Ever since corporate sponsorship arrived in motorsport in the 1960s, certain brand names and their colour schemes have taken on a certain synonymity. Everybody has a favourite livery or paint job – one that stirs the soul and immediately takes its place in racing’s hall of fame. Here, then, are 10 of the most evocative mobile billboards (in alphabetical order) from all the key disciplines: Formula 1, Indycars, sportscars, touring cars and NASCAR. We’ve included another 10 that come in just under the radar. Let us know your favourites and if we’ve forgotten any obvious names…
Lancia’s rorty V6-engined Stratos rally weapon looked more like a jet fighter alongside its boxy rivals, Peugeot’s 504 and Ford’s Escort RS1600, so its tie-up with Italian airline Alitalia was most apposite. When the firm transferred its allegiance to sister marque Fiat, and the, er, boxy 131 Abarth, the aeronautical comparisons lost credence. Didn’t matter, the 131 was still fever.
The French fuel/oil firm enjoyed a longstanding relationship with French cars and drivers. The company did a huge amount to promote young talent and anyone with those three letters on their (ideally blue) overalls or car was on to a good thing. The Elf logo looked best on Ken Tyrrell’s luscious cars in the early to mid-1970s.
What was it about a fat-slicked, aerodynamically-challenged but gorgeous Ligier in Gitanes blue in the late 1970s and early 80s? The alliance between Guy’s cars and the French fag firm, well known for its manly, filterless ‘brunes’ lasted in F1 for almost 20 years. I recently found an original Ligier Gitanes sticker on Ebay and the juxtaposition between the two names still reeks of fever.
Synonymous with the JW Automotive Ford GT40s and Porsche 917s in sportscar racing, the powder blue/orange blend of the US oil giant just made two iconic long-distance racers even more pleasing on the eye. If it worked for Steve McQueen, it should work for you. How he’d have loved the Gulf Aston Martin DBR9 that broke cover a few weeks ago…
Not your every day high-street brand, granted, but the German herbal liqueur firm with the scratchy type face had a long and varied association with motorsport in single-seaters, sportscars and touring cars. And it didn’t matter if it was a March F1 car, a Porsche Group C racer or a Group A BMW 635 tin-topper – all looked sensational in orange and brown!
The utterly spellbinding black-and-gold colours of Imperial Tobacco-owned firm John Player’s ‘Special’ brand graced F1 throughout the 1970s and early 1980s – the most important in my motorsport education. Recalling images of such aces as Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, Ronnie Peterson, Elio de Angelis and Ayrton Senna in JPS Lotus racers still makes me need to go and have a lie down.
For almost 35 years the Martini colours have shaken and stirred. Fans of any generation can’t fail to be turned on by the Italian beverage brand’s identity. Whether it was Brabham, Tecno or Lotus in F1, Porsche and Lancia in rallying and sportscars or Alfa Romeo in the DTM, everything looked cool with those legendary stripes adorning its flanks.
A blue-and-white Parmalat Brabham BT49, 50 or 52 – whichever! – represented one of the most aesthetically pleasing cars in F1 during the early 1980s. Such stunning racers were the only reason why, from a trolley-pushing age, I would seek out the Italian dairy firm’s milk and fruit juice products in the supermarket and cut off the logos for Scalextric barrier-mounting purposes.
With almost 40 years’ involvement in racing, chiefly in the US, the fuel and oil additives giant has been emblazoned on Indycar and NASCAR winners since the late ’60s. But one man lived, breathed and ate (or was it drank?) the Scientifically Treated Petroleum way of life. ‘King’ Richard Petty was STP. Any doubts about that can be dispelled on their website.
An important hops-based tipple of many a German motorsport enthusiast, Warsteiner will, for many, remain synonymous with the Arrows F1 team of the early 1980s. The black-and-gold livery on the British racers was very cool and certainly stood out visually – eine konigin unter den liveries, in fact. Warsteiner later appeared on BMW’s factory M3 DTM machines, so it was cheers all round!
And not forgetting…
Benetton – Italian fashion label’s colours went through various changes during the 1980s, but the simple red and green of the Alfa Romeo F1 racers in 1984/’85 were the best
Camel – Tobacco firm that supported IMSA sportscar series and then moved to F1 with Lotus and Benetton.
Gold Leaf – The forefather of Formula 1 tobacco sponsorship. Who can forget red-and-gold Lotus 49s and 72s?
Gösser Beer – German brewery’s sensational green adorned the Group 5 BMW CSL touring car and helped Dieter Quester to the 1977 European title.
Leyton House – Lairy turquiose colours of Japanese real estate firm always looked good on eponymous F1 cars.
Momo – Sportscar racer Giampiero Moretti’s car accessories firm with cool logo, especially on the Italian’s own Group C Porsche.
New Man – German fashion label that made Joest’s Porsche Group C racers look even more trendy.
Rothmans – Most fans of Porsche’s 956/962 endurance racer would agree: the cigarette firm-branded works cars were the coolest.
Pennzoil – Pennsylvanian oil firm with bold yellow-and-red identity. Always made Roger Penske’s Indycars look superb.
Texaco – US fuel giant whose black-and-red lone star colours made even a Ford Sierra look fantastic.