By on April 4, 2014

Today you can see the powder blue and marigold Gulf Oil racing colors on just about anything with wheels. A quick image search produces photos of bicycles, Mazda Miatas, DeLoreans, smart cars and even a Tata Nano wearing the livery. Gulf Oil itself has sponsored a number of widely varying race cars that have carried the paint scheme. With so many cars having worn Gulf’s iconic colors it’s easy to forget that there was a time when those colors were worn by a single racing team, running Ford GT40s. As it happens, though, the first Gulf livery GT40 that raced was actually painted a different shade of blue.


The original Ford GT40 that wore Gulf corporate colors was raced by Gulf VP Grady Davis.

The original race car painted in Gulf Oil colors was a Ford GT40 (chassis #1049) that was raced at Daytona and Sebring in 1967 as an independent entry by Gulf Oil executive vice president Grady Davis. It carried Gulf’s corporate colors of dark blue and orange. In 1967, for the upcoming season the CSI (Commission Sportive Internationale, the sporting arm of the FIA) reduced allowable engine displacement in Group 6 prototype endurance cars to 3.0 liters. That meant that the car that won LeMans in 1967, the Ford GT40 Mk IV with its 7 liter, 427 cubic inch engine, would not be able to defend its title. Having won at LeMans two years running, Henry Ford II had nothing else to prove and shuttered their endurance racing effort. John Wyer, who had an important role in the development of the GT40, realized that the platform could compete at LeMans as a Group 4 sports car, so J.W. Automotive Engineering took over management of the team and arranged for sponsorship from Gulf Oil, renaming the cars Mirages.

Three Mirages were built and they were painted in the now familiar powder blue, not Gulf’s indigo. The colors were specified by Davis, who thought the lighter color was more exciting. Gulf had earlier acquired the Wilshire Oil Company of California, whose corporate colors were powder blue and orange and Davis wanted to use those colors. He may have been on to something. The lighter blue and that shade of orange are considered “equiluminant” colors. The human eye has a hard time perceiving the edges of objects when the objects and their background colors have similar luminance. That makes the edges seem to vibrate which give this particular color combination a lot of visual pop. The final livery actually includes a dark blue hairline border around the orange, which reduces the optical illusion and any visual discomfort while maintaining most of the visual impact.

Graphic designer Wade Johnson has an interesting post about why the Gulf livery works so well on race cars, particularly endurance sports cars like those that race at LeMans:

For me, when I think about what is from a design perspective that makes Gulf racing cars work, it is a combination of things; First there is the intense color pallet which was different from any other at the time it was introduced. Then there are the classic sweeping lines of the Le Mans cars. Long low to the ground, sinuous sweeping arcs that visually scream speed. Then There is a consistent shape that is used across all the cars in the livery. Oh, and that three prong stripe that runs along the bottom edges of the car, gathers at the nose and sweeps backward to the rear of the car. The stripe might vary slightly in shape, but it is always recognizable across all of the cars throughout Gulf’s racing heritage starting in the mid 1960′s. No matter what car this color and graphic scheme is applied to, it always reads Gulf Racing. It is an unmistakable color and design combination even almost 40 years after being introduced.

Only one of the original three Mirages has survived. Of the other two, one was wrecked and destroyed and the other was rebuilt into GT40 #1074. A new Mirage tub was used to build #1075, and a standard GT40 Mk I tub was used to build up #1076. Two more cars were built up by JWAE as spares. The cars featured something relatively new then, carbon fiber reinforced body panels. Those panels were shaped slightly different than the GT40 Mk IIs, with a wider rear clamshell that could accommodate the deeply offset wide BRM magnesium wheels, painted in matching orange.

