What Is British Racing Green?

Octagon Newsletter October 1997

By Peter Lee

When motor racing was in its infancy, the Automobile Club of France drew up the regulations for the Gordon Bennett Cup Race. They called for teams of up to three cars from recognized sister clubs in Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Turin, Great Britain, Ireland, Germany and the United States. Colours were assigned to the different countries expected to compete: white for Germany, red for the USA, yellow for Belgium and blue for France. No colour was assigned for Great Britain. The leading British car maker of the time, Napier, adopted green in appreciation of Ireland providing a venue for racing when England had failed to grant such permission. It was, however, a bright emerald green.

By 1909 the list of recognised clubs had grown and Italy had replaced Turin, claiming red from the States. The United States adopted white for the body and blue for the chassis. Prince Bira of Siam wanted to go racing and so the colours were designated as pale blue for the body and yellow for the chassis. At about the same time, Mercedes Benz and Auto Union interpreted white as silver.

A 1946 issue of Motor Sport included an article under the title "New National Colours" in which it was announced that for a trial period of two years, commencing in 1947, the distinctive colour for British cars in international competition would be blue. The actual shade was not defined but it was suggested it should be royal blue to distinguish it from the shade used by the French. There was an uproar. Letters to the Times and petitions to the RAC Competitions Department ensured that the decision was rescinded before it came into effect: British Racing Blue never was!

Briggs Cunningham is credited with inventing the distinctive white and double blue stripes denoting the United States. When he made his debut at Le Mans in Cadillac's, he conceived the idea of painting symbolic chassis rails centrally over the top of the cars, in no way thinking he would start the Fifties and Sixties craze for 'go faster stripes'.

Over the years, the national colours have been replaced by advertising. Lotus are generally credited with a first for this. Many will remember their black and gold cigarette package John Player Lotus formula one cars.

Whether or not there ever was a correct shade of BRG is not known. The works Bentleys at Le Mans in the Twenties seems to be the recognised colour, not simply because Bentley used it but because their paint supplier was Thos Parsons and Sons Ltd under shade card 479/16 (Napier Green) traceable back to the Gordon Bennett era!

This is a much lighter shade than used by Jaguar at Le Mans in the Fifties, which was so dark as to be almost black. In my own experience, the light green of an ERA and a Cooper-Bristol raced by my former employer, Bob Gerard, who raced on the international circuit before and after the war is the correct shade and I was told so in no uncertain terms! The British Standards Institute cannot even make up their minds on a standard: they offer BS 381C - 226 Mid Brunswick Green and BS 381C - 227 Deep Brunswick Green.

So what is British Racing Green? Almost any green of your choice appears to be the answer.

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