The 15 Greatest Motorsport Liveries of All Time, Ranked

The 15 Greatest Motorsport Liveries of All Time, Ranked

Let's give it up for racing's most iconic colors, and the alcohol and tobacco companies that helped create them.

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Juha Kankkunen of Finland in action in his Lancia Delta HF Integrale rally car during the 1990 RAC Rally of Great Britain.
Photo: Bob Martin/Allsport (Getty Images)

How does one rank the finest motorsport liveries of all time? It’s not really something you can apply science to, so here’s what we’re going to do: I’ll list my top 15, you’ll disagree with me, and then we’re going to talk it over in the comments. While I can’t promise that you’ll love the order, I am pretty certain that if you clicked on this, you’re bound to find something you like ahead. Plus, the vintage photography is phenomenal. Let’s look at some cool old race cars, shall we?

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15. Rothmans International

15. Rothmans International

The pre-race line up of cars before the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 15th June 1985. In the foreground is a Rothmans Porsche 962C, driven by Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass, which eventually came in 10th.
Photo: Mike Powell (Getty Images)

From Group C Porsches to Renault Formula 1 cars, the Rothmans scheme added an air of opulence and prestige to any machine it sponsored — the sort of opulence and prestige that could only be supplied by Britain’s foremost producer of tobacco products throughout the 20th century.

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14. Porsche’s Pink Pig

14. Porsche’s Pink Pig

The Porsche 917/20 "Pink Pig" photographed during the 1971 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Image: Porsche

The experimental 917/20 “Pink Pig” doesn’t find itself on this list because it was pretty or successful, but rather because it had a sense of humor about itself. It also marked the one time a German automaker cracked a joke that was actually funny.

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13. Goodwrench Service

13. Goodwrench Service

Dale Earnhardt in action during the 1998 NASCAR Daytona 500.
Photo: Andy Lyons/Allsport (Getty Images)

Clad almost entirely in black with just a dash of silver and red, the Intimidator’s Goodwrench scheme was certainly intimidating. It was also simple, and didn’t try too hard. Modern NASCAR could learn a thing or two from it.

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12. Subaru World Rally Team

12. Subaru World Rally Team

Image for article titled The 15 Greatest Motorsport Liveries of All Time, Ranked
Image: Subaru

Whether shilling State Express 555 cigarettes or Subaru’s own Star of Pleiades, the deep blue and bright yellow of Subaru’s rally cars remained iconic, from its victories through the mid ’90s right up until the end of the automaker’s run in the World Rally Championship during the recession-stricken late 2000s.

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11. Red Bull and Toro Rosso

11. Red Bull and Toro Rosso

Daniil Kvyat driving the Scuderia Toro Rosso STR14 Honda on track during practice for the 2019 F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Photo: Mark Thompson

Yes, they’re done to death. But you have to admit that Red Bull liveries have a way of translating brilliantly to race cars. The added endorsement of Honda in F1 in recent years certainly didn’t hurt. While there are so many examples to choose across various motorsport categories, today we’re honoring Toro Rosso’s underrated final livery from 2019. Perfect, no notes.

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10. Benetton Formula

10. Benetton Formula

Alessandro Nannini drives the #19 Formula Benetton B189 Ford HB3.5 V8 during the 1989 Rhone-Poulenc French Grand Prix at the Circuit Paul Ricard.
Image: Pascal Rondeau

Benetton’s liveries definitely evolved over the years, but the fashion company’s late ’80s offerings are typically regarded as its finest, for good reason. I would have never imagined the hues of a color-blocked anorak would look so phenomenal on an F1 chassis from the day, but hey — that’s why I’m not a livery artist.

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9. Lotus John Player Special

9. Lotus John Player Special

Ayrton Senna in action during the 1986 F1 Belgian Grand Prix at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
Photo: Michael King (Getty Images)

There isn’t much to Lotus’ memorable John Player Special liveries, but there really doesn’t have to be. Two colors — that’s all these machines needed to stand out. And the gold rims? Icing on the freakin’ cake.