Cars #1074, 1075 and 1076 went on to great racing success, with #1075 doing the near impossible, back to back overall wins at LeMans using a car generally considered to be obsolete. It was the first time at LeMans that the same chassis had won twice. Pedro Rodriguez and Lucien Bianchi drove 1075 to its first Le Mans win in 1968 and Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver won with it in 1969. In 1968, the same car won the BOAC International 500, the Spa 1000-kilometer race, and the Watkins Glen 6-hour endurance race, while in 1969 it also won the Sebring 12-hour race. Any one of those victories would give a race car unique provenance, but you’d be hard pressed to think of another single racing car with victories at so many marquee races. Though I agree with Johnson about how well the Gulf livery works visually, the fact that the car won so many important races, including the repeat at LeMans, is undoubtedly a factor in how iconic the livery has become.

Ford GT40s aren't the only shapes that look good in Gulf livery.

Ford GT40s aren’t the only shapes that look good in Gulf livery.

Ironically, it was because another LeMans winner, the GT40 Mk IV that won in 1967, was damaged that I was able to get these photographs. The ’68 & ’69 winner is currently on display in the Racing In America section of the Henry Ford Museum’s Driving America exhibit, apparently on loan. The GT40 Mk IV driven at victory by Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt that’s normally in that spot in the museum is now at Gurney’s All American Racers shop in California where it is undergoing a “sensitive restoration” and preservation after getting damaged in transit for the Goodwood Revival. One assumes the intent is to preserve some of that car’s racing scars, like the less than concours level repairs to racing damage that you can see on #1075’s rocker panels.

If you’d like to read more about the Gulf livery Mirages and GT40s, there’s a website devoted to the five original cars and the Ford museum’s transportation curator, Matt Anderson has put together a history of chassis #1075. If you’d like to reproduce the Gulf racing livery on your own ride (or whatever else you think would look cool in those colors), the Llewellyn Rylands pigments are 3707 Zenith Blue, and 3957 Tangerine, with corresponding Dulux color codes of Powder Blue #P030-8013, and Marigold #P030-3393.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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23 Comments on “An Original Gulf Livery Car – 1968 & 1969 LeMans Winning Ford GT40...”

  • avatar

    Am I completely crazy or do I remember seeing a Porsche 924 decked out like that for some sports car circuit in the late ’70’s, as well?

    • 0 avatar

      Porsche 917’s carried the Gulf colors. Flat 12 engines!

      • 0 avatar

        You got it ! The 917 it was . Though I have no doubt some 924 owner or another painted his car in the same scheme in order to boost his/her ego a bit !

        Nice to see the Gulf livery where it belongs though .. rather than on the plethora of junk lately being painted in the Gulf colors in the futile attempt to give credibility for what is otherwise Suburban / Urban Hipster Wanna Be trash masquerading as either Art or Craftsmanship

      • 0 avatar

        The sound that Porsche 917 flat-12 makes is amazing. And slightly terrifying.

    • 0 avatar

      Unrelated, but there was also a Gulf liveried Ducati in the 2008 Le Mans 24 Heures Moto. I think the bike was a DNF, but the paint scheme looks great on the 1098R, and other Ducatis.

    • 0 avatar

      I can make no assessment of your mental health but you’re probably thinking of the 1977 924 “championship” edition cars.

      They used the Martini colors but were fairly striking because they were all white cars with the interiors in the orange and black (with the pale blue and red accent stripe) of Martini

      It also had a small brass plaque on the center console that said “Weltmeister” and listed Porsche victories of the prior year or something.

      It was underpowered but still a fun car to drive around.

  • avatar

    I think one of these is in the Blackhawks museums in Danville,CA.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Anyone ever wonder what Ford could have done with the money thrown away on this ego trip?

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Umm, they could have improved the power steering on the Ford Galaxie? Really?

    • 0 avatar

      Probably nothing in comparison to what Henry I spent (over decades) on his hobby farms . . .

    • 0 avatar

      If you think the aura surrounding the GT program is wasted money, you have no clue how automotive sales worked in the 60’s and 70’s.

