Home » Since AT&T Is Down, Let’s Look At How They Used To Make Their Vans Look Great: Cold Start

Since AT&T Is Down, Let’s Look At How They Used To Make Their Vans Look Great: Cold Start

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It looks like there are huge cellular outages going on right now, and I know that’s a pain for a lot of people. How are you supposed to read The Autopian and get the soul-enhancing benefits we provide if those ones and zeroes beamed over the air can’t get to your little hand-computer? It’s bad, real bad, but as a way of taking the pain away, just a bit, I invite anyone who still has internet access to enjoy this wonderful 1973 (maybe 1975) guide from the Bell System (what AT&T used to be called) describing how to paint vans.

This guide is a great example of what many may think of as the Golden Age of corporate design, when wonderful and meticulous and likely fussy designers set clean, rational, and subtly beautiful standards for typography, logo design and usage, colors, proportions, grids, all that stuff, and these designers tended to be absolutely draconian about the enforcement of these rules.

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This guide is a real rabbit hole to dive into because of the sheer number of vehicles shown; they’re mostly vans, but I love that designers did the measurements for so many of them. They start with Fords:

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That’s an early Econoline there. Note the use of the elegant king of typefaces, the Swiss master Helvetica, and the really fascinating color scheme choices that the Bell System used: look at that green! It’s like, what, a lichen green?

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I love these colors because they feel so unexpected for a company. They’re not flashy or attention-grabbing, they feel strangely institutional, but in a reassuring instead of a depressing way. That gold/yellow/ochre is almost a school bus color or perhaps a hard hat/safety equipment hue, a hint at the notion that these vans do work, real work. And that blue, well, it just works.

Also, I don’t think I knew they had a logo on the roof!

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Picture it without the blue stripe. It just doesn’t work! Besides, blue ties in with the Saul Bass-designed Bell System logo. Here, watch his pitch for this simplified logo, because it’s a motherflapping icon:

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Is that video almost a half hour long? Hell yeah it is. Get comfy.

Here’s a bit of the copy from the guide about “van trucks” and explaining why there’s a broken line running through the ochre stripe:

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Let’s see some more vans!

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Oh yeah, they didn’t forget the old Econolines!

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Or the Mopar workhorse, the Dodge Tradesman!

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Look at the lovely, sporty, and subtle treatment for official Bell System sedans! I guess they used these to transport dignitaries or the mimmified body of Alexander Graham Bell, set in the back seat.

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These look like Ford F-series trucks, and I think its interesting the livery is limited to the doors and a solid lichen green on the rear sections.

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And, holy crap, Bell System Jeeps and Broncos? To be fair, this livery feels a little phoned-in. Still, it’d be very cool to have a Bell System Bronco.

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I hope these massive companies figure their shit out, so everyone can read our site, like the Almighty intends. It’s also worth remembering that the first T in AT&T stands for “telegraph.” Good luck trying to get them to install one, though.

 

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The48thRonin
The48thRonin
16 days ago

Wait a sec, Bell used to have “pants trucks” as their *official* livery? That’s amazing

Disphenoidal
Disphenoidal
1 month ago

I can confirm that the same livery graced AT&T hard hats.

Nick Fortes
Nick Fortes
1 month ago

There were tons of these near where I grew up in New London CT. I believe they used the name Southern New England Telephone in CT only. New England Telephone was the rest of NE. SNET was my first beeper-then-cellphone company I ever had.

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
1 month ago

Thank you for finding/posting that video: I enjoyed every minute. In its treatment of perception and trends, it’s actually timeless.

JKcycletramp
JKcycletramp
1 month ago

That lichen green is so good. Now I want to mimic this livery on my campervan.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
1 month ago

My dad was a cableman for AT&T Long Lines and he drove the “B” version of the trucks, including at least one 4WD Ford beast with a 460 that would climb walls. That sedan in the picture sure looks like a Rambler (!) – dad drove one of those, too, for a little while as well as a Rambler station wagon. As I recall the Ramblers were not white, though, they were in that lichen green. The trucks were as pictured in white with a lichen green utility body, always a Ford F-something, guessing 350s since they were always pretty stout for the time. They had to be to run off road along cable lines.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 month ago

Now please do a review of the typography of some modern communications companies. What font would zEErb use? What colour scheme for kU7za?

D-Dog
D-Dog
1 month ago

Jason – any idea why the ochre line is 1/8″ narrower than the blue line? Does it make the lines more artistically interesting if they are not exactly the same width?

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 month ago
Reply to  D-Dog

There is a lot of colour theory to dig into to answer that, but the high level is that you need to view the colours in relation to each other. It’s almost like proportionate mixing. In this case, the colours are close to complimentary to each other, which would set up a strong contrast to make these two seamingly dull colours vibrate in proximity to each other and appear livelier. The different widths are a way of controlling the proportion of that effect.

D-Dog
D-Dog
1 month ago

Thanks for the explanation. Very interesting stuff!

Headfullofair
Headfullofair
1 month ago

The van and utility pickup are available as Tonka trucks that faithfully reproduce the Bell branding, though not the underlying utility vehicles. I have the van on my desk and it’s glorious.

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
1 month ago

And, holy crap, Bell System Jeeps and Broncos? 

I remember seeing a few Mountain Bell Broncos (or maybe K5 Blazers?) running around as a kid in the ’80s.

Hotwirez
Hotwirez
1 month ago

Interestingly, the lede picture depicts the van of a company that was not a RBOC and was not part of the AT&T breakup in ’82. Cincinnati Bell also used the classic bell symbol until 2016, far outlasting any of the others phone companies’ use of the logo.

Cincinnati Bell recently renamed themselves to something that sounds like a German breakfast cereal.

Angel "the Cobra" Martin
Angel "the Cobra" Martin
1 month ago

My friend works at PG&E and bought an old supervisors truck and restored it to the original brown and yellow color scheme. He is constantly asked about selling it. I am sure the same would happen with AT&T liveried vehicles.

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