What ever happened to simple race car liveries? | Column

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Jul 25, 2022 | Liveries, Column | Posted in Columns | From the Feb. 2022 issue | Never miss an article

Image Courtesy RaceRoom Racing Experience

The color looked as if it was pulled from a Christmas tree ornament, the deepest shade of candy apple red you’ve ever seen. It simply glowed beneath the parking lot lights, perfectly complementing the Miata’s lines.

So, of course, I had to ask the owners: Was the paint custom or something from another model?

It was a wrap. 

Even while standing 2 feet away from the car, I had no idea. No stretch marks. No creases. No runs, no drips, no errors. The finish looked flawless. Opening the trunk or doors didn’t kill the illusion; conveniently, the car was originally painted red. 

Today’s wraps have transformed how we adorn our cars–both for the road and track. We’ve written about the process and have wrapped a few project cars in the past. The results have been stunning. Crisp. Neat. Everything brought together as a cohesive look. 

[How to wrap your race car at home | Project LS-Swapped 350Z]

We’ve come a long way in decorating our race cars. Hand-painted signage yielded to die-cut vinyl to today’s wraps. And today’s race cars look just gorgeous, as anything’s possible. You want to put your dog’s face on the hood? Change liveries for every race? Use all the colors of the rainbow?

But have we lost some of the charm from years past? Was there anything wrong with the meatballs of the ’50s and ’60s? What about the Western fonts of the ’70s or the bold, diagonal stripes of the ’80s?

Has the standardization of number panels sanitized sports car racing? Do today’s race cars lack the empty space that made things more dramatic? 

There’s a reason why I run meatballs on my Miata–big and bold, just like they did back in the day. (Side note: 17-inch-tall meatballs work well on an NA.)

[Meatballs for our Miata | Garage Rescue Miata]

Picture an iconic race car, and there’s a good chance it comes from an era before wraps and computer-designed graphics, whether it’s the Brumos Porsche 911 and BRE Datsuns or the factory Audis and Shelbys. Some more fan faves from the past: Penske Camaros, Dale’s Goodwrench Chevys, and anything backed by Gulf, Martini or John Player. Even without photos, you can picture them, right?

You can argue that the infiltration of sponsorship dollars into the sport in the 1970s changed the look of race cars. The international colors and simple schemes of the past were quickly replaced with corporate logos.

But somewhere in there was a middle ground that just worked. Example: the Budweiser DeKon Monza originally fielded by Interscope Racing for Danny Ongais in 1977, although the beer backing came when Jim Adam drove the car in 1980 and 1981.

The look–and yes, I grabbed the rendering from the RaceRoom Racing Experience sim because my pics of the car weren’t nearly that dramatic–comes across as bold and simple. Bright red with just the sponsor running down the doors and onto the front fender. No secondary logos.

The number, right there aft of the rear wheel, would never fly today. A simple pinstripe frames everything. It’s all perfect–and that’s before we discuss the merits of box flares, side pipes, and three-piece wheels nearly as wide as they are tall. 

I know we can’t put the genie back in the bottle–and the work of today’s motorsports graphic artists can look just stunning–but maybe occasionally we can take a look back. 

Can we bring back strobe stripes? Flat black hoods? Groovy fonts for numbers? How about just the classic IMSA and SCCA logos? 

Maybe we could arrange a compromise, and I admit that I totally stole this from J.G.: How about some throwback events? 

[Vintage Liveries on Modern Cars]

NASCAR does it: big, bold logos and simple graphics from the days of chrome bumpers and mesh-back, foam-front hats worn unironically. 

What if IMSA teams ran old-school liveries for Daytona or Sebring?  Ford did it with its GT program back in 2019. Could we get more members of the class on board? 

I’ll pack extra film for that one. 

Join Free Join our community to easily find more Liveries and Column articles.
Comments
View comments on the GRM forums
DeadSkunk  (Warren)
DeadSkunk (Warren) UltimaDork
1/3/22 9:05 a.m.

