Expression Session: flame on!

Adding a flame design to your car can either make or break the overall look. Here are some tips on how to get it right

Photographers: Ryan Carter

A killer flame-job can turn a so-so streeter into a neck snapper. Conversely, a lame blazing can ruin an otherwise perfectly good car — it’s all in the details. So how do you determine what’s hot and what’s not before breaking out the masking tape? Let’s have a look.

First published in the April 2005 issue of Street Machine

As with anything of this nature, there’s an element of personal preference. There are no hard and fast rules but there are some generally accepted guidelines. First up, not all cars can carry off the same type of flame design. A bitchin’-looking flame job should complement the lines of the car rather than clash with them. When laying flames, always pay special attention to the shape of the car. Try to work with the car’s natural lines to keep everything flowing nicely. You should have a general idea of where you want the flames to go or you’ll end up with a very ineffective mess that runs all over the place.

Flames usually look best with a complementary pinstripe — usually a bright green or blue is a safe bet. A small drop-shadow can help stand the flames off the paintwork. Regardless, spend some time getting the design and flow right. Use photocopied drawings of your car to work out your initial design. However, lots of chalk work on the actual car will do wonders for the finished result. And no matter how much time you invest in masking, if the flames don’t look right, then rip it all off and start again — it’s way easier at this stage than after you’ve laid on a few layers of expensive paint. Have a flaming good time!

Stylistic assessment


Flames suit the flowing lines of the early 70s Corvettes extremely well. In this design there are three main peaks — one over the top of each guard and one up the middle of the bonnet. These peaks are separated by troughs in the Corvette’s naturally low areas between the centre of the bonnet and the guards.

These shapes serve to highlight and emphasize the existing lines and the bonnet bulge of the Corvette. In this case, the flames deliberately frame the badge — making it a highlight or feature as opposed to something you’d rather hide.


While not everybody’s cup of tea, this abstract flame design is an example of how in some cases you can step away from traditional designs and opt for something a little more leftfield.

The fun, laid-back style of this ’57 allows you to go a bit wild on the flames without being too concerned about traditional rules or styling cues.

BA Falcon

The flames on this car help to give it some rake. Although the car actually sits perfectly flat, the bulk created by the flames gives a slight nose-down effect. This is helped by the general upward sweep of the design — from the bottom of the front guard to the top of the rear door.

A negative flame at the very front prevents the front guard from becoming all one colour. Try to fit your flame design around features like door handles and badges without forcing the flames to take what looks like an obvious or unnatural detour.

LJ Torana

Since the Torana is such a short, stubby little car, the flames need to be kept to the middle horizontal third to try to give it some length. If they stretched from the top of the bonnet to the bottom of the sill it would simply emphasise the shortness of the car.

Also, the flames themselves are of a reasonably long and flowing type, again to help give the car some length.

’34 Coupe

Hot rods & flames — where it all started. A lot of cars will look too busy with multiple layers of flames but a traditional rod is one body style where they work exceptionally well.

The flames have a general wedge or arrow shape, coming from the top and bottom of the cowl and converging to a point about two thirds of the way up the door. Running the flames into the rear guards would be a disaster.

Check out some SM feature cars with killer flame jobs for inspiration: