Go Faster: The Graphic Design of Racing Cars

While the go-faster stripe is a classic design element of the racing car, the look of these vehicles is rarely created by a designer. Sven Voelker looks at the unexplored area of fast and furious graphic art in new book, Go Faster

While the go faster stripe is a classic design element of the racing car, the look of these vehicles is rarely created by a designer. Sven Voelker looks at the unexplored area of fast and furious graphic art in new book, Go Faster…

In a supporting film from publishers Gestalten (below), Voelker talks about the relationship between the cars’ aerodynamics and their graphic aesthetic, which enables the vehicle to give the impression of being “visually faster”.

Alongside the chevrons, the stripes and arrows, there are some more adventur­ous designs included in Go Faster.

Take the Porsche 917/20 from the 1970s, painted pig pink and marked out like a butcher’s diagram identifying the various cuts of meat – which led its sponsors, Martini, to withdraw their logos from the car.

The larger plastic body shells that appeared in the 70s offered more space for artwork, but it was commercial backers like Marlboro and John Player that often dominated the colourways with their branding.

Voelker notes that BMW has a good track record of employing artists to work on its cars, however. Alexander Calder, Andy Warhol and David Hockney all painted its vehicles. Perhaps a resurgence in commissioning artists could add some extra colour to the next F1 season?

A brightly coloured James Jarvis overtaking Hamilton’s Vodaphone McLaren Mercedes would be a sight to behold.

Go Faster is published by Gestalten; £22. Some spreads from the book follow below:

  • Must get this one, what an amazing overlook at the history of graphic design when it comes to racing cars. I’ve always been interested on how they achieve this amazing visuals.

  • Love being introduced to new/old applications of design. These F1 cars are amazing in the fact that many didn’t have a high profile designer working on them, yet some how managed to create an amazing aesthetic. Great inspiration.

  • Okay, the butcher’s diagram Porsche is the best car EVER. Mr. Martini was a big silly to stomp away from the porcine pulchritude of that. Excessive ttestosterone flooding his system, maybe, and not enough humour.

  • Gregg Perin

    Be still my heart! I have grown up with these wonderful images and models of all these race cars and that in some way inspired me to become a package designer. AND they continue to inspire me. I have been fortunate in having many opportunities to design graphics for vehicles. There is something magical about the graphics that get applied to a man-made machine of 400, 500, 600, even a thousand horsepower. A color, a shape, a number, that the men that know the car better than anyone, get to apply and so call, to label it, to emblaze it on the spectators’ eyes.

    Thank You for calling attention to such a wonderful, yet overlooked artform.

  • Ive got to design a new livery for an OMS Hillclimb car soon, so this maybe worth a look at reading. I agree with Gregg that this is an overlooked artform and there is something always beautiful about racing cars. Even a Brawn car looked beautiful with such little sponsorship and just simple florescent yellow line work.

  • Excellent – this book is on my list – honest comment “there are so many mistakes on these cars but they still look cool” that alone sold it to me – where there are mistakes there is genius. Thanks CR

  • Like many creatives, I am fascinated by letterforms. It was therefore interesting to read the Creative Review piece on Racing Car graphics.

    About a year-and-a-half ago I visited the Grand Prix Collection at Donington Racetrack which is based in the East Midlands within easy access of Leicester, Derby and Nottingham. The displays had a ramshackle club-house feel, in-keeping with the grass-roots community of motor-racing fanatics. The one aspect missing from the CR piece is the presence, smell and atmosphere evoked by these fabulous machines.

    The vintage racing car shapes at Donington hark back to childhood Scalextric tracks, like the one in my son’s bedroom or the one forty years earlier in my bedroom – so often hijacked by my Dad and his enthusiastic workmates. Maybe the fascination with graphics has its beginnings in the beautifully packaged Scalextric, Hornby and Airfix models with their easy-to-apply decals and exciting hand-rendered illustrations? Whatever the reason, Donington provided a fascinating glimpse of a bygone age when Marlboro Cigarettes jostled with Denim Aftershave for prime space on these glamourous dream-racers.

    Donington racetrack seems a long time ago now. On the day of our visit (july 2008) ITN and BBC news crews were assembled to report on an announcement by Bernie Ecclestone concerning the prospect of the British Grand Prix returning to Donington in 2010. Sadly the venture failed to attract sufficient funds and Eccleston subsequently negotiated a deal with the Silverstone Circuit.