OK, since you seem to be stuck in the 70s I'll try my best to keep you happy. Current plan for my '72 Corolla Challenge car ( if I ever get the darned thing finished) is "tool box" red ($10/gallon), white meatballs on the hood, trunk, and doors with black numbers. Since the car has a black fiberglass power bulge hood anyway, that will likely be flat black. Wide silver wheels, covered by some sort of 5" wide flares to complete the look. Maybe some white stripes along the lines of the Boss 302 Trans-Am Mustangs. I expect pictures in the magazine since you seem to have some pull around there.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/3/22 10:06 a.m.

It is 100% the fault of wraps. It's so easy to drape a complex design over a car that that's all the designers do. Red Bull in particular is a frequent offender. Come up with something that looks good in a render and forget that it will fail to pop at speed.

Also - it's harder to do a graphically strong simple livery than a complex one from a design standpoint, and that's especically true with modern tools and wraps. With paint, it's the exact opposite - the medium rewards simplicity, which means you lean towards big bold statements in distinct colors.

People are invariably surprised when they find out the stripes on my car are paint.

Ironically, the first time I put numbers on a race car it was on a standardized panel that had GRASSROOTS MOTORSPORTS printed along the top :)

DeadSkunk  (Warren)
DeadSkunk (Warren) UltimaDork
1/3/22 10:49 a.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

You weren't the only one with a GRM panel on a Miata (circa 2006).....No photo description available.

DeadSkunk  (Warren)
DeadSkunk (Warren) UltimaDork
1/3/22 10:58 a.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

Red Bull just needs to de-clutter their designs a bit. Like so................laughNo photo description available.

Duke
Duke MegaDork
1/3/22 11:14 a.m.

In reply to David S. Wallens :

THANK YOU.  I hate the overly complex "dazzle camo" schemes that became popular in the early-Oughties.  They complete eradicate the lines of the car and, worse, they usually distract from the very point of brand identification.

 

j_tso
j_tso GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
1/3/22 11:32 a.m.

I'm sure they were simple back then because the car would otherwise spend too much time in the paint shop. Tape and spray some stripes quickly so the team can get back to testing.

Red Bull's livery may be complex, but the cartoon bull on the side makes their cars easy to spot.

pointofdeparture
pointofdeparture UltimaDork
1/3/22 11:50 a.m.

In reply to j_tso :

Also, back in the old days, ads on race cars started out as a way for teams to recoup some costs (John Player Lotus). Now racing is almost completely subsidized by advertising above the club level, and even to some extent at the club level. Race cars are just another advertisement, and Red Bull wants to be 1000% sure whoever is flipping through the channels past a race sees their logo.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/3/22 12:15 p.m.
DeadSkunk (Warren) said:

In reply to Keith Tanner :

Red Bull just needs to de-clutter their designs a bit. Like so................laughNo photo description available.

Ironically, they have really solid design on their cans. I know that they're probably totally different entities by this point, but still - some graphic consistency would help both brands.

Red Bull race car. A visual mess, the only thing that really stands out in action photos or on TV is the yellow splotches.

Red bull can and box.

At least one vehicle designer figured it out :)

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/3/22 12:17 p.m.
j_tso said:

I'm sure they were simple back then because the car would otherwise spend too much time in the paint shop. Tape and spray some stripes quickly so the team can get back to testing.

Red Bull's livery may be complex, but the cartoon bull on the side makes their cars easy to spot.

Exactly. The constraints of paint time forced the designers to come up with designs using strong, simple graphical elements. Remove those constraints and the designers forget some of the fundamentals.

frenchyd
frenchyd UltimaDork
1/3/22 12:19 p.m.

Red for Ferrari Green for Jaguar, white for America.  
 No sponsor  needed.  Those Cigarette, beer, & booze companies spent their money on Magazines and Radio.  That new Television?  Eh,  just a fad.  

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/3/22 12:23 p.m.

In reply to frenchyd :

Red for Italy, green for the UK, white for Germany, blue for France, white with blue stripes for the US.

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/3/22 12:34 p.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

I thought Germany was silver.

