Thursday, November 15, 2018

A Colorful History of Racing Hues: British Racing Green

COLOR INSPIRATIONS: HOW BRITISH RACING GREEN INFLUENCED SPORT TRIUMPHS AND EXCLUSIVE STYLE, Photo Courtesy of Federico Bajetti for The Outlierman © 2017


HOW BRITISH RACING GREEN INFLUENCED SPORT TRIUMPHS AND EXCLUSIVE STYLE


By Adam Kaslikowski for Petrolicious and The Outlierman, edited by James Karthauser


What Jaguar isn't BRG? Photo Courtesy  of Petrolicious
What English Car isn't BRG? Photo Courtesy
of Petrolicious
British Racing Green is one of the most iconic colors of the automotive world. It’s provenance goes back 110 years and has decorated countless racing icons. Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions about the origin of this special emerald color. Here we will attempt to sort through the myriad stories and present to you the true origin of British Racing Green.

At the turn of the 20th century, Grand Prix racing was very different. Races were more a contest between nations than they were between drivers or factories. Wealthy American newspaper man James Gordon Bennett, Jr. organized an annual race pitting various countries against each another in a bid for automobile manufacturing supremacy.

The Gordon Bennett Cup races were city-to-city contests, with entries required to consist entirely of components manufactured in their home country. Each country was limited to three entries each, and each car was required to carry both a driver and a riding mechanic at all times. To make national identification of the participants easier, each country was required to adopt a national racing color. They were: blue for France, yellow for Belgium, white for Germany and red for Italy.


James Bond might have stood out less if his DB5 was BRG rather than silver...  Photo Courtesy of Petrolicious
James Bond might have stood out less if his DB5 was BRG rather than silver...
Photo Courtesy of Petrolicious


France walked away with the inaugural victory in 1900, and thus was given the honor of hosting the races for the 1901 race. British manufacturer David Napier opted to contest this second race, and entered with his own 50 hp car. Unfortunately, this particular car weighed in at a massive three tons and could not keep its British (Dunlop) tires underneath it. Selwyn F. Edge, the driver for the 1901 race, opted to fit more robust French tires and was subsequently disqualified from the Cup. Most interestingly though, this Napier wore a pale shade of olive that the factory called Napier Green. It is unclear why Napier chose green as his color of choice; most likely it was simply personal preference. Regardless, the deep green we know today had yet to become Britain’s official racing color.

With the disqualification of the heavy Napier, the first two years showcased complete domination by the French, and the other participating countries were beginning to sting at the embarrassment of being unable to challenge the Gallic successes. For the 1902 race, Napier was determined to address its failure from 1901 and developed a much lighter car weighing in at just a ton. With the car’s weight lowered dramatically, the British tires survived the strain of the race. And it wasn’t just the tires that survived – all other entrants for the 1902 race retired from the race due to mechanical problems. With the Napier alone, the Brits sailed to their first Gordon Bennett Cup victory.

British racing green enhances the undeniable presence of glamor of an Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato, shown in this photo taken with complete admiration during the 2016 Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este. Photo Courtesy of Federico Bajetti
British racing green enhances the undeniable presence of glamor of an Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato, shown
in this photo taken with complete admiration during the 2016 Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este.
Photo Courtesy of Federico Bajetti 

Due to their victory, England was scheduled to host the 1903 event. However, the rule of the British land was that no automobile was allowed to exceed 12mph, and this decree from parliament essentially made motor racing illegal on the entire island. In a mad scramble, the British organizers switched the location of the 1903 to Ireland – a land where the local laws were “adjusted” to accommodate road racing.

A total of three Napier cars contested the 1903 race, and they were pitted against French, German and American entries. According to contemporary newspapers, the olive shade of Napier green was darkened to Shamrock Green in honor of Ireland hosting the races and this is the first public reference to a British car being painted green as a part of a national livery. While it would seem that Napier Green was the coincidental choice of a private manufacturer, what would eventually become known as British Racing Green was a tribute, ironically, to Ireland.

A charismatic color, green: distinct and unexpected. Photo Courtesy of Federico Bajetti for The Outlierman © 2017
A charismatic color, green: distinct and unexpected. Photo Courtesy of Federico Bajetti for
The Outlierman © 2017


As English auto manufacturers are nothing if not an independent lot, there has never been one true shade of British racing green. While most of us picture a deep forest green, this is not a steadfast rule. From Napier’s pale olive to Bentley’s near black, almost any emerald hue applied to a British car will be greeted with the name British Racing Green.

The British racing green is the symbolic color of British motoring, with over 110 years of honorary history in the world of car racing, it also has a long line of legendary cars and drivers linked to it: from great drivers like Henry Segrave, Kenelm Lee Guinness, William Grover-Williams to iconic teams such as Aston Martin, Vanwall, Cooper, Lotus and BRM.

A Classic, arrayed in British Racing Green,  Photo Courtesy of Petrolicious
A Classic, arrayed in British Racing Green,
Photo Courtesy of Petrolicious
A charismatic color, green: distinct and unexpected. Revived in 2000 by Jaguar Racing in Formula 1; then again with Bentley, which would end up winning at LeMans in 2001, 2002 and 2003; and more recently with Aston Martin, who gave this hue to its DBR9. Enthusiasts were also able to admire the British racing green on the Jaguar XK by Rocketsports Racing during the 24 Hours of Le Mans and also on the Lotus T127 in 2010.

Thanks to the triumphs of The British teams and the bewitching charm of the cars that have "worn" it, today the British racing green is still part of the colors that symbolize exclusivity and sporting passion. A shade full of character, history and style that can be celebrated and expressed thanks to the fantastic machines, assembled by some of the finest manufacturers in the world, at the hands of British racing legends, collectors and daily drivers alike.

We here at l'art et l'automobile, as you may know, are avid racing historians, and the Drivers, Manufacturers and race tracks of Great Britain have definitely resonated through the various racing sports throughout the years. To celebrate 60th anniversary of the legendary Mike Hawthorn becoming Britain’s first ever Formula One World Champion and Lewis Hamilton clenching his 5th World Championship Title, we gathered all of our artwork and memorabilia related to the Cars and Drivers of the Isles, and present them here to you.

We invite you to view the British Cars and Drivers gallery and acquire one of these pieces of racing history while they last. Please tour the collection here and perhaps you will find something to add to your collection.

All our best from the staff at l’art et l’automobile,


Jacques Vaucher

For more great automotive artwork and memorabilia, don't forget to browse the many other categories on our WEBSITE. Remember we also have many more items in our gallery, do not hesitate to contact us if you are looking for something in particular.

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