If it looks fast, then it probably is. The design and engineering of a car is what makes it go quickly, but the paint job is always what makes it appear even faster. We’ve selected some of the most iconic livery designs of motorsport history, whose colours are synonymous with the golden age of racing and rallying.
A livery doesn’t necessarily have to win races and championships to become iconic, but it certainly helps. And few liveries have been as successful in motorsport as the Marlboro-branded McLarens.
The partnership yielded a Formula 1 title in its first year in 1974 with Emerson Fittipaldi and again with James Hunt two years later. Gradually, the scheme evolved into the bold and straightforward white-and-bright-red chevron design (mimicking the Marlboro logo and cigarette packaging) that adorned the team’s dominant cars of the 1980s and early 1990s, winning seven championships in eight years with Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.
Marlboro later focused its support on rival team Ferrari and won five straight titles with Michael Schumacher, but the visual impact of the McLaren partnership was far greater.
Lotus John Player Special
They say that imitation is the best form of flattery, and few motorsport liveries have been copied as much as the Lotus John Player Special design.
In Formula 1 alone, the black-and-gold colour scheme has been reimagined twice in the last decade, but they didn’t come close to the class of the original.
Team Lotus already had some iconic liveries before the arrival of JPS. Its own green-and-gold colours were replaced by the red, white and gold of Golf Leaf – considered to be F1’s first commercial sponsorship.
The JPS colours were immediately taken to back-to-back world championship by Emerson Fittipaldi in 1972 and 1973, while Mario Andretti claimed another in 1978. Ayrton Senna added to its legacy with his first F1 victories in the final years of the JPS Lotus partnership in 1985-86.
The famous Martini Racing stripes – dark blue, light blue and red – have appeared on a huge array of different cars from across motorsport. In the 1970s, they were taken to three victories at the Le Mans 24 Hours with Porsche, as well as to wins in Formula 1 with the Brabham team.
Martini is most associated however with fellow Italian brand Lancia. The partnership began in sportscar racing in 1981 and expanded to also cover rallying one year later, adorning some of the most iconic rally cars ever made across the next 11 seasons until Lancia quit rallying. In that time, it claimed seven manufacturers’ championships and four drivers’ titles.
The Martini stripes would later reappear in rallying with Ford and even returned to Formula 1 with Williams between 2014 and 2019.
The Gulf Racing colours of light blue and orange are instantly recognisable. Best known for sportscar racing, the Gulf colours have appeared on a number of different makes of car, first making their mark on the Ford GT40s that won at Le Mans in 1968 and 1969.
The most famous Gulf car is probably the subsequent Porsche 917, even though it never won at Le Mans in those colours. Not in reality, anyway. It did win with Steve McQueen behind the wheel in the film Le Mans. Gulf-liveried 917s took victories in numerous other sportscar races.
In recent times, the Gulf colours have returned to sportscar racing, firstly in partnership with the factory Aston Martin team, and now back on a Porsches as the privateer Gulf Racing team.
The World Rally Championship might have lost the Martini Lancias in 1992, but it gained some brilliant liveries over the following years: Castrol Toyotas, Marlboro Mitsubishis and Martini Fords. But the most iconic was the 555 Subaru. The dark blue background, yellow stickers and gold wheels were very simple but incredibly effective.
It helped that these were the colours with which Colin McRae claimed his first and only world championship in 1995, after a battle with team-mate Carlos Sainz. Richard Burns and Petter Solberg also took world titles at the beginning of the 21st century.
So successful was the livery that Subaru maintained the same colours on its WRC cars for several years after the 555 tobacco money departed.