Reviving Iconic Liveries Of The Past

Last week, Curt Cavin’s Q&A featured a question that raised my interest. It was from someone named Rod in Kokomo, Indiana. I’m paraphrasing, but Rod asked if there might be any special throwback liveries for cars in the 2016 Indianapolis 500, which also happens to be the one-hundredth running of the race. Rod sited a few examples he’d like to see; a Coyote-orange Foyt car, a Marlboro car and something reminiscent of the Johnny Lightening Special that Al Unser piloted to consecutive victories in 1970-71.

Curt seemed to like the idea, but was correct in his response that tobacco liveried cars were unlikely and that any other scheme would have to come with a sponsor’s blessing. He did add that ABC Supply, Foyt’s sponsor, may be on-board for the one race since it would stand out so much.

Personally, I loved the idea. There have been several attempts at throwback paint schemes in the past, some with more success than others. Every time I saw the Pennzoil car of Helio Castroneves last May, I drooled. It brought back memories of the Rick Mears cars that won at Indianapolis in 1984 and 1988; along with the Yellow Submarine of Johnny Rutherford in 1980. Plus, it looked so much better than the mostly red and white Shell/Pennzoil livery that Helio had run for a couple of years earlier. If Shell/Pennzoil wants to make an impact with fans – they’ll stick to the retro livery.

In 2009, Rahal-Letterman Racing only ran at Indianapolis, with Oriol Servia as the driver. Their sponsor was a software company called DAFCA, whose colors are navy blue and white. Rahal decided to go with a retro look that resembled the Dan Gurney Eagles of the sixties.

Indianapolis 500 Practice yc3UEu2zqhal


Others have gone for the throwback look and missed the mark. The Tony Kanaan GEICO car in 2011 was sponsored by Lotus, albeit powered by Honda. It was British racing green with a yellow stripe down the middle and carried No.82 as it tried to convey the look of Jim Clark’s 1965 winner. Something got lost in the translation.


For several years, a Dallara with the look of the 1963 winner driven by Parnelli Jones would grace the Speedway. I’m not sure where they missed the mark, but they did. Perhaps they needed a larger area of blue on the nose to pull it off. Maybe make it a lighter blue like the 1963 winner. Whatever the case, looking at PJ Jones in that car never really stirred classic memories of his father in Ol’ Calhoun.


Even worse was when PJ attempted to qualify in a car painted up to resemble his father’s 1967 STP Turbine, Silent Sam. It was day-glo orange trimmed in black and carried the No.40. That was where the similarities ended. For whatever reason, they chose to paint the word “Whoosh” on the sidepod; I suppose in reference to its other nickname – “The Whoosh-mobile”. But painting it on the sidepod sort of ruined the whole effect.

PJ Whoosh

Perhaps the worst case of an attempted throwback paint scheme came in 1993, when Eric Bachelart failed to qualify in the Marmon Wasp II – a Lola painted in yellow and black that happened to carry the No.32. But that was about the only resemblance to the 1911 winner driven by Ray Harroun. I considered it a blessing that the car didn’t qualify. Instead, their sponsor – the Marmon Group – threw their sponsorship onto AJ Foyt’s second car, driven by John Andretti.

But I still like the idea of trying to replicate some of the iconic paint jobs from the past. If I were a car-owner with a sponsor that allowed me the latitude to create a livery from the past, I would go after the Fuel Injection Special of Bill Vukovich in the 1953 winning livery. The gray, with a yellow number on a gray field is surprisingly simple to be so distinctive.


Another one would be the deep maroon Boyle Maserati driven to victory by Wilbur Shaw in 1939-40. Solid maroon with bold white lettering is another simple, yet elegant design. From the sixties, not only would the previously mentioned Coyote orange from 1967 be a good look, but I was always partial to Bobby Unser’s winning Rislone Special Eagle from 1968.



Jumping back to more recent times, I always thought that the Valvoline paint schemes driven by Al Unser, Jr. in the early nineties were classic. Even if Valvoline wasn’t the sponsor, replicating the predominantly blue and white with red trim could translate to several sponsors. Would the familiar Marlboro chevrons be allowed on Will Power’s car if the sidepods said Verizon instead? The colors are the same. It’s a shame that tobacco legislation has outlawed such a legendary paint scheme that visited Victory Lane nine times between 1989 and 2009.

If they can’t do a Marlboro livery but still want to honor a Penske car, how about Mark Donohue’s Sunoco McLaren from 1972. The Sunoco car from Turbo that Townsend Bell drove in 2013, had the potential to mimic that classic scheme, but they opted for a mostly yellow car instead of the beautiful blue that Donohue drove.

But there were some liveries that never saw Victory Lane at Indianapolis, yet would still be worth recognizing, just as Rahal did with the familiar Dan Gurney livery in 2009. There have not been very many gold cars to run at Indianapolis, but I can think of three that would merit a throwback nod – the Danny Sullivan Miller cars of 1988-89 were very distinctive and unique. The same goes for the Lotus of Parnelli Jones in 1965 sponsored by Hurst. The City of Daytona Beach Specials of Smokey Yunick with their familiar gold and black never won, but they were always presented very well.

D Sullivan 1988



Mario Andretti’s pole winning car in 1967 was a beautiful car, but that was mostly due to its design and shape rather than its paint scheme. The same went for Graham Hill’s Lola in 1966.The livery was boring, but it was a sleek looking car.

Mario Andretti Photos - 19671126 @_2015-01-26_20-35-21

Bobby Unser’s Bardahl Lola in 1969 always caught my eye, with the black and yellow checkered flag scheme. Unser’s Norton Spirit that won in 1981 for Roger Penske was another of my favorites. Too much controversy from that race? Then how about the Gould Charge that finished second in 1982? That was a good looking car that barely missed going to Victory Lane.


Bobby Unser 1981

Getting back to simplicity – how about the 1960 winning Watson driven by Jim Rathmann? The understated silver-blue with red trim is a timeless look. If you like silver-blue, go back a little further to Lou Moore’s Blue Crown Specials driven to victory in 1947-48 by Mauri Rose and 1949 by Bill Holland.


Blue Crown Spl

On the flip side, there are many paint schemes that need to remain in the past. I think Bob Sweikert is one of the most underrated and overlooked winning drivers in the history of the Indianapolis 500. His only mistake was winning on the same afternoon that Bill Vukovich was fatally injured, causing his victory to be considered secondary to the events of the day. Although I’m a big Sweikert fan, I was never a huge fan of his car – the Pink Zink. The tropical rose hue seems just a little too pink for my liking, although it would be perfect for Pippa Mann and the Susan G. Komen car.


Although they won a lot of races, the K-Mart/Havoline Newman/Haas cars of the early nineties never had a whole lot of imagination to their paint schemes. Surely they could have come up with something better than a white tub with black sidepods. Many of the Target cars were visually lacking, as well. Understated is one thing. Boring is another.

I always wondered why Arie Luyendyk’s Domino Pizza Lola attracted so much attention. It was an ugly car driven by a surprise winner. I was shocked that it ended up in the field of thirty-three winners in 2011.

As I am with Bob Sweikert, I am a huge Tony Kanaan fan. I cheered loudly when he finally won the 2013 Indianapolis 500. Unfortunately, he drove what I think maybe one of the ugliest cars to ever win. The Hdyroxycut livery was hideous! Enough said about that except that it does not need to be brought back in 2016. Ditto for 1998’s Rachel’s Potato Chips livery for Eddie Cheever, and the 1999 PowerTeam paint scheme for Kenny Bräck.

Of course, a lot of these would not translate at all on today’s cars – but many would. It’s still worth a shot if a team could get a sponsor’s blessing.So those are some of mine that I would and would not like to see revived as throwback tributes for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. What are some that I’ve missed, on both ends of the spectrum? We’ve only got about sixteen months to go.

George Phillips

21 Responses to “Reviving Iconic Liveries Of The Past”

  1. You have kind of raised a question I never thought about. Are their any rule limitations on the paint schemes? Are teams given colors similar to how they are given numbers? Or could any owner use whatever paint scheme they want to?

    This seems like such a great idea that somehow I know there must be a rule against it.

    • Went out and researched the Indycar rule book. There are limitations on “car appearance”. Car Appearance – Indycar has the right to control the appearance of Cars to distinguish one Car from another. This may include, without limitation, car color. Cars are required to display significantly different colors. In general, Indycar may require different color schemes on any four of the following seven parts:

      a. Mirror Housing
      b. Air Intakes
      c. Roll hoop camera cover
      d. Front and rear wing end fences
      e. leading edge of the front wing
      f. leading edge of the rear wing
      g. Attenuator

      Bottom line, looks like it might be possible, but pretty tough and it would take Indycar approval.

  2. Mike Silver Says:

    You and I seem to like the same cars, George. I wish they would find a way to get the Fuel Injection Special a lap around the track on race day, I know it can’t be driven, but maybe it could be towed. The design of these cars makes throwback liveries challenging.

  3. Putting iconic liveries on these current cars is like putting a silk suits on pigs.

  4. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    I do love liveries of the past, but I also would prefer they focus on making ‘new classics’, not replicating old ones on new chassis.

    For me, the Robert Graham livery on Townsend Bell’s 2014 Indy 500 car was the best I’ve seen in years.

    • The difference in taste and opinion is fascinating. I considered that one of the ugliest cars to ever run at IMS. That’s why we’re all entitled to our own opinions.

  5. Judging by the majority of the recent attempts at classic liveries I would suggest leaving them on the classic cars. Yes the 2009 RLR Eagle livery worked but most of the others didn’t. There have been some excellent liveries on the DW12 (such as Joe Newgarden’s Strike livery from Houston last year) so let’s let the designers come up with new iconic liveries.

