You might have heard that Gulf Oil has recently signed a multi-year deal with McLaren, covering “luxury cars and Formula 1”. What this means in plainspeak is how the iconic orange-and-blue livery will be making a triumphant return to F1 in general (its livery has, in recent years, been largely restricted to endurance racing) and McLarens in particular.
Coincidentally enough, the McLaren team already races with an orange-and-blue livery, though now, the Gulf Oil branding will now appear on its race cars’ wing mirrors and engine covers.
The reuniting of McLaren and Gulf Oil is the rekindling of a relationship that dates back over 50 years to the late 1960s when its logos adorned Bruce McLaren’s Can-Am racers.
At any rate, the famed racing colours have graced not only McLarens, but a whole host of others as well. To celebrate this occasion, we thought we’d start on a gallery of the five greatest race cars to ever wear the Gulf colours.
Arguably the most famous car to ever wear the Gulf Racing colours, the exploits of the GT40 are immortalised in motor racing folklore and on the big screen in the movie Ford v Ferrari. The story goes that Ferrari was almost sold to Ford, were it not for a last-minute pull-out by Enzo Ferrari. Henry Ford, so incensed by the snub, mandated it beat Ferrari at its own game, then the dominant force at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race.
The GT40 (so named for its 40-inch-tall roofline) not only broke Ferrari’s six-year winning streak in 1966, it would go on to win the world’s premier endurance race in three more consecutive years. Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold. And with a heaping side of American V8 muscle.
And yet another movie star car, this time the star car being the Porsche 917, which had a lead role in the 1971 Steve McQueen film, Le Mans. The 917 not only delivered Porsche its first (of 19) overall Le Mans victory in 1970, it’s significant in how it took its maiden Le Mans victory after barely 10 months in development.
The 917 is also significant for its use of both long- and short-tailed variants, an early foray into aerodynamics, yielding (broadly speaking) decreased drag and increased downforce respectively, something that our next car would take to heart… and victory.
McLaren F1 GTR ‘Longtail’
One of the most storied supercars of the 1990s, and indeed, a supercar that continues to have as much influence today as it did nearly 30 years ago since its launch, was the McLaren F1. It’s interesting to note that the brainchild of one-in-a-generation engineering genius Gordon Murray (who will very soon be debuting another supercar) was never envisioned as a race car. Instead, its purpose was to be the ultimate roadgoing sports car.
Still, some bright sparks decided to take a some modified road cars to the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1995… won on its first try… against a field of purpose-built endurance racers… and occupying four of the top five spots come the finish. While never as successful as in its first year, subsequent developments of the F1 included the ‘Longtail’ variant of 1997, so called for its extended bodywork, which is also the moniker given to hardcore variants of current McLaren road cars with the ‘LT’ suffix.
Aston Martin DBR1-2
If you could, in one phrase, describe Aston Martin’s first top-flight endurance prototype to bear the marque’s name in two decades, it would be “thorn amongst the roses”. Or more accurately, “petrol amongst the diesels”. In 2009, the dominant forces (that is, Audi, and followed distantly by Peugeot) were throwing their considerable weight behind diesel power, owing to the rules at the time favouring that fuel type.
The DBR1-2 was, however, powered by petrol, feeding a glorious 6-litre, naturally-aspirated V12 that screamed to the high heavens, a stark contrast to the turbine-like whooshing noises produced by the turbodiesels of the era. Unfortunately, races aren’t won simply by the noise a car makes, with the highest-placed DBR1-2 finishing fourth. However, if that were the only criteria, the Aston Martin, would be our champ in a heartbeat. And the Gulf Racing livery the DBR1-2 wore on the day? Well, that’s just the icing on the cake.
Porsche 911 RSR
Name a more iconic motor racing pairing than a Porsche wearing Gulf Racing colours. Go on, we’ll wait. Got nothing? Well, that’s not too surprising, since it probably doesn’t exist. Continuing the grand tradition started by the aforementioned 917 comes the 911 RSR, a current entrant in the World Endurance Championships, and wearing the race number 86.
It’s probably a testament to how timeless the colours are that it still looks relevant on a current-generation Porsche 911. Though a part of that could also be down to how the 911 is also quite the timeless machine…