Rons
Rons GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
1/3/22 12:43 p.m.
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) said:

In reply to Keith Tanner :

I thought Germany was silver.

You’re both correct

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_international_auto_racing_colours

Adrian_Thompson (Forum Supporter)
Adrian_Thompson (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/3/22 12:48 p.m.

I think besides wraps, the other thing being forgotten here is the impact of TV and print.  In the old pre digitals days of of cathoderay TV's, you would never have been able to see a modern complicated livery.  Most modern schemes would have just looked like a blur on an old TV.  Liveries had to be simple and bold so you could actually see them on TV.  Similar with the print media, while people could take amazing film pics, the resolution which they could be reproduced in print media (more talking the weekly magazines rather than glossy books here) had the same issue.  A modern car would look a mess.  It's not that wraps have ruined liveries, it's that changes in TV and advertising has allowed us to make use of what wraps can do.

 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/3/22 12:50 p.m.
Rons said:
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) said:

In reply to Keith Tanner :

I thought Germany was silver.

You’re both correct

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_international_auto_racing_colours

I was going all the way back for Frenchy :) I enjoy that story about Germany basically changing its national racing color for efficiency.

msterbeau
msterbeau New Reader
1/3/22 1:19 p.m.

Computers happened.  More specifically, computer software that allowed relatively easy production of complex designs to be achieved and produced. Obviously there still needs to be a creative person involved to actually dream up the design.

Duke
Duke MegaDork
1/3/22 1:31 p.m.
Adrian_Thompson (Forum Supporter) said:

 A modern car would look a mess.  It's not that wraps have ruined liveries, it's that changes in TV and advertising has allowed us to make use of what wraps can do.

Except that many modern race cars do look a mess, regardless of how well that mess is reproduced on TV and in magazines.

 

wearymicrobe
wearymicrobe PowerDork
1/3/22 1:33 p.m.

It is not computers or the designers, its corporate branding by committee that throws the designers work out the window and nobody cares because it will change in a race or two who is the sponsor except the main.

I love what they can do with wraps now and I cannot imagine painting a car with sponsors that change to a quality that I would find acceptable. I did it with the 550 spyder and if I had to do it again I would do it with printed waterslide decals and even then I would think wrap first. Also I still think camo wraps are kind of cool in that hide the wind tunnel detail way they were used. 

Adrian_Thompson (Forum Supporter)
Adrian_Thompson (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/3/22 1:43 p.m.
Duke said:
Adrian_Thompson (Forum Supporter) said:

 A modern car would look a mess.  It's not that wraps have ruined liveries, it's that changes in TV and advertising has allowed us to make use of what wraps can do.

Except that many modern race cars do look a mess, regardless of how well that mess is reproduced on TV and in magazines.

 

Agreed, but I put that down to now being an official old fart and out of touch!

Appleseed
Appleseed MegaDork
1/3/22 4:33 p.m.

They need to ask: What would John Player Special do?

msterbeau
msterbeau New Reader
1/3/22 5:24 p.m.

In reply to wearymicrobe :

That's part of the problem, too.  But it would be a lot more work, and sometimes impossible, to achieve the looks and the rapid turnaround without the benefits of technology.  

LanEvo
LanEvo Dork
1/9/22 11:45 p.m.

I'm not much of a graphic designer, but I came up with something pretty simple that I really like. A black 190E sedan is about as boxy and boring as you can get for a race car. I wanted something that would stand out a bit. Came up with the checkered flag plus color-matched wheels idea: first in GT3 orange, then in baby blue.

DirtyBird222
DirtyBird222 PowerDork
1/10/22 8:11 p.m.

I enjoy the simple designs too. Sometimes it's hard to even tell who's sponsoring a car or if that's even the point of the livery. 

Simple, sexy, loud

SSpiffy
SSpiffy New Reader
3/1/22 4:52 p.m.

As a flagger, what I want to see is something in a large, simple font, with a wide stroke, and good contrast with the background color. If I can't read it as you go by 100 feet away at speed, it does me no good.

When I was racing, I had a 9" high (the largest that would fit the sidepod of my F500) white number in Helvitica with a 2" stroke on a dark blue background. Meatballs are the best way to do this, but not necessary. 

