The process is not as simple as people think.
Ordering a new car in a custom color is one of the coolest ways to make it stand out. The world has become so obsessed with seeing how people spec their hypercars to the point that there are now entire channels dedicated to showing them off. Luckily, custom colors can be had at a more affordable level from companies like Porsche and BMW. Porsche's paint-to-sample and BMW's Individual Program have yielded some of the coolest cars that we have seen, but many people still don't know how the process works.
Even though BMW has some of the coolest colors readily available on its M cars, there are some colors that we wish the company would bring back. The BMW individual paint option gives owners the ability to chose from almost any color in the spectrum, yet most dealerships only order cars in stock colors. We sat down with Chris Marino, General Sales Manager for Century West BMW, which specializes in ordering cars with the most unique paint options on the planet. We were surprised to find out that all of the color and spec decisions are made unilaterally by Marino. That means all of the cars in the showroom were his vision, and his alone. The man has great taste!
When we walked into Century West, we were amazed to find all kinds of unique colors such as Signal Green, Fire Orange, Grigio Medio, Laguna Seca Blue, Daytona Violet Metallic, Santorini Blue, Miami Blue (a Porsche color) and many more. Marino aims to pick colors that he hasn't seen before in order to make the cars special. If a car is typically ordered in a certain interior/exterior combination (such as Daytona Violet with grey interior), he strives to build one that is different. Even if a color doesn't belong to BMW, like Miami Blue, it can still be used if the factory allows it. This is where the process gets a bit difficult, because the factory doesn't always go along with whatever Marino wants.
Marino says that the factory "doesn't deviate much" but there are people who can "persuade the factory" to do certain things. Some cars cannot currently be ordered with individual colors such as the X models or the 2 Series (although Marino says that X models will soon have this option). Everything else seems to be fair game and we saw custom colors on everything from a 3 Series wagon to a 7 Series and M cars. Almost all of the cars all fully optioned with a ton of carbon fiber and expensive options that you won't see on most dealer lots. Marino says "why not go all out with these cars? What's the point of ordering a stripped out model?"
Unfortunately, after adding the cost of the individual paint and all of the options, most of the cars in Marino's showroom can have much higher price tags than a run-of-the-mill BMW. The M3 starts at around $65,000, but some of the ones we saw were over $100,000. Some people have criticized Century West for these prices, but we think that the critics have completely missed the point. If someone wants to order a Yas Marina Blue M3, they are welcome to do so. Many BMW dealerships around the world have them in stock. However, try to find a Fire Orange M3 with a manual transmission and Marino's dealership might be the only one that has it. The supply is low and the demand is very high.
These cars are priced according to how hard it is to get them, which turns out to be quite difficult. Marino told us that "many dealerships don't even know the process" to order a custom color. Being in Los Angeles means Century West is in a good market to sell uniquely painted cars, but not all BMW dealerships have this luxury. Chances are that if you walked in to your local BMW dealership to order a custom painted car, they'd look at you like you had two heads. Century West sells cars quickly, which means that it gets a greater allocation for custom cars. Marino is definitely not hurting for sales.
Once Marino decides on a color that he wants, the factory gets back to him to decide if it's possible. Sometimes the factory will have to hold a board meeting to decide on a color. When this happens, Marino may get be told that a certain number of cars need to be ordered in that color to make it financially viable. If 20 cars need to be painted in that color for the factory to say it's viable, Marino needs to decide whether it is worth ordering something that isn't as unique, or ask the customer to absorb the cost of the other 19 cars. When the color is finally agreed upon, Marino has to catch a car at the right stage of the production process.
Marino says that he has been "less than an hour" late to chose a color, which has caused the car to go into the next stage of the manufacturing process. The factory needs to halt the entire line and switch out the paint in the robots just to do one of these custom colors. That is why they can cost upwards of $5,000. We asked Marino why he goes to such trouble and how he chooses all of the color combinations. He said that with every car he strives to make something that could "show up as a barn find later." He also aims to create cars that are "specifically for women" because he believes that the female demographic is severely under served.
Many of the cars on his lot such as the Tourmaline Violet 440i and the Rose Quartz 328d Wagon were made specifically for a female customer, although he never says no to a man who comes in wanting to buy one. Marino told us that "there are plenty of colors that are designed with men in mind, but not enough for women." Marino also said that he would love to do more cars with individual interiors, but the process takes much longer and has a much higher cost. He even mentioned a customer in Hawaii who "cut down a sandalwood tree and sent it to BMW to use in his dashboard." According to Marino, he will soon start to order cars that have unique interior touches as well.
After speaking to Marino, we have an even greater appreciation for what goes into building a custom painted car. It isn't as easy as checking a box on a spec sheet and waiting three months to receive the car. Some of the cars at Century West BMW are indeed marked up, but that is because someone is willing to pay it. Marino says that he will admit when he is wrong and drop the price if the cars sits too long, but this "does not happen often." If you can find a dealership that has colors that are this good for under MSRP, we advise you to run there now and hand them a check. If not, Century West is one of the best places to go shopping for a BMW in almost every shade of the rainbow.