True hue: British Racing Green

In the car world, there's nothing more quintessentially English than a certain shade of olive - so familiar that it's simply called 'BRG'

AKBN6H 1963 E Type Jaguar Sports Car Racing at Oulton Park Race Circuit in Cheshire United Kingdom. Image shot 2007. Exact date unknown.
(Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

British Racing Green can trace its origins back to 1900 and the inauguration of the Gordon Bennett Cup, an international road race that originally took place in France, with subsequent events being hosted by the country of the previous year's winning team.

Count Eliot Zborowski, one of the wealthiest and most celebrated of the pioneer automobilists, suggested the cars of each team should bear the correct national colours. Consequently, French entries were painted blue, Belgian ones yellow, German ones white and US ones red.

Cars from Britain, meanwhile, were liveried in the olive green that had become synonymous with the cutting-edge machinery – steam locomotives and so on – that was being produced during the country's golden age of engineering.

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Following the victory of Australian-born British racing driver Selwyn Edge in the 1902 Gordon Bennett Cup, the 1903 race should have taken place on English soil. However, road-racing was illegal in Britain so it ended up being staged in Ireland - and it's thought "olive" was substituted for the far darker "Shamrock Green" that had long been popular with the Irish, probably as a mark of gratitude to the people of the Emerald Isle for providing the venue.

And that's the colour that stuck, ending up, for example, on the Bentleys that dominated Le Mans and other British competition cars from marques such as Jaguar, Aston Martin and MG.

Perhaps surprisingly, there is no official reference point for true British Racing Green. But it is generally accepted that any car painted in a suitably dark verdant shade should be referred to as "BRG", regardless of the fact that it should, in truth, be "IRG".

But "Irish Racing Green" somehow doesn't sound quite right, does it?

Simon de Burton writes for Esquire and How To Spend It

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