Penthouse Magazine is Dead, But What About Penthouse Racing?

The gentleman’s monthly has been sponsoring race cars for nearly five decades.

After 50 years on newsstands, Penthouse announced Friday that it will discontinue its print edition. The longtime Playboy rival was once a magazine industry titan, reaching a circulation of over 5 million during its heyday. But, even in the Seventies, few major publications were willing to cover—or even mention—the gentleman’s periodical for any reason. So, in search of publicity, the Penthouse went racing. And won.

It started in 1975, when Penthouse sponsored a pair of factory-backed BMW R90S motorcycles for London’s Gus Kuhn, a Formula Atlantic Lola, Formula 5000 Alfa Romeos, and the new Ford Escort Championship (formerly the Motorcraft Mexico Challenge) in its famed Penthouse Racing Transit vans. Success came quickly: the Penthouse Al Holbert Racing Porsche 911RSR won the Sebring 12 Hours in 1976. After that, it was only a short step into Formula 1.

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Penthouse got into bed with Hesketh Racing after they got out of bed with James Hunt in 1975; along with Rizla rolling papers, the magazine remained in F1 until 1981, moving their sponsorship to Arrows after Hesketh folded in 1978. Penthouse also had its name on a decade of Le Mans and Daytona entries, beginning with the Kremer Porsche 935 in 1977, continuing through the 1988 Team Davey Tiga GC88.

In 1999, Penthouse got into the NHRA, running the Jim Dunne Firebird Funny Car for an entire season. That worked out, as driver Frank Pedregon Jr., went all the way to the championship. But the magazine was in deep trouble. By 2003, Penthouse filed for bankruptcy.

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Even with a scaled-back budget, the magazine’s logo still flew across the World of Outlaws’ Randy Hannagan in 2006 and 2007, plus a Porsche 997 in the Netherlands; last year, Penthouse Australia ran a GT3 Audi R8 in the 2015 Adelaide Clipsal 500. There, Nathan Antunes won two Australian GT Championship races in a day. The car (and its female friends) were featured prominently in Penthouse’s pre-race party.

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Now that Penthouse has announced that it’s going all-digital, will there still interest in backing racecars? If you can’t make money in digital porn, you’re doing something seriously wrong, and racing is still the sexiest sport on earth. Let’s hope Penthouse continues to bring its brand of fun to the world’s tracks.

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