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

Shelby Mustang GT500 racing stripes

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.

> 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.

Recommended

Shelby Super Snake Speedster takes 812bhp muscle car open-air
Shelby Super Snake Speedster
Ford Mustang

Shelby Super Snake Speedster takes 812bhp muscle car open-air

Shelby’s latest Super Snake celebrates its founder’s 98th birthday, and there’s a topless version on the menu for 2021
16 Mar 2021
454bhp Ford Mustang Mach 1 priced from £55,185
Ford Mustang Mach 1
Ford Mustang

454bhp Ford Mustang Mach 1 priced from £55,185

Ford has brought back the Mach 1 to the Mustang range after 17 years, and first cars are hitting UK roads this summer
15 Mar 2021
Ford Mustang review – V8 GT, EcoBoost and Bullitt driven
Ford Mustang front red
Ford Mustang coupe

Ford Mustang review – V8 GT, EcoBoost and Bullitt driven

Flawed, fun and fast - Mustang's not a great sports car, but it's a great muscle car
10 Dec 2020
Ford Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition turns torque up to 634lb ft
Ford Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition front three quarters
Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition turns torque up to 634lb ft

The all-electric Ford Mustang Mach-E GT has gained mild cosmetic and performance tweaks with the Performance Edition
1 Dec 2020

Most Popular

Audi RS6 v Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo v Mercedes-AMG E63 S Estate – super-estates go head-to-head
Audi RS6 v Porsche Panamera v Mercedes-AMG
Features

Audi RS6 v Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo v Mercedes-AMG E63 S Estate – super-estates go head-to-head

Which 600bhp wagon is the current super-estate king? It‘s time to find out as the Audi RS6 Avant takes on Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Sport Turi…
8 May 2021
BMW X5 M Competition 2021 review – how does the M division’s biggest SUV stack up?
Crop X5 M Competition
BMW X5 M

BMW X5 M Competition 2021 review – how does the M division’s biggest SUV stack up?

In many ways critically flawed, but there is something oddly captivating about its unerring focus
7 May 2021
Mandatory speed limiters to be fitted to all new UK cars after 2022
80mph motorway speed limit
News

Mandatory speed limiters to be fitted to all new UK cars after 2022

The use of mandatory speed limiters and data loggers on all new cars has been approved by the European Parliament, and manufacturers are already makin…
28 Apr 2021