MALSHER: The most beautiful racecars of all time

MALSHER: The most beautiful racecars of all time

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MALSHER: The most beautiful racecars of all time


Choose your favorite racecars of all time for your chance to win a large format print of your No. 1 choice, or to win a year’s subscription to RACER. But first of all, try separating your personal favorites from cars that are objectively beautiful works of automotive art. RACER editor David Malsher argues that it’s impossible – but admits he may not be the best judge of art…


When I was at school, at the end of each term we had reports sent home to our parents. For each subject, the teachers would write two or three pithy lines – “Your brat occasionally knows what he’s doing. However,…” (In my reports there was always a big, fat “However…”.) Then, at the end of each teacher’s summary, he or she would bestow a grade which took the form of a letter and a number. So there’d be A, B, C, D or E for attainment, A being top, C for average, E for appalling; then 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 for effort – 1 for maximum, 3 for moderate, 5 for “Why the hell does he attend this class if he cares so little about it?”


Supposedly the ultimate accolade was an “A1” – great scores as a result of huge diligence – but I disagreed with this view entirely, and the sort of grade I really wanted, I finally achieved one term for a Math class. It was an “A4.” To this egotist, that translated as, “Minimal effort yet still excelling – a true natural.” By the time I was a teenager, everything in life had a motorsport analogy and so for a few weeks during the summer break, I felt like the Prost of Pythagoras, the Mears of multiplication, the Clark of calculus. (So thank you, Mr. Shepherd, wherever you are.)


At the other end of the scale was an “E1,” which effectively meant, “Your child is putting his heart and soul into these lessons, but appears to have the aptitude of a plastic bag. Kindly take this report as a hint and withdraw him before he brings down the class average.” Sadly, for me, it was Art that induced these sorts of grades. However hard and often I tried painting a picture of a castle, fashioning a tiger from a lump of clay, or sketching a McLaren MP4/2, the results looked alarming. And tragically similar, too. Which of course meant that each bore a striking lack of resemblance to its subject matter…


Finally, exasperatedly, I admitted defeat and quit. And after just a few years, the Art professor was able to return to teaching, expensive therapy having finally expunged from his memory that fetid and haunting feline-racecar-chateau mélange that had both mocked his tutoring skills and served as a monument to the school’s dementedly talentless version of Picasso.


Given my ineptness, it might seem gauche of me to pass comment on anyone else’s graphic endeavors but in the case of art – as with music, cinematography, writing or cooking – we don’t have to be able to create to appreciate. And functional art brings in a whole new set of parameters…and even greater appreciation.


It’s as impossible as it is wrong to judge a racecar merely as a static sculpture. Besides its lines and shapes, other factors add layers of allure. How much of its appeal is tied into its paint-scheme, its success, its sound, its “coolness” by association with a driver, a team or the stage on which it performed? For example, Al Unser’s Indy 500-winning Vel’s Parnelli Jones Colt is, I believe, one of the most desirable racecars ever (LEFT, IMS photo), but how much of that is down to the fact that Big Al is a hero, Parnelli is a hero, the car won the biggest race in the world (twice!), it was painted in that startling yet well thought-out Johnny Lightning livery or that the late, great George Bignotti redesigned and engineered it? Well, I’d be lying if I said that none of those factors influence me because I suspect all of them do. But I couldn’t argue objectively that the Colt was purer of line than, say, the Formula 1 Ferrari 312B of the same vintage.

So how about cars that looked good but performed poorly? I find the March 701 very appealing, but assuredly Sir Jackie Stewart, Mario Andretti and Chris Amon – the guys who had to drive it to the limit – would disagree vigorously. But Stewart won a race in a 701 so it can’t be regarded as completely hopeless. But then there’s the 1988 Ligier JS31 which, as it first appeared (before acquiring its overhead air-intake), is an F1 car that I found shockingly beautiful; its drivers, Stefan Johansson and Rene Arnoux, found it merely shocking. And considering it racked up eight DNQs and zero points, it would surely be unfair to rank Michel Tetu’s misconceived marvel along with the best works of Ferrari or McLaren, Brabham or Eagle, Porsche or Lola.


