by “BALADEUR” Q-W-3
THE tumult and the recent shouting on the subject having fortunately died away somewhat, I conceive that it is now my turn to weigh in on the perilous subject of international racing colours. And first of all, let me make it quite clear that it is not my intention to try to persuade anyone to paint their B.R.M. Bugatti blue instead of Sunbeam green (which, incidentally, seems not really to be Napier green at all, but Panhard green) or vice versa ; my approach to the subject, in fact, is purely historical rather than propagandist ; and my only objective in the matter is a mild desire to debunk those sentimentalists who insist that there is immemorial tradition behind these national colours (including, presumably, those sported on behalf of Siam).
As a matter of fact, the nineteenthcentury motorist had never heard of such things. Admittedly, the germ of the idea seems to have been present in the minds of the Panhard drivers of 1898, who thought that they would like to carry the French colours ; but since this involved reproducing the tricolor, it took three cars to do it. Now in English the three colours in question are red, white and blue ; but the French, owing to what at first sight seems just like mere Gallic perversity, but is really due, I believe, to deep historical causes connected with the Valois and Bourbon kings and the Revolution, call them blue, white and red. In any ease, MM. de Knyff, Charron and Girardot having been allotted, the numbers 1, 2 and 3, respectively for the Paris-Bordeaux race of 1898, the first of them painted his car blue, the second white and the third red. And having done so, it seems that they liked the effect, and stuck to their respective colours in 1899.
Then came 1900 and the first Gordon Bennett race, for which it was decided that each of the competing teams, representing France, the United States, Germany and Belgium, should have a distinctive colour. It is worth noting in passing that Belgium, where the motor industry nowadays is reduced, I believe, to a single marque, was earlier in the field than was Great Britain ; if politicians in the two countries continue to run true to recent form, we look like being back to the 1900 position before long. However, the only point immediately at issue is that the authorities decided that the French cars should be painted blue,.. the American red, the German white, and the Belgian yellow. No colour, of course, was allocated to Great Britain, and the famous green was still going a’ begging. Now it seems that in some quarters the colour green is regarded with superstitious abhorrence. Personally, I thought I had been very thoroughly grounded, in the course of my upbringing, in all the best superstitions, including those connected with breaking wish-bones, long before they were used in suspension systems ; but I must admit that my education was completely deficient in the matter of this taboo about green. However, I comfort myself with the reflection that misunderstanding about it seems to be very general. In 1901, Charles Jarrott drove a 40-h.p. Panhard et Levassor in the Paris-Berlin race, and this is what he has to say about it :
“About a week before the event I went over to Paris to obtain the car and prepare for the race. On entering the works, one of the first persons I met was M. Clement, and he very kindly conducted me to the shop which contained my car. It would be difficult to express my feelings of pride as I gazed upon the monster which I was to conduct in the first really great race of my life. I noted particularly that the car was painted green—a beautiful rich, dark colour, which gave the car such a handsome appearance that I wondered why everyone else had not painted their ears green also. But M. Clement gave me a reason for this. He explained that my number in the race was 13,’ and the reason it had been allotted to me was because no one else would have it. But they had been struck with the happy idea of painting the car green (the French lucky colour) with the object of nullifying the bad effect of the unlucky number.”
Well, of course, this is all very confusing. Is green really the French lucky colour ” ? If so, and if it is really the English unlucky colour, it does seem that there is scope there for trade. But I must stick to my undertaking, and refrain from any suggestions in the matter. In the meantime, a few weeks before Charles Jarrott went to Paris to interview his green Panhard, the first racing Napier had run against the French Gordon Bennett team in the Paris-Bordeaux race, although it had not actually been able to compete for the trophy as no English tyres could be found that were capable of carrying it. The decision to change over to foreign ones had only been made at the last moment, and the car must still have been regarded as the English challenger for the Cup when it was painted. But the idea of national colours even for this event seems to have faded since the year before, and there was no stipulation in the rules at all about paint, so far as I can make out. In these circumstances, what did Messrs. Napier and Edge do with the free hand they had been left ? Did they, off their own bat, so to speak, plump for the famous Napier green ? Not, apparently, a bit of it. At this distance of time, the facts might be hard to establish, but fortunately Mr. H. 0. Duncan went to see the cars arrive at Tours, and in the course of his lively narrative, remarks :—
” A second after the horn announced the arrival of another car, and the cry was, Still they come.’ Looking round from the controle (sic) to see who was next, I yelled out to my friends, This time it’s the Napier, and no mistake! And And S. F. Edge and Napier calmly pulled up at the controle, whilst their red car, No. 8, was simply besieged by Britishers. . . .”
Of course, you don’t often get a bit of luck like that, and I suppose that reporters can hardly be blamed if, in general, they failed to realise that posterity might like to know what colour racing cars were painted. In any case, I cannot find any record of whether the Napier was still red when it succeeded in winning the Gordon Bennett Trophy in 1902. There seems at all events to be very little reason why it should not have been. The silence of reporters and the monochrome of photographs before the era of glorious technicolor is fortunately supplemented by the evidence of the artists ; and the nearly-contemporary paintings of Montaud are of the utmost value in this respect. From them it is. clear that in the early years of the century, red was almost as popular a colour in France, in spite of its having been allotted to America, as was blue. Thus Levegh’s Mors which won the ParisToulouse-Paris in 1900 was painted red ; so was Fournier’s car of the same make which won the Paris-Berlin in 1901, and so was Marcel Renault’s victorious light car in the Paris-Vienna the next year. Unfortunately, at about this period of his painting, Montaud seems to have gone in for a sort of monochrome chiaroscuro which makes it rather hard to determine exactly what colour he is attempting to convey, but it certainly looks very much as if Gabriel’s French Mors, with which he won the Paris-Madrid in 1903, was painted white, and as if Jenatzy’s German Mercedes, with which he won the Gordon Bennett race in Ireland that year, was painted blue. Obviously, by this time the idea of national colours had completely gone by the board.
