Oi Polloi

Through the Magpie Eye: The Pirelli Calendar

Published: Wed Apr 06 2022

The mechanics in the audience will already know this, but Italian tyre/car part merchants Pirelli, whose products have been spun round pretty much every Formula 1 circuit going, have been world-class purveyors of erotic calendars since the 70s. If you’re wondering how this arousing phenomenon came into being, wordsmith Ellie Foster is here to clue you in. Warning, some tasteful nudity lies ahead. Maybe have a quick scan to make sure co-workers/small children aren’t gawking at your screen before pressing on…

After over 90 years of burning rubber, a greased-up bright spark of the Pirelli’s UK subsidiary by the name of Derek Forsyth decided that some brand merch was in order; what better way to push sales than a dozen bare-bottomed ladies posing aside a paper planner of the forthcoming year?

Early shoots of ‘The Cal’ featured a bunch of fresh-faced modeldom newcomers and involved ice lolly-scoffing, sunbathing and racy frolicking in the shallows of the L.A. coastline. These issues were strictly not-for-sale publications, but rather a pulse-raising ‘corporate freebie’, passed out to both tradesmen and loyal clientele, under bonnets and in garage waiting rooms respectively.

After a fair few of ‘em were pinned to the innards of scrapyard mobile blocks, the 1974 recession meant oil prices sky-rocketed, which (as you can probably imagine) was pretty bad news for car-owners and their subsequent tyre-suppliers, and the Pirelli Calendar was forced to take a gruelling nine-year-long hiatus.

Upon its relaunch, times had changed, and many people wondered “what on earth do nude girls and alloys have to do with each other”? A fair point. Luckily, resident shutter-snapper Uwe Ommer took the liberty of piling a boots-worth of subliminal automobile messaging into the 1984 edition, in the hopes of getting blokes investing in their motors again.

What started off as a particularly saucy marketing ploy that (quite literally) sold auto-gear off the derrieres of commercially sexy women, materialised into something that became a bit more tasteful and forward-thinking with the advancing of time. It transpired that Pirelli’s passion for yearly organisation had somehow spread to recognising the merit of the women they photographed and diversifying their catalogue of themes and castings to align with new-fangled attitudes. On top of that, the shoots soared to budget-busting grandiosity and the calibre of the celebrity line ups became evermore outlandish.

In this second phase of the calendar’s lifespan, Pirelli got a solid rep for being mixed up with the top dogs of art and culture, to the point where most forgot that they started out in the business of flogging tyres. At this point, if you’d been in front, behind, or in a five-mile locality of a camera on a Pirelli shoot, you’d pretty much hit the big time, which explains why it remains one of the most sought-after gigs by art-heads, mega-stars and generally gorgeous folk to date.