Nowadays, if you ever attend an auto race, you would probably have a hard time distinguishing which car represents which country as most of them have sponsorship liveries all over and often similar colors. This was the main reason why in the early days of racing each country was required to choose a representing color and make the car design as simple as possible.
Racing colors – 1900s
During the early 1900s, all vehicles competing in organized motorsport events were required to be painted with an auto racing color that indicated the nationality of the car or driver, the competitor in a race. Often, these colors were quite different from the ones used in politics or other sports. When Britain first competed in 1902, they had to pick a different color from the national flag colors of red, blue, and white only because these colors had already been taken by the USA, Germany, and France.
“The use of distinctive colors of nationality is compulsory when the supplementary regulations of the competition require it. These colors are determined by the nationality of the competitor,” according to the Code Sportif International (C.S.I.) of the Federation Internationale de L’Automobile (F.I.A.).
Furthermore, every component part of a car had to be manufactured in the country – participant in a race; the driver also had to be a national of that same country.
“One of the conditions of the race is that the cars must be the absolute production of their respective nationalities. This rule is rigid, and cannot be evaded. The application of it handicapped England in the first years of the contest, for the art of manufacturing the electric coil, the most vital part of the machinery, in which the French were adepts[sic], was only acquired by England recently. With such tremendous international trade issues depending upon the result, it will be readily understood how keen will be the struggle,” annoted in a 1903 article.
But who came up with these rules in the first place?
Image Source: en.wikipedia.org
Auto racing colors have their origins in the Gordon Bennett Cup competition which was held every year from 1900 to 1905. For the race in 1900, red was assigned to the USA, white – to Germany, blue – to France, etc. When England first competed in 1902, all the colors of the British national flag had already been taken; therefore, Selwyn Francis Edge – a British entrepreneur and racing driver, decided to paint his Napier olive green, which gave birth to the popular British Racing Green color.
After winning the race in 1902, Britain was given the honor to host the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup. But motor racing events were illegal in Britain at that time; therefore, it was decided that the 1903 race would be held in Ireland – a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, where the local laws were “adjusted” to road racing. As a sign of respect for their Irish hosts, the British painted their cars with shamrock green, which represents the color of shamrock – a young sprig of clover, one of Ireland’s national symbols. Nowadays the shamrock green, as well as other shades of green are worn on the well known Irish holiday Saint Patrick’s Day.
1920s – 1960s
Later on, the British have adopted different shades of green. Most often, a darker shade of green dominated, but there were times when the British opted for lighter shades of green just like the Hersham and Walton Motors (HWM) auto racing team did during the 1950s.
Image Source: www.autocar.co.uk
The very first time, British auto racing teams used the darkest shade of green was in 1929, when William Grover-William drove a Bugatti in the first Monaco Grand Prix. That particular shade of green has become the British Racing Green we know today.
After the World War II, according to Wikipedia, “colours were defined in terms of body, bonnet, chassis, numbers and their backgrounds. When the chassis was no longer exposed, the chassis colour was shown in various ways, e.g. the parallel blue stripes of the Cunningham team and other US teams in the 1950s. Porsche in the 1950s and 1960s also retained the silver colouring, although other German teams in the 1960s (such as BMW) returned to white paint.”
During the same period of time, other changes have happened. The auto racing color was no longer determined by the country of origin or by the nationality of the driver(s) like it used to. After the World War II, the nationality of the team entering the race determined the color of the car.
Sponsorship liveries in the late 1960s
Image Source: en.wikipedia.org
During the late 1960s, sponsorship liveries had already been widely used in the United States, but it wasn’t until the spring of 1968 that sponsorship liveries were allowed in international racing and countries were no longer required to use their assigned national color.
“Team Gunston was the first Formula One team to paint their cars in the livery of their sponsors when they entered a private Brabham for John Love, painted in the colours of Gunston cigarettes, in the 1968 South African Grand Prix. British Racing Green soon vanished from the cars of British private teams,” according to Wikipedia.
Many countries, such as Germany, U.S.A., Canada, etc., have changed their traditional racing colors after 1968. Germany, for example, has shifted from white to silver, by leaving the aluminum bodies of their cars unpainted; while Canada decided to adjust their auto racing colors to red and white – the colors of their national flag.
Auto racing colors today
British Racing Green (BRG), which used to represent any shade of green in the past, today corresponds to a deep, rich shade of green. According to findthedata.com, BRG is a shade of Green that is 100% saturated and 26% bright and has the #004225 hex value.
In 1991, honoring the 1960s British roadsters that inspired Mazda MX-5, Mazda produced a limited edition of only 250 cars, called the “British Racing Edition”. According to mx5-mazda.co.uk, “the Limited Edition is based on a standard 1800cc model and was introduced to celebrate the MX-5’s first year of production. Only 250 units were available between March and December of 1991 and cost £18,249.00 when purchased new. This special version was finished in British Racing Green and sported colour coded 15″ BBS alloy wheels.”
Mazda also produced a similar edition in 2001; it included the BRG color option which was updated to a more metallic green in 2011.
Image Source: www.diseno-art.com
During the annual A1 Grand Prix that was held from 2005-2009, several national teams rode identical cars with differing color schemes. Some of the identical cars were painted with the respective country’s traditional national colors while others were designed and painted in an entirely different way.
In recent years, the traditional racing colors have reappeared, which includes British Racing Green. Other countries have also gone back to their traditional colors that represented them several decades ago. For instance, the traditional green was revived by Jaguar in Formula 1 in 2000; but after Ford sold its team to Red Bull in 2004; the new Red Bull Racing team used their own colors.
Image Source: riviera-reflections.com
“Other traditionally British manufacturers have since followed suit. Bentley returned briefly to the Le Mans circuit in 2001, 2002, and 2003, winning with the Bentley Speed 8, painted in a very dark shade of BRG. In recent years, Aston Martin has also returned to endurance racing, with their DBR9s painted in, a typically Aston, light BRG. Rocketsports Racing also used green for its Jaguar XK in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and American Le Mans Series and other,” according to Wikipedia.
Interestingly enough, for a long time, the U.S. drivers preferred not to paint their cars with any shade of green because they believed that this color would bring them bad luck. “This has diminished in recent years, especially since the advent of more British international competition,” according to teamhealeytexas.com.