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Why Don’t Cars Have Gold Trim Anymore?

When I was a kid, the Brandt family hauler was a second-hand 1995 Oldsmobile Aurora. This lovely sedan with its unique style, well-appointed interior and potent Northstar V8 engine was something special — and I could tell, even in my youth. One time, I noticed another Aurora and saw that it did not have gold emblems like the one my parents had. I asked my dad why the emblems were different and he told me "because we have the gold package." I asked him what that meant, thinking it brought with it a host of extra luxurious features, but he told me "it means it has gold emblems."

I couldn’t tell if he was joking, but now I see that gold emblems were signifiers of luxury and opulence in the 1990s — even though they didn’t necessarily mean anything. It was this weird sort-of-trend left over from the old days of luxury cars, with gold being used as a way to let people know you’re so rich you can afford to drive around in a car gilded in precious metal.

Something else I’ve noticed is that gold exterior trim seems to appear on pretty average cars. The first-generation Aurora is an exception, since it was a pretty legit luxury sedan — but I feel most of the time I see gold emblems, it’s on some sort of "special edition" of a Honda Accord, an Oldsmobile Bravada or something else I don’t normally associate with the upper class. Toyota seemed to be particularly into the trend putting gold on everything from the Solara to the Supra to the Land Cruiser.

It kind of makes sense to put gold on a luxury car — but why did we ever put gold on regular, non-luxury vehicles? Is it supposed to trick us into thinking something is a luxury car? Has anyone ever looked at a Toyota Camry with gold trim and thought "nice Lexus"? In any case, this trend seemed to come to an abrupt end around the turn of the 21st century.

I have a theory as to why gold trim went out of style. I think it’s because back in the ’90s, cars needed to be embellished to give off the idea of luxury. Putting gold trim on a regular car created a facsimile of luxury without needing to actually be luxurious. Fast forward to 2017 and cars, in general, are so nice that we don’t need gold trim anymore. The cheapest new cars you can buy today are so much better than the cheapest cars of 20 years ago that automakers don’t need to fool anyone into thinking they’re nice. The cars are good enough on their own merits. Features like Bluetooth, backup cameras and dozens of airbags are standard now — where a couple decades ago, you’d have to upgrade to a higher trim if you wanted a radio with a CD player instead of just a tape deck. And if you did spring for that higher trim and you got fancy tech like power windows and heated mirrors, then you bet you wanted to show it off with some gold emblems on the outside of your car.

Or maybe gold went out of style because it just doesn’t look that great. Maybe it’s out of fashion because it isn’t cool to be rich anymore. Whatever the case may be, it’s probably another one of those automotive trends that are best left in the past.

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