  6. I am stunned that you think Luyendyk’s 1990-winning Domino’s Pizza Hot One was “ugly.” Though that color scheme had been around with Doug Sheirson’s team for several years, the addition of the Dutch Boy sponsor, and the white pin stripes on the rear cowel, made that livery iconic in my book.
    Good topic though. I also enjoyed the John Andretti, Window World entry that resembled the old Johncock STP color scheme.

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      Actually it was painted like that in honor of John Andretti’s NASCAR ride he had with with Richard Petty at that time, who had a partial ownership deal in Andretti’s Indy car that year, if I remember correctly. That particular shade of blue is known throughout racing as “Petty Blue,” like AJ’s old color is widely known as “Coyote Red” even though it is an original color for the (then) new 1965 Ford Mustangs called “Poppy Red.”

      Phil Kaiser

      • billytheskink Says:

        That’s right, though John Andretti was long gone from Petty’s NASCAR team by the time he was driving Petty blue and day-glow orange #43 Window World cars at Indy. Petty “co-owned” those entries, first with Dreyer and Reinbold in 2009 and then with Andretti Autosport in 10 and 11.

        Andretti’s 2011 car, though, was definitely painted to look like Johncock’s 1982 winner, matching the color and design of the sidepods and wings. The #43 on the nose was even placed inside a red oval to mimic the STP logo.

        • Phil Kaiser Says:

          Hate to argue but no, you are wrong. Andretti’s paint scheme was not to honor Johncock, nor was the similarity even brought up at the time because everyone knew (as it was announced in the press conference) that it WAS to honor Petty. STP was a very famous sponsor of Petty’s from back in the mid-1960s until he retired. That Andretti paint scheme had everything to do with Richard Petty and his blue 43 with STP sponsorship in NASCAR and absolutely nothing to do with Johncock. Look up the press conference announcing the ride, it’s all right there….

  7. billytheskink Says:

    Two words: Gatorade McLaren
    Something about lightning bolts on cars I guess. I’d love to see a Johnny Lightning scheme and the 90s Target lightning bolts make a comeback too.

    I think it is difficult to translate a pre-winged car’s paint scheme to a modern car, and probably doubly difficult to do so with a front-engine car scheme where most of the design elements and sponsor names were placed on an area of the car that is now 1/10 the size. The Rahal Gurney tribute car proved it could be done, but I imagine that is an exception more than a rule. Post-72, and especially post-80 paint schemes should translate fairly well (as the Pennzoil car did last year).

    Not a 500 paint scheme, but I got a real kick out of the red and yellow car that Stephan Gregoire drove for Dick Simon at Phoenix in 2001. Sponsor Mexmil had left the team before the season began, so the car sported a large white “?” on the sidepods for that first race. Not that I like seeing unsponsored cars, but if you don’t have a sponsor yet, why not have some fun?

    Not an Indycar, but Shane Golobic drove a Rislone-sponsored midget at the 2013 Chili Bowl that was painted up like Bobby Unser’s 1968 winner. Looked great, raced pretty good too.

  8. Rather than retro paint jobs, what I would prefer is retro performance, in the form of less down force and more horse power… Just sayin’…

  9. A lot of cars photograph beautifully when parked but on the track they blend into the background and are indistinguishable from all the others.

    Witness Danica. Whether racing in a 20 or 43 car field her car is the only one that you can immediately identify from a distance which is where we all sit anyway.

    So I vote for cars with snap like Roberto Guerrero’s 1987 True Value racer.

  10. I have always loved Dixon’s version of the Target car. The white endplates on the rear wing just do it for me. My favorite retro scheme (that hasn’t been mentioned) is Rahal’s black MGD car.

  11. The Lapper Says:

    I’m fine with bringing back the old colors and schemes of past liveries. However, I sometimes feel that it is a bad idea to repaint a classic on a different canvas.

  12. Todays cars have few areas that aren’t covered with some sponsors name or logo, so I think solid colors stand out the best. For example, I liked Simon’s orange car last year. Helio’s yellow Shell/Pennzoil car was also good. I like Dario, but seeing him in a “Huggies” car was sad. If you can picture the colors that an exhaust pipe gets after it has gotten really hot, I saw a midget painted like that back in the day. It was awesome!

  13. Some other nice paint schemes that would be nice to replicate:

    -the pale blue and white livery of Jacques Villeneuve’s winner that was associated with Canadian driving talent for several years therafter thanks to Gerry Forsythe
    -the green and white livery of TK’s 7-11 car of Andretti-Green Racing
    -the K-mart wardrobe that was sported by the cars of Mansell and father and son Andretti for Newman/Haas
    -the iconic Miller livery which Team Rahal had in the 90s

    I, too, liked the look of the Valvoline cars of Team Walker back in the 90s. Since CFH Racing is the current successor of that team, they should give this look a try with the #21.

    But coming from another generation than you, George, the yellow Pennzoil livery first reminds me of John Barnes, not of Rick Mears.

    By the way, what happened to the orange and white William Rast after their car had won the Indy 500 in 2011? They haven’t been back since that year, have they?

    Also, a return of a Red Bull sponsored car to this series has been long overdue.

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