A 401 CJ
A 401 CJ SuperDork
3/1/22 5:52 p.m.
Appleseed said:

They need to ask: What would John Player Special do?

Those are actually why "Bandit" Trans-Ams are the color they are.  Pontiac came out with the JPS paint scheme the year before, '76.

Lof8 - Andy
Lof8 - Andy GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
3/1/22 5:59 p.m.

My crown vic beater :)

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
3/2/22 9:05 a.m.

In reply to Lof8 - Andy :

Petty Blue, kinda? And, yeah, looks clean. 

Lof8 - Andy
Lof8 - Andy GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
3/2/22 9:17 a.m.
David S. Wallens said:

In reply to Lof8 - Andy :

Petty Blue, kinda? And, yeah, looks clean. 

haha!  Thats the look I was going for and as close as I could get at the Lowe's paint selection wall.  My wife and I rolled it on with house rollers and brushes :)  Petty was my favorite as a kid!

 

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
3/2/22 9:36 a.m.
Lof8 - Andy said:

My crown vic beater :)

It needs an STP sticker.  smiley

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
3/2/22 9:40 a.m.
SSpiffy said:

As a flagger, what I want to see is something in a large, simple font, with a wide stroke, and good contrast with the background color. If I can't read it as you go by 100 feet away at speed, it does me no good.

I have this thought about commercial vehicles I see out on the street.  If I can't read the name of the company or the website or phone number printed on the side of your truck, it's wasted advertising.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
3/3/22 11:26 a.m.

In reply to Lof8 - Andy :

Very cool. Did you also do the mustache? 

APEowner
APEowner GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
3/3/22 12:35 p.m.

My race cars all have simple liveries but that's mostly because I'm cheap.

stafford1500
stafford1500 GRM+ Memberand Dork
3/3/22 1:04 p.m.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
3/4/22 9:37 a.m.

In reply to stafford1500 :

A classic. 

200mph
200mph Reader
5/25/22 10:34 a.m.

My son Scott's Spec E46...

Famed artist/sculptor Alexander Calder styled a 3.0 CSL for LeMans that Sam Posey put on the pole in class. They were leading the class and 5th overall when they had a driveline failure.  BMW still has their first "Art Car".   This is our authorized tribute... all paint, no wrap.  Mike Joy

jmabarone
jmabarone Reader
5/25/22 10:52 a.m.

TIL:  Mike Joy peruses the GRM forum.  

Not calling Brumos' legendary white with red and blue stripes livery as busy, but it was a deliberate choice by Peter Gregg to help the car stand out in the era of black and white photography.

With the current sponsor environment, a car (as a rolling billboard) now has to meet every individual sponsor's requirement.  Your primary sponsor likes a navy blue and silver scheme, but 2 of your associate sponsors like orange and pink.  Want the money?  Make it work.  

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/27/22 10:27 a.m.

In reply to jmabarone :

All the cool kids hang out here, right? 

 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/27/22 10:29 a.m.

At a recent event, the starter relayed a message to me: Timing and scoring says thank you for the large numbers. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/27/22 10:31 a.m.

And some of my influences:

To make the meatballs work, personally, I think you have to go big. 

racerfink
racerfink UltraDork
5/27/22 11:50 a.m.

Sometimes simple works so well.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/27/22 3:31 p.m.

Sorry funny/sad is that I'm also considering some new numbers for the Miata. I can picture it in my head and just need to make it happen. 

cgrace12
cgrace12
7/25/22 1:32 p.m.

Loved the Monza!  If you can find one, there are excellent race-converted chassis for the era.  With more backing from GM they could have chased some championships... but the Comaro... :(

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
7/26/22 12:22 p.m.

In reply to cgrace12 :

FWIW, my parents had a Starfire–silver over red, V6, a five-speed and those body-color mags. 

Our Preferred Partners
2Whbk1uTiJGfymLxnwIboz28EhMpESSQ5ZadMxRt1zjysjED6fioNEODCJN4kHBL