to wear the most brilliant, vibrant red. A special tax was paid in cochineal insects which produce the dye. They live on prickly pear cactus and females produce carminic acid to deter predators. ‘Pinch a female cochineal insect, and blood-red dye pours out. Apply the dye to mordant cloth, and the fabric will remain red for centuries.’[iii]

I glanced down and was struck by the beauty of the colour

We used the car to get to a protest in Coffs Harbour on Friday to demand the state government cease logging native forests in areas intended to form part of the promised Great Koala National Park. It is incongruous – that’s late capitalism for you.

Logging protest, Coffs Harbour, 11 Aug 2025

‘When the design team proposed soul red as the colour for a new generation of cars, the engineers were captivated by its breathtaking beauty. Beauty doesn’t come easy, however. . . Soul red has a unique mix of translucence and depth of colour.’

In his book on red, Michel Pastoureau writes, ‘When it comes to colours, we are prisoners of language and of lexical data. The named colour often appears to play a more important role in the social context than the perceived colour.’ [iv] Our car is Soul Crystal Red (but apparently, it’s ‘Soul Red Crystal’). Soul Crystal Red is a much better sequence.

Anthropologist Eric Michaels writes of the richness of a colour and its name, ‘Desert Aboriginal ground, body, implement, or rock art employs earth pigments, animal products, plants, feathers. Each material, in a manner Levi-Strauss associates with ‘bricolage’, retains its association with its source, origin, locale and brings these into the works as elements of its meaning . . . Even the words for the elements used may signify all of the associations: red ochre from Karrku Mountain is called karrku which may signify ‘red’ generally. Thus colour is only one basis for identifying, choosing and then ‘reading’ a medium. But with acrylics, colour is the only basis for differentiation.’ [v]

‘Applying a concept car colour to mass production models requires herculean efforts on the engineering side. Whereas a concept car colour may be concocted with no regard for the rigors of practicality, a paint for street cars must be created with materials that are well suited for mass production and that can withstand the harsh conditions of real life.

Soul red has a unique mix of translucence and depth of colour. To realize this mix, the engineering team devised a novel coating structure. A semi-transparent paint layer was coated on a reflecting layer comprised of regularly arrayed aluminium flakes. A clear layer that emphasizes translucence was coated on top of the paint layer. To reproduce the colour intensity of soul red faithfully and keep the colour perfectly universal on the whole of the body surface, the thickness of the coating on every part was meticulously controlled.

Also, TAKUMINURI, a cutting-edge robotic painting technology, was crucial to applying soul red to mass production cars. TAKUMINURI uses data obtained through simulation painting done by experienced human painters – such as the distribution of coating thickness ― to improve robotic painting. In light of the data, the painting process for each part was reformed and a new controlling system was developed.

Masahumi Shinoda, a veteran engineer with a 25-year career in car painting, summed up the challenge of creating soul red like this: “The accumulation of innovative technologies that Mazda has developed so far. Collaboration among the paint maker, production engineers, technology research engineers, body design engineers and designers. If either of these two had been lacking, it would have been impossible to apply soul red to mass production cars.”

In the Auto Colour Awards 2013, an event organized by a Japanese industry group, soul red premium metallic won the Auto Colour Designers’ Selection award in the exterior segment. This was the moment when the five-year struggle that brought the ultimate red to the street was rewarded with public recognition.’[vi]

‘Our takumi colours (Soul Red Metallic, Soul Red Crystal and Machine Gray Metallic) are more complicated than what you’d find on any other car at their price points,” “Our designers want cars to be seen as art and look great in all light. Because of this, they challenged industry norms to make a scalable selection of premium paint colours that highlighted the cars’ details in a way no other automaker could do this side of a custom Mercedes Designo colour (which usually cost a few thousand dollars extra) or some of the colours offered on the Nissan GT-R. Soul Red Crystal, by comparison, is $595 extra, making it a bargain next to these two very comparable colour and paint depth comparisons.’[vii]

We lose depth and place (Karrku Mountain) for surface sheen. I only wash the car every few months.


[i] William Kremer, ‘More than a million people die on roads every year. Meet the man determined to prevent them’, BBC, 19 May 2024.

[ii] James Fox, The World According to Colour: A Cultural History, Allen Lane, 2022.

[iii] See Amy Butler Greenfield, A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire, HarperCollins, 2005. The Spanish quickly monopolised the world’s supply of cochineal and made a fortune

[iv] Michel Pastoureau, Red: the History of a Color, trans., Jody Gladding, Princeton UP, 2017.

[v] Eric Michaels, ‘Bad Aboriginal Art’ in Bad Aboriginal Art: Tradition, Media, and Technological Horizons, Allen & Unwin 1994, p155

[vi] ‘Mazda Soul Red: Breathtakingly Beautiful but Gruelingly Challenging’.

[vii] Mazda product communication specialist Jacob Brown wrote in an email. John Huetter, ‘Mazda’s slick new ‘Soul Red Crystal’ colour might be trickier for painters’, June 9, 2017


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