Shelby Mustang GT500 racing stripes - Art of Speed

The racing stripe is considered unsavoury for some, but there's more depth to its origins than you might think

Racing stripes: Ferrari charges a small fortune for them, Shelby Mustangs and Cobras don’t look quite right without them and some people stick them on with a hair dryer. They’ve fallen in and out of fashion and, today, are desired and derided with competing conviction. But perhaps the least contentious thing about them is this: whatever may be going on in the minds of drivers who’ve ticked the appropriate option box (or self-appended them), racing stripes don’t make your car go faster – at least not in any sense that relates to modern motoring on public roads.

Sixty or so years ago when they first started appearing on closed-wheel racers, however, they could in theory mean the difference between a podium finish and mid-field anonymity. In fact, they served two purely practical but disparate functions, the first being that they provided a means to make it easier for spectators to identify a particular team’s car in the heat of battle. More intriguingly, two broad stripes running longitudinally up the bonnet on the driver’s side also claimed the benefit of being the first thing seen as the fog of rubber smoke and dust began to clear after a spin or shunt, enabling the driver to reorientate more quickly and get the car pointing in the right direction again. That said, finding a quote from a racing driver attributing a storming-through-the-field win to the presence of racing stripes proved fruitless.

Subscribe to evo magazine

Subscribe today to have every issue of evo delivered straight to you. You'll SAVE 39% on the shop price, and get evo for its original cover price for a whole year!

> 749bhp Shelby GT500 confirmed as most powerful street-legal Ford

US race legend Carroll Shelby is often cited as the inventor of racing stripes. He certainly helped popularise them, but as a fan rather than a founder. Back in the early ’50s, Shelby was driving for Aston Martin at Le Mans and couldn’t have failed to notice that the rival Cunningham team’s cars, the first with bodywork that enclosed the frame rails, sported blue stripes where the exposed rails would otherwise have been visible, thus enhancing the distinctive blue-on-white international livery used by American teams. Later, as boss of his own concern, Shelby adopted the idea and the colours, but flipped them (white stripes on blue bodywork) for his race entries. The stripes have since become a signature of all Shelby road cars up to and including the Mustang GT500 pictured.

Stripes have become image accessories that seek to denote an affiliation to motorsport: in some cases aspirational, in some cases deserving, in some cases comically inappropriate. Having said that, one notably square-cut early adopter, the Renault 8 Gordini, did look unfeasibly cool. Blue with white stripes. Perfect.

Most Popular

SSC Tuatara hypercar hits 331mph, making it the world’s fastest production car
News

SSC Tuatara hypercar hits 331mph, making it the world’s fastest production car

Over a decade after SSC last entered the record books, its Tuatara has claimed the title of world’s fastest production car
19 Oct 2020
Volkswagen Golf GTI 2020 review – eight generations new, the GTI still has the goods
Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

Volkswagen Golf GTI 2020 review – eight generations new, the GTI still has the goods

A very good hot hatch, but a great Golf GTI, the new mk8 excels where required to form a very desirable offering
19 Oct 2020
Range Rover D350 Autobiography 2020 review – new straight-six diesel a great fit
Land Rover Range Rover

Range Rover D350 Autobiography 2020 review – new straight-six diesel a great fit

The Range Rover’s new powertrain improves an admittedly aging package, but age doesn’t inhibit regality and it still has that in excess
17 Oct 2020
Cupra Leon eHybrid 2020 review – are hybrids and hot hatchbacks still mutually exclusive?
Cupra

Cupra Leon eHybrid 2020 review – are hybrids and hot hatchbacks still mutually exclusive?

Cupra’s hybrid hot hatch isn’t really sure what it wants to be – wait for the regular Cupra instead
16 Oct 2020