The racing car is the product of an endless search for a high speed and precision performance machine, both in terms of engineering and aesthetics. Sven Voelker’s latest book Go Faster: The Graphic Design of Racing Cars looks at how the exterior graphic design of racing cars has become just as important as the engineering that lies underneath their form-fitting shells. To kick things off Sven Voelker takes a deeper look into the history of the racing car design since the turn of the 19th Century. Highlighting milestones such as the adoption of colour—first to signify the country each racer was representing then later shifting to represent each team—then progressing to look at one of the most iconic markings, the double racing stripes. Moving on into post-war racing, Voelker focuses on the shift in the role advertising has played on the car’s bodywork where previously advertisers had been more concerned with ad space on the track sidelines. The essay presents interesting anecdotes including differences of opinions between sponsors and teams (Martini and Porsche 912/20 butcher’s diagram car springs to mind) and the numerous artists who were invited to paint unique artwork directly on the cars.
Documented with beautiful archive imagery to bring context to the essay, the rest of the book’s editorial direction is much more analytical. Using replica collectable toy cars sprayed with white chalk powder—juxtaposed with their liveried counterparts—they’re displayed both side on and in top down profile views. This works really well in showing just how effective the graphic design of these classics really were. Everyone will have their favourites (though the Porsche 917K 1971 is a bit of a beauty), the uncluttered approach to the layout of Go Faster in conjunction with the index makes for a great visual reference.
What Go Faster highlights well is how surprisingly no graphic designers have ever been involved in creating the aesthetics of any of these racing cars. Instead the responsibility falling on a combination of engineers, car designers or sponsors. Yet looking at them as a body of work it’s clear how successful they’ve been at creating visually faster cars as well as being accepted as icons in contemporary culture in a wider context than just design.
Sharing the racing car designs in Go Faster and the process that Sven Voelker went through to research the book, it’s obvious that it was a labour of love for him. A lot of car racing fans will really appreciate this attention to detail and access to archive imagery. Hard bound and produced to a high standard as usual from any Gestalten title the production imagery of Sven at work interleaved in the book mirrors those who created these stunning racing car designs. Go Faster is pretty niche in its content but even if you don’t have a specific project where this sort of reference material is likely to come in handy, most will relate to the work on show. It feels reminiscent of those imaginative doodling days of childhood, dreaming up frivolous designs full of kudos and speed much like the real things.
For anyone looking for further reading, have a look at the interview with Sven Voelker on Gestalten TV.