They were revived for the last of the Gordon Bennett races, which took place in 1905 over that famous mountain course in the Auvergne, and now there were several new countries to be provided for. So many, in fact, that there were not enough primary colours to go round, and Austria was in consequence given black and yellow, Switzerland red and yellow. But for Great Britain and Italy such parti-coloration was, very reasonably, considered unsuitable. Now to my mind, the obvious colour for Italy was green, which was the distinctive colour of the Italian tricolor, and had been put there most designedly, I believe, because of its masonic associations, in order to celebrate the part played by freemasonry in the revolutionary struggle for Italian unity. But unfortunately, and much to the inconvenience of subsequent superstitious drivers, green was presented to England instead.
Without having any very concrete evidence to go on, I suspect that the responsibility for this must rest very largely with Charles Jarrott. On his own showing, he was very favourably impressed with his green 40-h.p. ParisBerlin Panhard ; and, according to Gordon Crosby’s picture, the 7O-h.p. Panhard with which he won the Circuit des Ardennes the next year, although its. number was 32, and there was, therefore, no ” 13″ trouble, was also painted green. So, according to the frontispiece of his. book, was the Wolseley ” Beetle ” which he drove in the Gordon Bennett race of’ 1904. It must have been as the result of all this, or so it seems to me, that this..
country was officially allotted green in 1905. As for the Italians, they had to be content with black. I do not think that they very much liked it. In the first place it is a sombre colour, and, besides, had Garibaldi and . the Thousand worn black shirts ? Of course they had not, they had worn red shirts ; and as soon as the passing of the Gordon Bennett regulations gave them
a free hand in the matter, the Italians took as a rule to painting their cars red. This, in a sense, involved jumping the American claim, but after a distinctly inglorious record during the Gordon Bennett period, the Americans were not much interested in European racing anyhow. Besides, with the corning of the first Grand Prix, Renault had also returned to the marque’s traditional colour, so that F.I.A.T. was in good company. In any case, in a few years Italy had succeeded so well in emerging from her mourning that the world came to think of red as the only possible colour for an Alfa-Romeo.
Mussolini, of course, ought to have thought otherwise. Revolutionary red was no colour for the protagonists of the counter-revolution ; besides, did Mussolini and his Fascists wear red shirts ? Of course they did not ; they wore black shirts : quite obviously, there was only one proper colour for fascist racing cars, and that was black. Its re-adoption would have involved a nice historical apology, and incidentally have left red available for a country that had a better right to it.
The red Renault which Szisz drove to victory in the 1900 Grand Prix makes it clear that in that race the nations were not colour-conscious. But it is curious that while, according to Montaud, Nazzaro’s winning F.I.A.T. in the 1907 race was also red, the car with which he won the Kaiserpreis that year was blue, and so was the Renault which Szisz drove in the Grand Prix. I am in two minds, therefore, as to whether national colours had been reintroduced, officially or unofficially, for the Grand Prix before its temporary demise in 1908, and, if so, whether Italy had by then made good its claim to red. What is certain is that when the first Coupe des Voitures Legeres was organised by l’Auto in 1911, it was decided to allot national colours to the participants, and that, conventionally enough, France was given blue, Belgium yellow and Germany white. But although an S.P.A. was expected, it was only to have its chassis painted red, with its body green, which, in pre-Fascist days, must have seemed fair enough. And although a Ford was also expected, it too was only to have a red chassis, with its body white, which at least showed that the American claim to red was regarded as a bit shadowy. And although green was allotted, it was given not to England, but to Scotland, in the shape of the Arrol-Johnstons ; and the Sunbeam, Vauxhall and Calthorpe cars were painted not green but red. The next year, the Coupe de l’Auto was run in conjunction with the revived Grand Prix, and this time it was the monster F.I.A.T.s which were painted
red, the Sunbeams green ; but whether this was by choice or by regulation, I am not quite sure. In any case, the rules on the subject do not seem to have been very strict, because those responsible for the Arrol-Johnston entry, piqued, I suppose, by the failure to provide them with any colour of their own, went all Scottish nationalist and painted the cars in the blue and green Gordon tartan, which would have added considerably to the gaiety of nations if the cars from Glasgow had not gone quite so slowly. In any case, the organisers of the Coupe de l’Auto were sufficiently alarmed that when the race was run on its own again the next year, they had the Sunbeams and Vauxhalls painted red again. But by that time it was too late, and the Arrol-Johnstons did not turn up at all.
However, all this gave England, it seems to me, a good enough claim to red„ and a very little tact applied to the late Benito Mussolini would have been sufficient, I am sure, for reasons already stated, to induce him to exchange it for black. Of course, it is too late for that now, and I do not know how the present Italian government feels about masonicgreen. (The late Benito, incidentally, used to reduce Italian crowds to a condition of fury verging almost upon frenzy by just yelling ” Freemasons ! Freemasons ! Freemasons ! “) But in any case, if the superstitious in this country• do not like it, I would commend black, which is at present unused by anyone else, to their careful attention. After all, we have plenty to be mournful:about, even if it is only the standard petrol ration.