BRITISH RACING GREEN
The colour should call to mind the cheers of those celebrating a patriotic victory This most patriotic of hues has racy, but surprisingly transatlantic, origins
Had he not been quite so wealthy, James Gordon Bennett, the American publisher of the New York Herald, would likely have been called a bounder. He left America rather hurriedly in 1877 after a scandal – he mistook the grand piano at his fiancée’s family home for a urinal. He sometimes tore around the countryside in a coachand-four in the nude and once burned a fat roll of money because it was ruining the cut of his trousers. Nevertheless, it is he we have to thank – indirectly – for one of the most classic and patriotic colours ever created. He founded the Gordon Bennett Cup, which pitted nations against each other in annual automobile races. Before 1902, Britain didn’t have its own national racing colour. It didn’t even have much of a racing tradition to speak of – the speed limit was 12mph. In 1902, however, a British car unexpectedly won, meaning that Britain would host the Cup the following year. To bypass speed regulations in the UK, the race was held in Ireland, and in appreciation of the venue, the olive green of the original winning car was darkened to a deep shamrock shade. This colour was known thereafter as British Racing Green.
There is no standard hue of British Racing Green: manufacturers have always mixed their own versions, ranging from the paler, yellower Napiers to the rich jungle of the Jaguars. Today, however, the colour is generally accepted to be somewhere between Brunswick green and forest hues. And it is really the context that makes it: British Racing Green should call to mind the smell of sun-baked car leather, the throaty cacophony of engines and the cheers of those celebrating a patriotic victory. It was, after all, the memorable livery of the British Bentleys that sped to so many successes in the Le Mans races in the 1920s and 30s.
If you yearn to bring this colour in from the garage, now is a wonderful time to do so. ‘Morris Green’ from the V&A’S ‘Classic’ paint collection is the darkest incarnation of the shade; ‘Hunter Dunn’ by the Paint & Paper Library, is richer and warmer. If you would prefer more drama, consider a high-gloss finish that will reflect the light like a car bonnet. For those looking for a milder update, Fermoie has two fabrics (‘L-061’ and ‘L-057’) in this colourway, while Polish company 366 Concept has re-imagined its ‘Fox Easy Chair’ by H Lim in ‘Bottle Green’. It’s not quite in the taking-life-on-two-wheels spirit – but even James Gordon Bennett enjoyed relaxing in style occasionally.