How Famous Race Cars Inspired Nike SB’s Latest Dunks

Former Nike SB manager Steve Pelletier explains the brand’s new race car-inspired 'Pink Pig' & 'Gulf' Dunk Low sneakers, his passion for Porsches, & more.

Nike SB Dunk Low 'Pink Pig' and 'Gulf'
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

Nike SB Dunk Low 'Pink Pig' and 'Gulf'

Most of us will never know what it’s like to smash the gas on a Porsche prototype, but Nike SB is taking the “cars for your feet” analogy literally this spring with two on-the-nose interpretations of race cars as sneakers. 

Keeping with the tradition of playful storytelling fans of Nike’s skateboarding line have grown accustomed to, the Dunk Low’s upcoming “Pink Pig” and “Gulf” styles reference high-horsepower designs used on Porsche and Ford models, respectively. In this case, think of the Dunk Low’s suede upper as the body of a car, specifically that of the Porsche 917/20 and the Ford GT40. The shoe’s colorways, meanwhile, represent storied liveries of each vehicle. Like sneaker colorways, liveries are special designs of race cars that include distinct colors and other details such as numbers or corporate sponsors—not unlike the co-branding often associated with footwear collaborations.

The Porsche 917/20 race car was a one-off build with larger radius curves than a standard 917. As the story goes, Porsche designers compared it to a pig due to its exaggerated shape. In 1971, chief designer Anatole Lapine brought the comparison to life with the Pink Pig livery at the 24-hour Le Mans race. With a pale pink hue, the car was accented with red dotted lines separating the “pig” body into its many different butcher cuts. More than just a unique look on the track, the car had promising power, clocking the fastest time during pre-race qualifiers, however it ultimately dropped out of the race after an accident. 

Porsche 917/20 Pink Pig

“For me, [the Pink Pig] is just one of the coolest liveries of all time, just because it’s so weird,” says Steve Pelletier, former Nike SB senior product line manager. “I think if you look at the shoes I used to do for Nike SB, I’m just into weird stuff. That livery, just where it’s cut up into all the different cuts of the pig, it’s so German, but also so cool. It’s just a cool story, and the cool nicknames. Porsche has a nickname for it called the Trufflehunter of Zuffenhausen. So Zuffenhausen is the suburb of Stuttgart that Porsche’s factory and offices are in. And when you’re looking for truffles, you usually use a pig or a dog because they smell into the ground.”

Pelletier, who’s been passionate about cars since he was a kid and owns a 1986 Carrera 3.2, says it was the Porsches of the ‘70s and ‘80s that really fueled his fascination with high-horsepower vehicles. Before working at Nike, he designed snowboarding boots, but an accident took him out of action and led him to pursue other hobbies which ultimately led to cars. “I ended up buying a Porsche, and then I bought another one and just built them out,” he says. “I’ve just been in love with it ever since. It’s the escape for me. I can drive that Porsche, and I don’t think about anything else. It’s like I’m in my own little world when I’m driving that thing, and I love it.”

Nike SB Dunk Low 'Pink Pig' CV1655-600

Treating the Dunk Low as their version of the Porsche 917/20, Pelletier and the SB team cut no corners in coming up with the “Pink Pig” design. The pink sneaker is dotted with red contrast stitching and is constructed from actual pigskin suede, a rarity for Nike’s modern product, yet an integral part of the storytelling.

“We knew, even though it’s a very high-end, awesome-feeling material, some people don’t like it just because it’s an animal product,” Pelletier says of the pigskin. “So we actually tried to balance that out with the brown Dunk High, which was the vegan Dunk High. We had this collection where you can kind of play off each other. If a store wanted to market it with the ‘Gulf’ one next to the ‘Pink Pig,’ that’s cool. But if they could also do the meat angle where it was the ‘Pink Pig’ versus the vegan Dunk High. It was kind of up to the shops which story to tell there.”

Nike SB Dunk High Vegan 'Baroque Brown' CV1624-200

While the brown vegan Dunk High didn’t end up making its way to the US, the “Pink Pig” will still be hitting stores alongside its blue “Gulf” counterpart. Originally slated for a February release around Valentine’s Day, the “Pink Pig” Nike SB Dunk Low is arriving at skate shops now for a retail price of $100, as is the “Gulf” iteration (also $100). And although it doesn’t have quite as quirky of an origin story as the swine-inspired pair, the Gulf livery is iconic in its own right. 

Gracing the steel of a wide range of makes and models, including Porsche’s own 917, the McLaren F1 GTR, and Audi R8, among others, the Gulf livery got its start on the track in 1967. The Gulf Oil company colored a Ford GT40 in the now-signature powder blue hue with an orange center stripe and prominent circular number emblem, and in 1969, the car won the Le Mans competition. 

“The ‘Gulf’ colorway, you could say that it’s a Ford GT40, because it was a famous Gulf livery car,” Pelletier says. “But, really, it was really kind of [a call] back to Porsche in the 917. The 917s had Gulf liveries too. It was one of those things where it wasn’t necessarily supposed to be marketed as Porsche, but really they were just great colorways that were exciting and different. With Nike SB, what we tried to do with the Dunks a lot was not play by any seasonal color palette, and come out with things that are sort of like little energy bursts. Something different [that] doesn’t look like anything in line from Nike SB and is sort of out there.”

Nike SB Dunk Low 'Gulf' BQ6817-401

Like the “Pink Pig,” the “Gulf” Dunk Low leaves little room for interpretation regarding its inspiration. The light blue pair is accented with just the right amount of orange across its outsole, black details that mimic the accents of the vehicle, and a “58” emblem nodding to Nike SB’s Club 58 outfit of skaters and shop owners.

Although Pelletier, who started with Nike SB in 2008 and worked on projects including the original “Skunk” Dunk High and Concept’s lobster-themed Dunk Low collaboration as well as more recent output like 2020’s Grateful Dead pack, no longer works for Nike, his perspective remains at the core of what the SB brand represents.

“You just want to make cool shit and have a little fun with it,” Pelletier says. “That’s where I was always just kind of coming from is, man, sometimes everybody takes themselves too seriously. Let’s have a little fun.”

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