Why do Cobras have stripes?

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Tom Wells
Posts: 950
Joined: Fri May 08, 2015 7:34 pm

Why do Cobras have stripes?

Post by Tom Wells »

Stolen (reposted!) from the London Cobra Show web site:

During 1963, when Carroll Shelby and his team first began racing Cobras, none of the Cobras had stripes. The fact that many 1965 and later Cobras have stripes, is actually due to two individuals Briggs Cunningham and Peter Brock. So, the question is - why did the Cobras get their racing stripes?

One can trace automotive racing stripes back to a young Cincinnatian, Briggs Swift Cunningham II, who would eventually become a millionaire entrepreneur, race car driver and owner/builder. Cunningham developed his lifelong love for automobile racing at a young age, as he often went with, and watched as his uncle street raced his Dodge touring car.

Cunningham’s early love of auto racing later developed into a long career of manufacturing and racing sports cars of his own design. Cunningham, who is said to have pioneered road racing in the States, would build a reputation for winning races at various road courses. After World War II, Cunningham’s love for sports car racing led him to establish the Sports Car Club of America, better known today as the SCCA.

During the early days of road racing, most of the sports cars were roadsters, and they all tended to look very similar to each other. This posed a problem for race officials, as well as spectators, in trying to accurately distinguish individual cars during a race. To aid in identifying individual race cars and teams, the various sanctioning bodies that eventually would become today’s Federation Internationale del'Automobile (FIA) stipulated that all race cars were to be painted a distinctive color based on the nationality of the car owner.

To meet the paint color regulation, the British race teams chose to use green, the Belgian teams went with yellow, the French teams chose blue, and the Germans selected silver, while the Italian teams decided on red. When American race teams began racing their sports cars internationally, they chose to paint their sports cars white, while the exposed frames were painted blue.

Cunningham had a dream of winning the most prestigious sports car race in the world, the 24 Heures du Mans. In 1950 he entered a pair of Cadillacs, both of which failed to finish the 24-hour race. As Cunningham was partial to the white and blue color combination that had been chosen for the American teams, he decided to paint his race cars white, with blue stripes running up the hood, over the top and down the rear deck. Cunningham’s blue with white stripes race cars became instantly recognizable, and the blue stripes soon became known as Cunningham stripes. Later the stripes would be called Le Mans stripes, rally stripes or just racing stripes.

During the mid-1950’s while Cunningham was racing, Peter Brock was attending high school as a student. Most of Peters high school friends tended to follow hot rods, or were involved in the drag racing scene. However, Peter was more interested in road racing. Brock owned a customized 1946 Ford convertible, that was powered by a Cadillac V8, backed by a LaSalle 3-speed transmission. Soon after he obtained the Ford convertible, Brock painted the Ford white with a pair of blue, Cunningham-style racing stripes. As time went on, Brock acquired other cars, which he also painted white with blue stripes. This color scheme soon became his trademark.

Brock, became Carroll Shelby's first paid employee during 1961, and he later would become responsible for design at Shelby America. In his design position, Brock was responsible for the appearance of the Shelby American’s Mustang GT350 race cars. Since he was a road racing, as well as a Briggs Cunningham fan, Brock outfitted Shelby’s GT350 team cars with the blue and white stripe styling that everyone recognizes today as a Shelby GT350. In addition, Shelby’s 1964 Daytona Coupes were painted Viking Blue with white stripes.

For the 1965 racing season the Shelby American race cars, including the 427 Cobra, were painted Guardsman Blue with white Le Mans stripes. This color combination today is considered by many to be the most iconic look for Shelby’s race cars.

So, one must thank both Briggs Cunningham and Peter Brock for Cobras having the twin Cunningham stripes.

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Posted May 5, 2022
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