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.
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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.
In This Article
- 1The Art of Speed | the great performance car design details
- 2Lexus LFA rev counter - Art of Speed
- 3E30 BMW M3 bodywork - Art of Speed
- 4Pagani Huayra's wing mirrors - Art of Speed
- 5Ferrari Testarossa side strakes - Art of Speed
- 6The Mercedes 190E 2.5-16 Evo II's bodykit - Art of Speed
- 7The Lancia Delta Integrale Evo's rear spoiler - Art of Speed
- 8The Renaultsport Megane R26.R's polycarbonate windows - Art of Speed
- 9Ferrari F50 rear mesh - Art of Speed
- 10The McLaren P1's exhaust - Art of Speed
- 11The Subaru Impreza's bonnet scoop - Art of Speed
- 12The Aston Martin Vantage V600's twin supercharged V8 - Art of Speed
- 13The Honda NSX's Monel ignition key - Art of Speed
- 14Koenigsegg One:1 active wing - Art of Speed
- 15Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano flying buttresses - Art of Speed
- 16Shelby Mustang GT500 racing stripes - Art of Speed - currently reading
- 17Aston Martin V12 Zagato double-bubble roof - Art of Speed
- 18Lotus Esprit pop-up headlights - Art of Speed
- 19Lamborghini Miura louvred engine cover - Art of Speed
- 20Alfa Romeo SZ headlights - Art of Speed
- 21Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1 grille stripe - Art of Speed
- 22Aston Martin One-77 carbonfibre chassis - Art of Speed