Today, we’re taking a look at some of our favorite race car sponsorships—or more specifically, the sponsorship artwork.
If you’ve never heard the term “livery” before, it’s basically a fancy word for a paint scheme commonly associated with a race car and/or its sponsor.
The only catch is that we didn’t include limited specials* or one-offs in our list (sorry Dogecoin), opting instead to focus on recurring sponsors and paint schemes.
*OK, we gave one honorable mention, and you can see it as a bonus entry at the bottom of this list.
Take a look at the lineup below, and let us know your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of this article.
So we’re totally biased here, as this particular livery was seared into our young minds thanks to all the quarters we fed into Sega Rally Championship. But let’s not forget that, thanks to John Force, the Castrol paint scheme is a common sight in NHRA Funny Car competition too.
You don’t need to be flashy to be iconic. Take the understated blue/yellow Sunoco livery of the late 1960s for instance. Though it’s commonly associated with cars like the Penske Trans-Am Camaro and Daytona/Sebring Corvette—the latter which received the first-ever COPO L88 427—plenty of other cars got the blue/gold treatment, including Team Penske’s 1972 Indy 500 winner driven by Mark Donohue.
Subaru went from a quirky Japanese automaker to a serious performance marque when it began competing in World Rallycross early in the 1990s. And in doing so, it brought the Subaru Pleiades star cluster to the forefront of racing and gearhead culture.
The Subaru racing pedigree translated to sales too, as folks eagerly gobbled up the legendary WRX when it (finally!) came Stateside in 2002—available of course, in the signature shade of blue that Subaru officially calls “WR Blue.”
7. Hot Wheels
Perhaps the best test for an automotive livery is a simple one: Does it look good on a Hot Wheels car?
So it’s no surprise that the Hot Wheels-backed Plymouth funny cars of Tom “Mongoose” McEwen and Don “Snake” Prudhomme look awesome in whatever scale they’re presented. Combine this paint scheme with two of drag racing’s most famous drivers, and you’ll see how this livery helped put Mattel’s fledging toy car line onto kitchen floors across the country.
Remember what we said about being understated? The same principle applies here, with the simple red/white/blue trisected paint jobs on AMC’s Trans Am racers.
To prove Kenosha could win against Detroit’s Big Three, AMC began hiring names like Roger Penske, Mark Donohue, and George Follmer to build a successful race program. The end result was a 2nd Place overall finish in 1970, and Trans Am Championship titles in 1971 and 1972. All of AMC’s Javelin-derived racers wore a variation of this tri-color paint scheme to victory, and the livery was carried over to special editions sold to the public too.
From Mark Martin to Robby Gordon to Al Unser Jr., the Valvoline livery has been worn by some of the most recognizable names in racing history. And while the familiar Valvoline colors have always looked great, we’re particularly fond of the “Confetti” variations that appeared most prominently on Jeff Zwart’s Porsche 964 Pike’s Peak rally car and rebooted recently on TJ Hunt’s Toyota Supra.
4. John Player Special
Thanks to an oh-so-tasteful black/gold tandem, there’s an understated elegance to this particular dress code. These Team Lotus cars are so iconic, the whole group is actually referred to as the collective “John Player Specials.” And given that the livery graced some of the most noteworthy cars of Formula 1’s 1960s-70s golden era, many folks regard the John Player Specials as the best livery of all time. (Chevy Vega fans probably think so too.)
Sometimes a livery becomes more associated with a driver than a specific car or race. Case in point: the red/white/blue of STP and Richard Petty. In fact, Petty actually got STP to alter its colors for him, swapping the company’s traditional red for his preferred light “Petty” blue. Petty carried those colors faithfully for decades, stretching back to the early 1970s. The Petty halo around STP is so big, it’s easy to forget that even legendary Mario Andretti campaigned under those letters.
Ok, considering we put Martini at number two, you can probably already guess what’s number one. Honestly it was a toss up, as they’re both pretty much welded into the fabric of motorsports. The Martini livery has graced everything from rally cars to Le Mans racers, Porsches to Mustangs, and coffee mugs to wristwatches. In short, Martini’s signature stripe package looks good on dang-near everything.
An awesome car, in an awesome color palette.
What’s not to like here?
Ever since Ford’s 1968 and 1969 Le Mans wins, this paint scheme has become synonymous with American racing history, and has inspired countless revivals—not just from Ford either, famous U.K. marques like McLaren and Aston Martin have gone Gulf over the years.
1971 Porsche 917/20 “Trüffle Jäger von Zuffenhausen”
Alright, we totally said we wouldn’t include one-off special editions in the list, but we had to at least make a passing reference to the “Truffle Hunter from Zuffenhausen.”
At the tail end of its World Sportscar Championship career (which included a pair of Le Mans wins), Porsche decided to send the potent 917 platform out with an…Oink.
It developed a new 917, dubbed the 917/20, that featured significant aerodynamic modifications—along with whimsical artwork inspired by a butcher’s chart for pork cuts. Affectionally dubbed the “Pink Pig,” the new 917/20 crashed out to a DNF in the 1971 Le Mans race (though an earlier model Porsche 917 ultimately end up winning). Thankfully, the 917/20 was saved, its livery restored, and the car still makes occasional public appearances.
So, what’d we miss? Agree with our list? Let us hear about it in the comments!