From nanotech to diamond dust.
The most expensive car paint costs $2,000 a gallon. It's developed by Lexus and replicates the beautiful and vivid blue of the American Morpho butterfly. Except, it isn't actually blue as the American Morpho butterfly's wings have no blue pigment in them at all. It's a trick of the light, and Lexus went to great lengths to recreate the chemical structuring that creates that effect and could only be done using a pigment with 40 separate layers.
It took years to develop and a team of people to apply, but Lexus pulled off a blue paint that you can tell people isn't actually blue with your hand on your heart. However, that's only if you can secure one of the 40 Lexus LC special editions featuring the hue. If Lexus ever offers it as a color option, it will be crazy expensive. That thought led us to wonder what the most expensive paint options are to order from the factory.
"Engineered using mica, metal flake and super-high transparency nano pigments, the paint is applied using PMC's advanced robotic paint system in multiple base coats to enhance color intensity. This is followed by two clear coats to increase the paint's luster," says Acura of its two most expensive paint options for the not-long-for-this-world NSX. Mica is a crystalline mineral that causes the multicolored pearl effect. Nano pigments offer many positive attributes to paint, including an intensity in color and the ability to get an even finish. On the NSX, it's a $6,000 option, and you can see in photos how vibrant the color and saturation is. In person, you can see the depth and shimmer to the paint.
In 2012, BMW made 40 BMW M3 Frozen Black Edition models available, as well as versions in gray, silver, and blue. The special editions celebrated 40 years of BMW's M division and cost $81,060, around $10,000 more than a similar spec model. The Frozen Edition models came with the Competition Package to compliment the 414-hp V8 and dual-clutch transmission, and ride on 19-inch M3 GTS style black wheels. The paint is a delicate matte coat that can be easily damaged, and BMW made customers sign a waiver that voided the warranty if they did not maintain the paintwork properly. The Frozen Edition M3s have held their value reasonably well, and we saw one go for $40,000 last year.
According to legend, the reason the Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union Silver Arrow cars ran with their metal bodywork bare and polished rather than painted with white lead paint was to save weight. Whether it's true or not, the mirror-finish looked incredible. It's expensive to get any kind of real mirror effect from paint; hence it rarely appears on a car. However, Mercedes made its Alubeam paint available for SLS AMG customers at a cost of $12,750. That's on top of the around $200,000 base price of the car.
To get the bluish silver mirror effect of the paint correct, the vehicles have to be painstakingly prepped. The aluminum bodywork is perfectly smooth before the seven layers of deep and slippery-looking paint are applied. Only three per week were made through the production life of the SLS AMG, but the paint doesn't require special care. The color has been available on other Mercedes vehicles since. However, if paint correction for a scratch or a scuff is needed, it's going to be incredibly expensive.
This is not a comprehensive list because when you start talking about truly high-end cars, price isn't publicly discussed. However, one of the 125 people on the list to buy a Koenigsegg Jesko gave a glimpse into the configurator options. The prices are crazy, to say the least. Bare carbon fiber bodywork costs $292,000, and tinted carbon fiber costs a staggering $346,100. It gets more absurd, though, with the naked carbon fiber body option costing $443,000. However, these don't count as paint options. Metallic finishes cost $13,900, pearlescent paint costs $24,800, but if you wanted the Candy colors, Apple Red or Sweet Mandarin, then you would be adding $63,300 to the $2,800,000 base price. Given the cost of the other options and the car, $63,300 for a paint job almost sounds reasonable.
You can pick out a custom color from Porsche for $12,380 right now, but if you want to spend crazy money on paint, you'll want one of the Chromaflair finishes via Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur. The Chromaflair, the specific finish below is Urban Bamboo, shifts in color depending on the viewing angle and lighting. The reason it's so expensive is that the pigment contains a multilayer interference film that is ground into micron-sized flakes. The flakes have an aluminum center core surrounded by a glass-like layer, so a variation in paint layer size affects the variation in color. To get the finish right, the tolerance for the layers is measured in atoms. To call applying the paint painstaking is an understatement.
Unfortunately, Chromaflair is amazing to look at, but a photographer's nightmare. You really have to see a car painted with the pigment to see how stunning it looks.
McLaren thinks of its Speedtail as functional jewelry as much as impeccably engineered automotive transport. Indeed, the hypercar is a work of art, and McLaren is happy to spec all of the 106 made exactly how its customers wish. That includes a customer that wanted her Speedtail to match the hue of a sunset view she loves. However, the most costly paint we've seen reported from the McLaren factory is infused with diamond flakes. At $130,000, it's over the top but not as absurd as the solid-gold toolset you can option or the weighty $56,000 platinum badge.
The cost of this paintwork has never been officially confirmed. However, given the complicated nature of a "geometric pattern consisting of diamond shapes in a unique color contrast," and that Bugatti publicly admitted it came close to giving up on the customer's request, we don't doubt the million-dollar estimate. The problem arose when the diamond pattern became distorted when spread over the Divo's contours and edges. Bugatti had to apply a 2D graphic to a 3D model before painting it. Every one of the 1,600 diamond shapes had to be modified, and even one diamond being a millimeter off would ruin the effect. Bugatti had to meticulously plan out the scheme on a test car before attempting it on the customer's vehicle, which then took a further two weeks to paint by hand before graphite and clear coat went over the top.
When it comes to factory paint, Rolls-Royce's bespoke division is more than willing, if you can afford it, to take on a challenge and make dreams come true. In this case, a paint infused with the dust of a thousand diamonds. Rolls-Royce won't reveal the cost of the paint job, but we believe it's in the double-digit millions. Conservatively, a decent 2-carat will cost around $16,000. However, these were ethically sourced in Namibia by an expert who evaluated the transmission and reflection of light of each diamond. They were then ground to dust and infused into the paint to help create the first Rolls-Royce Ghost Elegance model.