Colours of Racing. Part Two – The Germans

As you can see in the previous post, some of the national racing colors actually changed hands before becoming traditional, but Germany is the only one to have two choices.

The Silver Arrow or the Simple White?

1910 “Blitzen” Benz GP car.

The color given to German racing teams was white, pure and simple. The traditional powerhouse brands, Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union (which later became Audi) followed the trend, and later on, Porsche and BMW did the same.

But around the early 1930s, the Germans pushed for a second choice of color, Silver. This option came not as a paint per se but actually as a lack of it. Around this time, some of the official Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union cars started to show up at the tracks completely stripped of paint, proudly showing the bare, polished aluminum body. There are a few theories for the real reason the German teams adopted this “no paint required” procedure.

1939 Auto Union Type D – Silver Arrow

The most accepted theory goes like this, in the early 1930s, German engineering was able to come up with very powerful engines allied with streamlined, aerodynamic bodies and that made the Mercedes Benz and Auto-Union terrifyingly fast. The International Grand Prix Racing Organization had to put some limits on the speed of those cars and they came up with a clever way to do so; instead of putting limitations on the size of the engines, they decided to put a severe weight limit of 750 kg on all race cars.

The 595 hp, W125 Mercedes-Benz

With new rules in place, all the players had to build new cars format. At the debut race for the new W-125 Mercedes, in Nurburgring, the car weighed exactly 751Kg, the team had no idea what to remove from it since, as we know, a race car only has what is absolutely essential for its performance. The chief engineer decided to remove the only unnecessary equipment, the white paint, and the primer. The decision brought the W 125 to the allowed 750 Kg and also gave it a menacing, high-tech look. It didn’t take long for Auto-Union to adopt the same idea.

For some people, this story is absolutely true and among them, we have Mr. Alfred Neubauer, Mercedes’ racing program principal during those years, he even wrote about it in his 1958 memoirs. Mercedes Benz itself assures it is the true version of how the German racing cars became Silver.

But for some historians, this is nothing more than a colorful make up a story that became true after being told over and over again throughout the years. There are evidences of German cars in either bare metal body or even painted in silver even before 1934.

For those people, the idea of the cars racing in bare metal bodies was nothing more than the Germans showing off their superiority in the aluminum manufacturing.

Hitler always saw the races as a perfect way to show the world all the technological advances in the German industry in peacetime and the Nazi party became a sponsorship for the teams. Mussolini did the same with Alfa Romeo and Maserati.


1955 Mercedes Benz w196

In one way or another, the Silver became a tradition for the German race cars.

1939 Porsche Type 64.

Porsche also wasn’t ashamed to present his first-ever car in shinning bare aluminum.

1949 BMW Rannsport.

And even BMW, which came a big latter to the racing playground, adopted the color.

1979 BMW M1

But as years passed, BMW tried to distance itself from the other German brands on the race track and the white color became the standard for their official cars.

A powerful statement.

For the old school aficionados, like myself, the first picture that comes to mind when we think about the McLaren F1 team is a car in the red and white Marlboro livery. Under those colors legends like Fittipaldi, Hunt, Lauda e Senna became World Champions.

The 1984 World Champion Niki Lauda at the wheel of the Porsche powered McLaren.

In 1995 Mercedes Benz started to supply engines to McLaren and since day one, this partnership was meant to be more than just commercial agreement, the British team became a “semi-official” team for Mercedes, paving the way for their full Formula 1 team in a near future.

1997 McLaren Mercedes F1

In 1997 McLaren replaced its main sponsor, Marlboro, for another tobacco brand, West, and for the first time in 23 years, their cars would be racing in different colors.

The Silver was the color of West tobacco but we all know who the Brits were really pleasing.

2010 W01 Mercedes

In 2010 was the year Mercedes Benz officially came back to Formula 1 as a team and this new generation of the “Silver Arrows” started what is now almost a decade of dominance in the sport.


Published by Rubens Junior

Passionate about classic cars, motorcycles, airplanes, and watches.

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