From the Bookshelf: Multi-Coloured Motorsport

In a few weeks’ time, the deadline closes on the publishing longlist for this autumn’s Club Motoring Book of the Year Award. Karl Ludvigsen was a worthy winner last year with his unassailable volume(s) on the life of Reid Railton. Looking at our holdings of his diverse, extensive body of work, I noticed that it was already a decade since his editorship of a short, formulaic but nonetheless enjoyable series: ‘Racing Colours’, which he co-authored simultaneously with David Venables.

On first reflection, the significance of national racing colours seems a bizarre thesis on which to base an historical motoring racing series. Might the composition of a national flag’s colours and patterns contribute to that nation’s motorsport psyche? – probably not, judging by these examples at least. In the opening chapter of the German volume, for example, the author makes plain that it could equally have been white or no colour rather than silver: the last, however, is synonymous with Auto Union, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. So where does the attribution of nationalistic racing colour come from while recognising the following common exemplars: Alfa, Maserati, Ferrari (red); BRM, Vanwall, Lotus (green); Bugatti, Peugeot, Renault (blue) – no doubt we all have our own theories.

In leaving the question open, we have two highly respected authors, Karl Ludvigsen and David Venables, presenting us with four well-constructed volumes. The design of each is clearly laid out and contains many evocative images (from the former’s world-renowned personal library) on high quality bonded paper. Due credit should go as well to artwork illustrators, Steven Cavalieri and Steve Anderson for their fine profiles, specially commissioned for the series, which substitute nicely for the preponderance of black and white photographs of early years. In relatively slender volumes, the content is necessarily subjective but that doesn’t detract from a running commentary that rattles through decades and genres swiftly and informatively.

Altogether, the whole series will surely find its place in the motoring literature as fine studies of a niche topic of motor sport heritage. It’ll be interesting to see whether the series is ever revived and what other countries’ colours following authors might aspire to next, ochre or fuchsia perhaps?!

Karl Ludvigsen, 2008, Italian racing red: drivers, cars and triumphs of Italian motor racing. Hersham, Surrey: Ian Allan Pub.
Ibid., 2009, German racing silver: drivers, cars and triumphs of German motor racing. Hersham, Surrey: Ian Allan Pub.
David Venables, 2008. British racing green: drivers, cars and triumphs of British motor racing. Hersham, Surrey: Ian Allan Pub.
Ibid., 2009, French racing blue: drivers, cars and triumphs of French motor racing. Hersham, Surrey: Ian Allan Pub.

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