If you think it’s possible to judge a car simply by its shape, try this exercise: Dan Gurney’s 1967 Eagle-Weslake F1 car – (ABOVE, LAT photo) commonly but incorrectly referred to as the T1G – understandably appears in many a “Most beautiful racecars” list, but had it been slow and unsuccessful, painted pink with green spots and driven by a mediocre pay-driver, would its beauty be so highly praised? Highly unlikely, I’d say. Attraction involves a combination of factors intertwined. Would the video to Shakira’s song “Hips don’t lie” have 141 million views on YouTube if she looked like Mrs. Doubtfire and danced as if suffering acute appendicitis? Of course not. So let’s at least be deep enough to admit we’re shallow…


Here’s another factor that we may be less willing to admit to when choosing our favorite racecars: age. Yes, it’s important to avoid the “It was all better in X decade” way of thinking, but surely most of our dream machines are from the era in which we as individuals first got hooked on racing. The long-nose Jaguar D-type, Juan Manuel Fangio’s Alfa Romeo Alfetta 159 and the Kurtis-Kraft Fuel Injection Special of Bill Vukovich (BELOW, IMS photo) would be in my perfect garage, no question. In fact, I could argue that Vuky’s wonderfully understated car is the greatest work of automotive art in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, its form almost entirely dictated by function. But, as a 40-year-old, do I feel the same emotional connection to that trio as I do to, say, a Penske PC10, a Porsche 962 or Williams FW11? Inevitably not. For me, racing went from a keen interest to a passion in the early ’80s and by the middle of that decade, it was an addiction. It says much, I think, that on hearing Ayrton Senna’s name, I automatically think of him in a black-and-gold Lotus despite only the first four of his 41 wins being earned in JPS colors.




What triggered this latest pondering of beautiful racecars was the worrying warnings of current F1 designers that for 2014 their cars’ already weird platypus noses may evolve into kind of tapir-style snouts. I confess I’ve not really been impressed with the proportions of F1 cars since they became narrower in 1998, but I got used to it. Then, as they sprouted more strakes and aero appendages, I longed for a return to simplicity…until I saw the ’09 cars. With their full-width front wings and tall but narrow rear wings, their various dimensions didn’t seem to correlate at all when viewed from the front or rear and I’m afraid I haven’t learned to love them over the past five seasons. From the side, too, the wheels/tires on current F1 cars look far too small, so that the overall impression is of a giant locust riding a skateboard.


But this is subjective, of course. One man’s Williams FW14B is another’s Red Bull RB9 and it’s not Adrian Newey’s fault that I find his work from 1992 more attractive than that from 2013. (Incidentally, I do wonder if auto racing’s man-with-two-brains is able to compare these two devastatingly effective cars with completely artistic objectivity, or whether he is a mere mortal like you or I. Maybe Newey goes by Gurney’s old maxim that there’s no such thing as an ugly car in Victory Lane.) The stark differences between Newey’s first and last world championship-winning designs are, of course, largely the result of changing regulations, not because he’s suddenly developed cataracts or a squint. His judgment and instincts, remain unmatchable, his cars uncatchable.


Sometimes, mercifully, the shapes foisted on a race series are just right, and not because of regulatory restrictions or safety directives but simply because the series is spec. One of the reasons I loved the last ever Champ Car, the 2007-’08 Panoz DP01, was that its front half reminded me of Neil Oatley’s gorgeous McLaren MP4-12 Formula 1 car of 1997 which combined elegant lines with a muscular stance. Yet from the cockpit on backward, the Panoz remained very clearly a Champ Car, with that small rollover hoop (somewhat ruined by an onboard camera) and low engine cover. Painted in the Forsythe Racing blue-and-white (TOP, LAT photo) or the Walker Racing green and yellow, it was particularly sweet.


Sedan/stock car/touring car categories, over the past decade or so, have had to sell themselves less on the visual appeal of the machinery and
more on the quality of racing, although there are exceptions. The Gen-6 NASCAR Cup cars and the current Nationwide cars have finally brought back some much-needed style to the genre, and Australia’s V8 Supercars never lost that attraction, in my opinion.


But in the 21st century, it’s been the sports car scene that has featured the most desirable shapes and most variety. Prototypes from Audi (in particular, the open-cockpit models), Lola, Toyota and Acura/HPD have looked dramatic, gone fast and, from most angles, displayed an artistic cohesion absent from many current formula cars. I’m also beginning to think that ORECA is unable to design anything but attractive racecars.