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8. Alfa Romeo Factory

8. Alfa Romeo Factory

Image for article titled The 15 Greatest Motorsport Liveries of All Time, Ranked
Image: Stellantis

Here’s an underrated one. Nobody ever talks about Alfa Romeo’s classic corporate livery, seen here on the 155 2.5 V6 TI that campaigned the DTM series from 1993 to 1996. Sure, this car also ran Martini sponsorship, and there’s no use in lying — we’ll talk about Martini a little later. But the simplicity of the red body with Alfa’s emblem superimposed in stark white works so well that this is the 155 V6 TI that appears in my head whenever I imagine the 155 V6 TI. Which happens to be very often, believe it or not.

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7. Marlboro, In All its Forms

7. Marlboro, In All its Forms

Michael Schumacher of Germany drives the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro Ferrari F399 Ferrari V10 during the 1999 San Marino Grand Prix at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari.
Photo: Mark Thompson (Getty Images)

Look, they’re shameless vultures peddling cancer sticks, but you have to hand it to them: Marlboro’s liveries were dope. Of course, the same goes for the earlier white-and-red getup, too.

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6. Repsol Honda Team

6. Repsol Honda Team

Nicky Hayden of the Repsol Honda Team in action during qualifying for the 2008 Dutch MotoGP race at the Assen TT Circuit.
Photo: Bryn Lennon (Getty Images)

Who said this list had to stick to four-wheeled machines? Repsol and Honda made orange, red and deep, deep blue a mainstay on MotoGP grids, though of course the Spanish oil company has sponsored its fair share of cars over the years. The Kentucky Kid always looked good, but he looked best in Repsol colors.

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5. Alitalia

5. Alitalia

An Alitalia-liveried Lancia Stratos rally car on a gravel road.
Image: Stellantis

Italy’s one-time flag-carrier adorned its finest racing cars too, and while the Lancia Stratos wasn’t the only machine to fly those colors, it’s of course the most memorable. It turns out triangles work exceptionally well on a car shaped like a giant triangle.

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4. Gulf

4. Gulf

A McLaren F1 GTR of the Gulf/GTC Racing team in the line up before the start of the 1996 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Photo: Michael Cooper (Getty Images)

There were so many Gulf liveries to choose from here, and yes — the baby-blue GT40 has a special place in my heart. But the short-tail F1 GTR campaigned by GTC Motorsport in the 1995 and ’96 runnings of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was always my favorite flavor of my favorite supercar. The fact it was also the star of Sega’s arcade racing classic Scud Race may have something to do with that.

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3. Renown Mazda

3. Renown Mazda

Bertrand Gachot drives the Mazdaspeed Mazda 787B during the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Photo: Simon Bruty (Getty Images)

Here’s sad news: did you know that Renown, the clothing and textiles company that made the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans-winning Mazda 787B look like an argyle sock, filed for bankruptcy in 2020? Neither did I! It’s a shame — the company should have sponsored many more race cars between now and three decades ago, when it helped Mazda make endurance racing history.

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2. Martini

2. Martini

Colin McRae of Great Britain drives his Ford Focus RS WRC 02 during the first day of the 2002 Rally of Cyprus.
Photo: Grazia Neri (Getty Images)

What can be said about Martini liveries that hasn’t already been said? It turns out white, red, blue and slightly lighter blue are perfect for racing, and guarantee a baseline favorable perception in competition even if the car sucks. That’s really the most any team could ask for.

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1. Castrol

1. Castrol

Didier Auriol and Bernard Occelli of France in action in their Toyota Celica during the 1995 Monte Carlo Rally in Monaco.
Photo: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport (Getty Images)

Perhaps my putting Castrol in the No. 1 spot is controversial, but hear me out. As Alitalia proved, white, green and red have a tendency to pop on race cars. Toyota just so happened to be building some of the coolest race cars on the planet in the mid ’90s, between its rally-winning (and rally-cheating) Celicas, and of course the Castrol Tom’s lineage of GT500 Supras. And while Castrol and Toyota go far back, the oil company’s tie ups with other brands — Honda, Ford, you name it — never missed. There have been dull Martini liveries, and the Gulf paint job has been cheapened by McLaren’s refusal to stop putting it on road cars. But I don’t know if there’s ever been a bad-looking car with Castrol sponsorship. That’s why it’s the best.

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