British racing green

Steve McQueen’s favourite jacket, the Baracuta G9, is now available in the colour of his favourite car… the Jaguar XKSS, in British Racing Green. McQueen bought his XKSS in 1958 from a local TV personality, and became the third owner of what was originally an off-white car with a red interior.

White not right for the Jaguar XKSS

The colour scheme was not to his liking, so McQueen had the car stripped down and repainted in British Racing Green together with a retrim of black upholstery. He nicknamed his new car the “Green Rat”.

Steve McQueen's XKSS following refurbishment

British Racing Green has its origin in the Gordon Bennett Cup competitions of the early 1900s. In 1899, James Gordon Bennett Jr., the millionaire owner of the New York Herald, had offered the Automobile Club de France a trophy to be raced for by the automobile clubs of various countries, with each national entrant being allotted a different colour for their cars.

Fernand Charron drove a Panhard to victory in the inaugural 1900 race

When Britain first competed in 1902, the Union Jack colours of red, white and blue, had already been taken for the 1900 race by America, Germany and France respectively, therefore a different colour had to be selected.

Selwyn Edge in his Napier at the 1902 race in Paris

The annual race was hosted in the country of the previous year's winner, and when Selwyn Edge won the 1902 Gordon Bennett cup race for England in his Napier, it was decided that the 1903 race would be held in Ireland - as motor racing at the time was illegal in England. As a mark of respect for their Irish hosts, the English Napier cars were painted shamrock green, and the traditional colour of British motor racing was born.

1903 Napier Gordon Bennett in racing colours

The Gordon Bennett trophy was awarded annually until 1905, after which the Automobile Club de France held the first Grand Prix motoring event at Le Mans. In 1923, Sir Henry Segrave became the first British driver to win the French Grand Prix in a British car – his Sunbeam 2-litre G.P.

Sir Henry Segrave after winning the 1923 French Grand Prix

Sir Henry’s Sunbeam wore the British colour of Racing Green, whilst the French teams continued to carry blue livery. However, the entry from Fiat was painted red – the colour that was adopted by Italy following the victory of a red Itala in the 1907 Peking to Paris race.

National colours at the 1923 French Grand Prix

British Racing Green and chequered flags went hand in hand throughout the later 1920s, as supercharged Bentleys dominated the Le Mans 24 hours race. The Bentley Boys won the famous endurance competition in successive years from 1927 to 1930.

The Bentley Boys after their 1930 Le Mans win

Ian Fleming’s literary hero, 007, also drove a “Blower Bentley” in the Casino Royale and Moonraker novels - although it was painted battleship-grey. However, when Bond’s 1935 Bentley 3.5 Litre Drophead Coupe appears onscreen in From Russia With Love, it is wearing British Racing Green bodywork and fitted with, one assumes, a “Q” supplied in-car telephone.

James Bond on his Bentley "blower"

During the 1950s and 1960s, British Racing Green continued to be the chosen livery for successful British motor racing teams such as Aston Martin, Cooper, Lotus and Vanwall, but in 1970, under pressure from sponsors, the FIA gave Formula One an exemption from the national colours ruling, and cars began to race in the corporate colours of the companies that were funding them.

No green to be seen on the 1972 "John Player Special" Lotus

In 2000, the famous shades of dark green began to make their way back onto the track, with Jaguar Racing applying the colour to its Formula One cars, but the team was sold to Red Bull in 2004 and they used their own colours. At the same time, Bentley had returned to Le Mans, winning the 24 hours race in 2003 in a Bentley Speed 8, proudly painted in British Racing Green.

The Le Mans winning Bentley Speed 8

If, like Steve McQueen, you are a fan of both British racing cars and British apparel, the latest offering from Baracuta should meet your approval. As a tribute to 114 years of motoring history, the company has released a new colour in their classic G9 Harrington jacket - a very British shade of Racing Green.

The Baracuta G9 in British Racing Green

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