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For New Cars, Will Matte Become the New Black?

It's funny how trends from the car underground slop over into the mainstream, and the latest is the matte or "satin" finish, for cars.

It's origins are murky, but it all probably started with the rat rodders. A rat rodder starts with the same car that a traditional hot rodder would cherry up - usually something from the 40s or 50s - and applies most of the same hot rod tricks. The engine will be modified, the body often chopped and channeled, but then the car is deliberately left unfinished. A hand-tooled leather interior is forsworn in favor of Mexican blankets thrown over the original straw-stuffed bench seats. And there is definitely no kandy-colored tangerine-flake anything: a rat rod is traditionally given a coat of primer out of a rattle can, or even left to rust.

Understanding rat rodding means realizing that it's a social movement more than anything else. It's the new generation of greasers in their twenties and thirties giving the bird to the boomers, accusing those former Fonzies of getting soft and selling out. Central to the whole rat rod claim of moral superiority is the fact that rat rodders do their own work, and then drive their creations to the show. Rat rodders have nothing but distain for shiny "trailer queens" -- cars to precious to be driven. But rat rodding have gone beyond the protest phase, they have their own car shows now. The best is probably Billetproof: go if you get a chance.

Because when you attend to a rat rod show, you'll realize that these "unfinished" cars actually look great! Better, often, than what you see at a traditional auto show or even a hot rod meet-up. And it's not just my (admittedly warped) aesthetic; The light-absorbing quality of a rat rod primer job has been reinterpted and renamed by the high end auto paint shops. Matte has been showing up on trailer queens for about a year now. Check out this photo of a black matte back Rolls Royce, or these black vinyl wrapped Bimmers. Pretty cool, eh? More importantly, cool in a brand new way. And these examples are from the hot-rodder and tuner crowd, respectively.

Then, two weeks ago, at a car show in Paris, Mazda rolled out the MX-5 Matte and Black "special edition" of the Miata. And just this week there's been a leak from Ford: the new factory-tuned Focus, the RS500 will be, that's right, matte black! Sadly, both cars are limited run and restricted to the European markets, but as this matte blue Lambo indicates, the trend shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. If the momentum holds, we'll see matte paint as a factory option within a decade, most assuredly.

photo: Ford