Ever wonder about the origin of British racing green or Ferrari red? These colors were agreed upon in the early days of auto racing and standardized in the Code Sportif International (International Sporting Code), Appendix I, of the Federation Internationale de L'Automobile (FIA). The color was associated with the nationality of the car's owner; hence, an Italian car raced by an Englishman would be painted British racing green.

In early cars, the chassis was often visible and many countries chose particular colors for that and other parts. Eventually, the chassis was concealed and the secondary colors were applied to trim such as numbers and racing stripes.

The FIA no longer requires that race cars follow this color code. Their web site states explicitly that Formula 1 cars, for example, are exempt from national colors. Appendix I is not available on their web site so I can't confirm exactly when this went into effect. However, I did find a reprint from the table from Road & Track magazine, January 1960.

    COUNTRY         COLORS OF CAR            NUMBERS
    Argentina       Body: blue               red on white
                    Hood: yellow
                    Chassis: black
    Belgium         Body:  yellow            black
    Brazil          Body: pale yellow        black
                    Chassis and wheels:green
    Bulgaria        Body: green              red
                    Hood: white
    Canada          Body: green              white
                    Stripes: white
    Chile           Body: red                half blue-
                    Hood: blue               half red or
                    Underframe: white        all red on white
    Cuba            Body: yellow             white on black
                    Hood: black
    Czecho-         Body: white              blue
    slovakia        Hood: blue and white
                    Underframe: red
    Egypt           Pale violet              red on white
    Finland         Black                    blue on white
    France          Blue                     white
    Germany         White                    red
    Great           Green                    white
    Britain
    Holland         Orange                   white
    Hungary         Body, front: white       black
                    Body, rear: green
                    Hood: red
    Irish Free      Green with horizontal    white
    State           band of orange around
                    body
    Italy           Red                      white
    Luxem-          Pearlgray                white on red
    burg
    Mexico          Gold                     white on black
    Monaco          White with red hori-     black on white
                    zontal band around
                    body
    Poland          Body and hood: white     red
                    Underframe: red
    Portugal        Body and hood: red       white
                    Underframe: white
    Scotland        Green                    white
    South           Body: Gold               black on white
    Africa          Hood: green
    Spain           Hood: yellow             black on yellow
                    Body and chassis: red    white on red
    Sweden          Body and hood, lower     white
                    part:blue-upper:yellow
                    Three cross bands of
                    blue on top of hood
    Switzer-        Hood: white              black
    land            Body and underframe:
                    red
    Thailand        Body and hood:           white on blue
                    pale blue with yellow
                    horizontal band around
                    body and hood
                    Wheels: pale yellow
    United          Body and hood: white     blue on white
    States          Underframe: blue
    Venezuela       Body:  white
                    Stripe:green
By the same token, in cycling, the countries also have specific colour codes to follow donned on their jerseys. Here is a list of what I know:

Australia: white
Canada: red maple leaf centred on light blue background
Germany: white with german stripes
Italy: brilliant blue
Netherlands: peach/orange
United States: red/white stripes with white stars on blue background

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