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More drivers opt for matte paint finishes

Car enthusiasts’ hearts are racing over the high-end matte look, which is easier and cheaper than ever to achieve

Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Savannah Vallier’s car already stood out. A red Mini Cooper, it had Union Jack-style red, white, and blue side-view mirrors.

Then the 21-year-old Hudson, N.H., native got a job detailing cars at Northeast Auto Salon. The more she saw cars pulling out of the bay with brand-new matte-finish adhesive-vinyl wraps, the more she wanted the look on her own car. For the cost of materials, owner Brian Beauvais gave her Mini a fierce black matte finish.

The car now has “full Bat status,” Vallier said in an Instagram post.

Beauvais doesn’t advertise much. Business at his five-year-old shop has tripled each year, he says, mostly from clients looking for matte — or nonshiny — car finishes, which have become increasingly popular since they were introduced several years ago.

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As adhesive technology improves, matte wraps, as well as satin and chrome finishes, are taking a bite out of the traditional car painting industry.

Kris Brouillet, a service manager for Kia in Concord, N.H., drives a 2008 Mustang Shelby GT500. When he first bought it, he took it to Beauvais for paint correction. But after the car was scratched twice — first by his cat, then by someone on the street — he started thinking about a vinyl wrap.

“I wanted something unique, but not too crazy,” he said. “And I didn’t want any upkeep. This takes five minutes to clean.”

He ended up settling on a matte metallic gray, which, unlike other matte finishes, “does catch the light a little. The whole ‘murdered out’ look is cool — black on black on black — but it’s a little played out.”

The matte finish trend was born in Hollywood and other celebrity havens, among owners of exotic cars who wanted their vehicles to look hip and unusual. Kanye West’s Lamborghini, reportedly worth $750,000, is matte black. Justin Bieber last year had his Ferrari 458 Italia modified from matte ice blue to matte red. LeBron James reportedly has a white matte Chevy Camaro SS as part of his car collection. Over the past few years the demand for matte finishes has spread across the country, Beauvais says.

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A 2008 Mustang Shelby GT500 with a matte finish and stripes.
A 2008 Mustang Shelby GT500 with a matte finish and stripes.Suzanne Kreiter

Many owners prefer the classic black matte finish that was once confined to custom hot rods and street racers, he says. But an increasing number of customers, such as the owner of a 2005 Bentley Continental GT that was in the shop recently, are opting for white matte.

“I think it looks insanely classy,” says Beauvais. The industry has been quick to capitalize on demand, with a full spectrum of new colors.

Wrapping a vehicle involves applying pressure-sensitive vinyl to a car’s painted surfaces. A typical wrap should last 5 to 10 years and can be completely removed to expose the car’s original paint job.

“You’re basically applying dry paint to the car,” Beauvais explains. It’s the same process by which transportation companies have begun wrapping city buses in elaborate printed advertising.

Besides the variety of finishes, one appeal of car wraps is the cost: They can be considerably cheaper than a quality paint job. Some car owners are buying clear film wraps to protect their existing paint jobs. Though such films were prone to yellowing a few years ago, the technology has improved.

David Steele is a Los Angeles-based musician who attended Berklee College of Music for a few years in the early 1990s. He’s also a car guy now serving as director of the American Hot Rod Foundation. He’s been driving his custom 1972 Chevelle SS for more than 25 years. About eight years ago he painted it matte black.

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“It was gold, and I just didn’t want to worry about it anymore,” he says. “Gives it a slight ‘Mad Max’ attitude.”

A man who likes old music and old cars, Steele jokes: “I’m always 50 years behind on everything.” For once, he was ahead of the curve: Shortly after he painted his car, he started seeing high-end rides like Mercedes and Lamborghinis in matte paint jobs or matte wraps around Los Angeles.

In a place like New Hampshire, a unique car can give the owner a measure of local celebrity.

“Unfortunately, girls like to lean on cars,” says Brouillet, the Mustang driver, with a laugh. “Now I don’t have to have a heart attack like I did before.”


James Sullivan can be reached at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.