GRR

The eight most beautiful racing cars of all time

17th March 2022
Ben Miles

To be a good racer, a car doesn’t have to be beautiful, just fast. But some racing cars have added such aesthetic beauty to their already crammed racing CVs that they transcend the motorsport halls of fame to become pure art. Here’s a few that we think of straight away.

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Ferrari 330 P4

The P series of car was Ferrari’s answer to the introduction of the prototype class. It was Enzo’s reluctant admission that mid-engined was the way forward even for sportscars. After several very successful iterations, in 1967 along came the 330 P4, quite possibly the most beautiful racing car the world had ever seen. 

The P4 had it all. A stunning V12 engine mounted in the middle, incredible lines that marked it in stark contrast to its more brutalist competitor, the Ford GT40, and a successful racing history, winning the 1,000km of Monza and the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1967. It was also rare; only four 330 P4s were ever actually produced, just adding to the mystique of this incredible machine. Only one remains in its original form: chassis 0856, as the rest were either re-engineered to be a P4 or altered afterward. 

Either way, the P4 is stunning and a car that manages to overcome a serious disappointment to still be adored. The fact that it was beaten to the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1967 by those pesky Fords does not diminish the P4’s status.

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Jordan 191

Jordan’s 191 has an awful lot going for it. One of the best liveries the sport has seen, a legendary driver who extracted unexpected performance from it and the introduction of a team name that would become a fan favourite straight away. That’s all before you even start talking about how good the 191 looked as a standalone.

In case you think the 191 only looks good because of that brilliant 7Up livery, there are images available of it in pure testing black, and it still looks outstanding. The 191 wasn’t exactly fast, but with a very slim body, a unique concave front wing that arched into its raised nose rather than being dangled from it, and a triple rear wing, it’s stunning

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Alpine A110

The first winner of the World Rally Championship was perhaps the most improbable. The original Alpine A110 was a lightweight rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive sportscar, hardly the recipe for rallying success you might think today, but in 1973 it was exceptional. 

Of course to become a rally car the pretty little A110 Berlinette had to be slightly modified. And, if anything, the modifications make it even more beautiful. We at GRR are firmly in the camp that believes cars look better with spot headlights attached to the front and to go off-road the A110 was lifted and given slightly more flared wheel-arches.

It’s a bit like taking Ferrari 296 GTB and preparing it to go off-road today – it can only look even more stunning as it becomes more purposeful. 

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Porsche 936

Here’s a controversial one. Of all the cars that have won the Le Mans 24 Hours with a Porsche badge on, it’s not the 956, the GT1-98, the 935 or the 917 that looked best doing it. I firmly believe that the sleek lines of the 936, combined with a high-airbox (which I’ve already mentioned I have a weakness for in my piece on F1’s best lookers) made it easily the best looking Porker to win or race at Le Mans.

The 936 is always overshadowed by its predecessors and the Group C monsters that came after it. But it was both successful and stunning, two factors that easily give it a place on this list. Unlike its forebear and ancestor it was also an open-topped racer, allowing all to see the driver as he worked the wheel, which just adds to the brilliance of its look. 

The 936 won Le Mans three times, including the final race before Group C regulations kicked in, when it was the first Porsche to win Le Mans with Derek Bell and Jacky Ickx at the wheel. The final straw is that the 936 raced in a pair of outstanding liveries: the legendary Martini colours and the much underrated Jules livery it used later.

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Ferrari 250 SWB

I would argue that the Ferrari 250 SWB is the best looking Ferrari of all time, whether you want a road or racing car. So that means it absolutely has to be in this list. You can keep your GTOs, that’s got too long and droopy a nose, and the 275 GTB is just not that attractive. The SWB is just perfectly proportioned. 

It’s a simple recipe: a long bonnet that doesn’t droop, short fastback rear, simple grille and round headlights. Add the Rob Walker Racing livery in which it was raced with Stirling Moss at the wheel at it is just Maranello perfection. Taking a pair of victories in the TT at Gooodwood it was both a proven winner and a pioneer too, becoming the first Ferrari GT to race with disc brakes and took the legendary 250 V12’s output up to 280PS (206kW) by the end of its life.

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Mercedes W194

Before the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, before the W198 300 SL Gullwing, there was the W194. This is the car that brought about not only both of those beautiful cars, but also won the Le Mans 24 Hours for Mercedes for the first time.

Yes, it was the W194 that pioneered both Mercedes coming success in sportscar racing and also the design cues that would make it onto the Gullwing. The W194, especially in a flat silver livery, is perhaps a cleaner design than the W198 that would become legend, although it is a little bit flabbier due to its lower drag design. But it raced with gullwings before its progeny got that nickname and it won not only at Le Mans but also at the brutal Carrera Panamericana.

It would be followed by the mighty 300 SLR, which is the bigger legend, and is perhaps a more purposeful design, but just not quite as elegant. If anything the W194 is too elegant to go racing. 

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Porsche 917 LH

Yes, the 936 looked best, but that doesn’t mean that the 917 doesn’t get a look in on this list. But I’ve picked the LH form as the purest expression of 917 beauty. The 917K is the most famous and the first 917 is famous for being a bit rubbish, but the LH is the sleek and sexy one. 

LH of course stands for Langheck, or long tail, and is just one in a huge list of racing sportscars that have been lengthened for aerodynamic reasons, a trend that even stretched into the 2010s when Audi stretched the R18 just a little bit. 

With the 917 the stretching gave the car a sleeker, lower look and it sprouted a small, but elegant, rear wing. Several raced at Le Mans in 1971 and Porsche bestowed some stunning liveries on these sleek machines. One raced with a rare, silver version of the Martini colours, one in the green and blue psychedelic scheme. Sadly none finished, beaten by the much more famous 917K with the short tail.

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Alfa Romeo TZ and TZ2

There aren’t many racing cars designed by a legendary styling house. But the Z in the Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ’s name stands for Zagato for a reason. Styled by the legendary coachbuilder the TZ replaced the Giulietta SZ as Alfa Romeo’s go-to racing car. It used a large number of components, including the engine, from the Giulia but with a much more streamlined and lighter body.

The result was a stunning racing car that couldn’t really be improved. Except that, as far as I’m concerned, it was, with the TZ2. The second TZ was wider and lower, looking more like a purpose-built racer than an elegant sportscar. It still retained the cut off tail but looked longer and lower, features which will always improve a car. When you see one in red, with the yellow front wing and rear, it’ll leave you weak at the knees.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • Porsche

  • 917

  • Ferrari

  • 330 P4

  • Jordan

  • 191

  • Alpine

  • A110

  • 936

  • 250 SWB

  • Mercedes

  • W194

  • Alfa Romeo

  • TZ2

  • list

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