D-23_S copy

Whither Britannia

D-23_S copyLater today the checkered flag will fall once more to mark the start of another 24 Hours of Le Mans. As many of you may have read in the most recent edition of Moss Motoring, British sports cars have had a long and (sometimes tragic) association with the great race. Perhaps the single event most remembered in motor sports is the ill fated contest in 1955. How has the event changed? In more ways than one can count, but viscerally for certain. The sounds were deeper, more raucous and the visuals were more varied despite the use of only singular hues.

It seems silly now to think that the flanks of the racing cars back then went unmarked and therefore underutilized but such was the case. There were no sponsorship liveries on the 60 cars that started at Le Mans in 1955. Instead, they were adorned in the national racing colors of the countries that each represented: the Italians, particularly Ferrari and Maserati, shone in Rosso Corsa, Bleu de France identified DB, Panhard and Monopole, the Mercedes-Benz and Porsche factory teams wore an austere silver while British Racing Green dominated the field with the cars from AC, Aston Martin, Austin-Healey, Bristol, Frazer Nash, Jaguar, Lagonda, Lotus, MG and Triumph all sharing variations of the verdant shade.

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As an endurance race of the era, there was no qualifying for starting position. The cars were simply arrayed in left echelon from largest to smallest and each was numbered accordingly. The drivers stood in small white circles painted across the pit lane opposite their cars. Before the start things were mostly silent except for the heavy breathing. Drivers on one side, their cars on the other. The drivers dressed almost exclusively in white or light blue, the cars arrayed in colors of national origin.

Then, rather than now, the color of the cars meant something inside. Our green, their red. It would have been unthinkable for an Italian car to have been raced by a British team (although that would change in the years following the 1955 race) and  interestingly, had Stirling Moss not been injured before his factory seat for Ferrari been ready he would have insisted that the car be painted in BRG. Sixty years ago, ten British manufacturers competed at Le Mans – today only Aston Martin remains to battle for the honor of the Union Jack. Certainly other British teams will compete, sadly, all in Ferraris. Cheer the boys from Newport Pagnell on, they’re our only chance.

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