Who wore it best? 10 road cars dressed for the race track
Who among you can see a car done up in Gulf Oil’s trademark livery and not be mentally transported trackside, or catch a glimpse of Martini colors and not smell burning rubber? Or picture yourself being showered in gravel when you witness the green, white, and red of Alitalia fly by?
Banking on nostalgia, automakers know how we long for those glory days of motorsports, and wrapping road cars in illustrious racing liveries turns vehicles into moving memorabilia. Everyone seems to be at it at the moment, from Ford’s Gulf-edition GT to Radford’s glorious Gold Leaf and John Player Special liveried Type 62 being just the latest in a long line.
But when it comes to dressing road cars as racers, who wore it best? Take a look below and let us know in the comments.
Lotus Elan Sprint
Gold Leaf’s sponsorship of the Lotus Formula 1 team in 1968 was the first time a commercial sponsor appeared on the flanks of a Grand Prix car, the Lotus 49. Two years later Graham Arnold, head of sales at the Norfolk sports car maker thought adding red paintwork and gold stripes to the Elan might revive sales. It, and the Big Valve engine that was also fitted to the Elan Sprint, certainly helped.
After Lotus took its seventh F1 World Championship title in 1978 the Hethel high-ups decided to capitalize on the company’s racing success once again. This time it was a different tobacco sponsor whose black and gold colors would be transferred from racetrack to road. The plan was to build 200 John Player Special Lotus Esprits, with 100 for the home market, and the rest shared between Europe and the U.S., but in the end just 185 of these World Championship editions were believed to have been assembled.
2010’s Stratos revival got a lot of rally fans very hot under the collar, but it would take a full eight more years for the 25 planned cars to emerge from the factory. Of course, the very first one came with Italian airline Alitalia’s awesome tricolor stripes. It sold for $755,000 at auction in early 2020.
Porsche 918 Spyder
When it launched the 918 Spyder in 2013 Porsche payed tribute to the one that came before with a selection of 917-inspired liveries. Martini colors couldn’t fail to appeal to the Porsche massive, but opting for the lesser-known red Porsche Salzburg red showed you were a true connoisseur.
If any car has a right to celebrate its racing heritage, it’s the Ford GT; and Ford certainly knows it, releasing no fewer than six Heritage Editions over the years. First the Blue Oval built 343 GTs in 2006 in Gulf colors, followed, in 2017, by 27 cars based on the number two 1966 GT40 MkII of Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon and 39 more based on the number one ’67 MkIV in 2018. The Gulf Heritage Edition of 2019 included 50 cars celebrating the number nine MkI which won Le Mans in 1968. 2020 saw Gulf colors return in another run of 50 cars, and in 2021 it was the 1966 Daytona-racing number 98 car’s turn to be championed. For the GT’s final year of production, Ford is building a car based on the only surviving 1964 prototype.
In 2020 McLaren racing rekindled a relationship with Gulf Oil that began in the 1960s and saw the oil firm sponsor Formula 1, Can-Am, and Indycars. To mark the occasion of the renewed sponsorship, the road car side of the Woking factory got the classic orange and blue paints out and offered a Gulf Theme for its restricted run of 149 Elvas.
McLaren Senna GTR LM
Even more limited was the one-off Senna GTR LM built to celebrate 25 years since McLaren won Le Mans in 1995. McLaren actually made five of these LMs, each to match the livery of the cars which placed first, third, fourth, fifth, and thirteenth. The Gulf car was fourth.
If you want a Gulf McLaren today you can sign up for a 720S, but you’ll need to be patient because it takes McLaren Special Operations 20 days to hand-paint a 720S in Gulf colors. Orange brake calipers are also fitted, along with blue and orange stitching for the cabin.
You can buy an F1 Edition Vantage, but as that’s a replica of the safety car so we’re not counting it here. So instead we’ll focus on the six Vantage Heritage Racing Editions released by Aston’s Q division in 2019. Just ten of each were built and inspired by past racing glory. “The Record Breaker” was based on the 1923 Razor Blade which set records at Brooklands, “The Italian Progettista” was inspired by the Ulster, “The David Brown Era” took its lead from the DB3S, “The Group C Monster” celebrated the AMR1 of 1989, “The Le Mans Winner” acknowledged the brand’s class victories at La Sarthe in 2007 and 2008, The “Golf” livery did exactly what it said on the tin and, lastly, “The Next Generation” honored the latest GTE cars.
Jenson Button’s revitalized Radford has a close relationship with Lotus. Its coachbuilt Type 62-2 sits on Lotus underpinnings and two models pay tribute to Lotus’ racing past. Just 12 apiece of Gold Leaf and John Player Special liveries are set to be built.
And one you probably never thought you’d see… Everrati
An electric car with big oil livery? Uh, yep, that’s the Everati 911. Knowing that replacing the air-cooled flat-six from a 964-era Porsche was already going to ruffle a few feathers the British electro-restomod maker decided to go all in and offer it in Gulf colors. It’s officially licensed too.