      Ford was HUGE because of their ‘un-official’ racing program – they were the very definition of Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday. Not to mention the business process benefit they gained from organizing collaborative efforts on multiple continents.

      And then there’s the Shelby bit, but I’m sure that didn’t end up generating any revenue for the Blue Oval…

  • avatar

    Other shapes that look good better than the GT40.

  • avatar

    …without appearing as too much of a “car paint color anorak” – my understanding is that the Gulf racing cars were painted in Standard-Triumph’s powder blue color as used on the old Triumph Sports cars. That’s what I turned up when researching the correct Powder Blue paint for my 1961 Triumph?

  • avatar

    Great article! I just want to clarify that John Wyer’s Gulf-painted Mirages first raced in 1967, not in 1968, if that wasn’t quite clear.

    I’m a huge Mirage fan, I think of them something like the 250 Breadvan of the GT40 dynasty. The Mirage M1 won at the Paris 1000km and at Spa in ’67, their only wins before transforming into GT40s in ’68.

    • 0 avatar

      Raph, thanks for the kind words and the clarification. I’d gone to the Henry Ford Museum to shoot photos of Henry Ford’s experimental X8 engine and on my way to its location I noticed that they’d put the ’68-’69 LeMans car where the (damaged) Mk IV normally sits. You see a car like that, you have to stop and take some pictures. Also, my guess is that a post on the GT40 gets more traffic than one on the X8.

  • avatar

    I just saw this car at the Henry Ford 3 weeks ago, I even have a picture from the same angle as the leade picture. Truly a awesome racecar!

    • 0 avatar

      There are limited clear angle views of the car so it doesn’t surprise me that we came up with similar shots. I hate barriers around cars that make photography difficult. At the NAIAS a couple of years ago when Mercedes-Benz introduced a new SL, they brought out the oldest existing SL coupe in the world. The car had barely stopped on the stand before they put up those temporary barriers around it. Nothing like having a black stripe running across your photos of a car. The next time I see Matt Anderson, the curator at the HFM, I’m going to suggest that the museum switch to glass barriers. Come to think of it, the entire Racing In America display is a temporary display while they raise the money to build the permanent one. In general, I don’t think that car museums give enough thought to making it easy to photograph the cars.

      • 0 avatar

        I think that is a common theme with any museum displaying large mechanical pieces; be they cars, planes, or trains. Though cars are smaller than planes and trains; and easier to keep a clear space around them.

        I have been in some which had a large open center area that allows you to walk around, and get clear shots of each item. But others are struggling to fit as many pieces from their often huge collection as they can under a limited amount of covered space; and as a result the sight lines/camera angles suffer.

        Railroad museums are often the worst; many have their collection under a train shed/pole barn that provides the needed protection, but makes it hard to get anything but a three quarters shot; often with at least one or more poles getting the way. But, at least they are protected; and not rotting out in the open.

        Thanks for a good article about a great car; one of my favorites. Though I doubt I could sit in one and close the door, even with a “Gurney Bump.”

        Hmmmm; maybe the Blue Goose needs it’s front bumper painted orange, and an orange racing stripe up the middle…..

      • 0 avatar

        The Ferrari museum in Maranello does not place any sort of barriers around the displayed cars. They simply ask that you maintain a respectful distance and “don’t touch”. The reverence displayed was remarkable. The place was quieter than any museum or church in all of Italy .

  • avatar

    When I decided to do a custom paint job on my computer case a few years back I was searching for a nice blue color scheme and came across the Pontiac STP blue for Petty’s car and then the Gulf blue in a color catalog. I was completely torn but after doing some searches on both I ended up going gulf blue because it is visually popping. Sadly I gave the case to cousin for their kid because he loved racing and I had done it with a proper Gulf livery overall. I’ll have to see if I can find the pictures for it. I’m sure I took plenty because I was proud of how nicely it turned out.

  • avatar

    great article Ronnie. truly iconic colors on a beautiful racecar.

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