Yet the Porsche RS Spyder LMP2 (ABOVE, LAT photo) is the surefire entrant to my pantheon of prototype pulchritude, were I to confine it to cars from the last decade-and-a-half. Again, I’m not certain that the RS could be classified as a beauty, per se, but appealing? Hell yes! The car’s innate brilliance and longevity is much of the draw, but so also is the quality of racing it produced: I’d imagine the American Le Mans Series battles between Porsche and Audi will have thrilled teenaged race fans as much as Porsche vs Jaguar vs Mercedes in Group C and Jaguar vs Porsche vs Nissan in IMSA GTP enthralled me in the ’80s and early ’90s.


The GT classes of what is now the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship field will surely have it all – great racing, great variety and great cars (ABOVE, LAT photo). Chevrolet Corvettes, SRT Vipers, Porsche 911s, Ferrari 458s, BMW Z4s, Aston Martins, Audi R8s – they all attract second or third glances even standing still. Meanwhile the multi-class, multi-car variety of the IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge and Pirelli World Challenge makes each overall package as visually stimulating in the paddock as it is on the race track. And each contains cars that, yes, I’d classify as beautiful. My current GT car of choice, though, is the heart-stoppingly handsome GT3 Bentley Continental…but if it proves unsuccessful, will it lose too much of its appeal for my apparently fickle heart? Well, I hope never to find out.


I suspect most if not all of you have an additional conundrum: those personal favorites which, from a purely aesthetic perspective, are emphatically not top-ranking. The Ferrari 250 LM, as driven to victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans by Jochen Rindt and Masten Gregory in 1965 (RIGHT, LAT photo), is one example. And the rallying world is full of such cars! I could not, for instance argue that “beautiful” is the correct term for Lancia’s Delta S4, Integrale, or even 037, nor the Audi Quattro, Fiat 131 Abarth, Peugeot 205 T16, Subaru Impreza, Nissan 240RS, Ford Escort WRC of the ’90s or BDA-engined RS1800s of the ’70s. But do I love them any less than Lancia’s blatantly gorgeous Stratos or dainty Fulvia HF? Nope! All are full to the brim with charisma, because all were impressive when flying over crests, drifting through muddy sweepers, flicking around asphalt hairpins, and being handled by legends such as Munari, Rohrl, Alen, Vatanen, McRae, Sainz and Kankkunen. For many younger fans, the Citroens of Loeb and the VWs of Ogier will be held in similar affection.


(Speaking of Citroen…Out of sheer obtuseness, I might cite the Citroen SM as being my favorite rally car, just because of its sheer size and elegance and the sheer foolhardiness of entering one in competition. Here’s a car with inherent complications and inner workings that would baffle Professor Stephen Hawking, and yet some brave soul rallied it!? Won the 1971 Moroccan Rally, too.)


Personally, I find it hard to nail down one favorite of anything. The aforementioned Penske PC10 (ABOVE) is in my Top 10 but of course this is colored also by its heritage. It took one of my all-time heroes, Rick Mears, to the 1982 CART Indy car championship, it was involved in one of the greatest duels ever seen at the Indy 500, its color scheme is pretty much perfect, and it sounds like a typically overpowered turbo car: freakin’ wonderful!


Just to throw one more distracting criterion into the mix: when making your selections, bear in mind that perspectives can change over time, too. I couldn’t get enthused over the Porsche 956s or 962s in their heyday, because they kept dominating. When that involved beating my beloved Jaguar XJRs on either side of the Atlantic, or the Sauber Mercedes back in Europe, that blinded me to the Porsche’s magnificence. Now I look at a 962 (BELOW, LAT photo) with both awe and affection. And there’s no question, either, that it is a beauty.


Well, I’ve convinced myself that it’s impossible to be objective about a racecar’s beauty, at least for a motorsport fan. We’ve largely skirted around the subject of engine sounds, color schemes, personal memories or favorite drivers, but unless you can imagine your favorite cars painted in primer, used purely as static art, never fired up and never associated with a hero, your choices are going to be influenced by more than shape or outline. Which is no bad thing; this is a sport, after all, and sport must evoke emotion.


So let’s have your FAVORITE racecars of all time. No more than five, please, but feel free to pick from any era, any category of racing (including rallying) and, if you wish, provide a sentence explaining why it’s in your list. But you can also vote for just one car and without explanation. There are no wrong types of answer, just as there are no right or wrong answers. The best replies will appear in follow-up stories in February. One reader will win a large-format print of their favorite car, five readers will receive a year’s subscription to RACER to either keep for themselves or give to a friend, and we have sundry other prizes to give away, too.


So get thinking and then email your answers to

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