The 1980s were a period widely identified by its mantra of “excess and escapism”. Outrageous celebrities, big hairstyles and a fashion sense that makes us all cringe, the 80s is largely a time we’d like to forget, except for one thing, the paint schemes of factory and motorsport liveries. The idea of excess has carried over into the automotive industry, giving us some of the craziest examples of paint colors and sponsorship decals, and here at HotCars, we’re truly grateful for that.
Here we dive into some of the most iconic factory paint jobs and motorsport liveries of all time. Some of these examples have been long forgotten, and some of them are high on the list of many car enthusiasts all over the world. Let’s take a look at some of the best factory paint jobs and motorsport liveries of the 80s.
DR30 Nissan Skyline 2000RS Turbo: Lighthouse Red/Black
As far as the Skyline family goes, the DR30 is the forgotten middle child. But it’s not hard to see why when your older brother is the Kenmeri Skyline and your younger brother is nicknamed “Godzilla.” However, if it weren’t for the DR30 rekindling the soul of the Skyline lineage, we might not have some of the greatest cars of all time in the R32, R33 and R34.
It also has the distinction of being the only Skyline offered with a factory two-tone paint scheme. Of course, nothing more attractive than the combination of Beacon Red with a black coating. Add gold decals on both sides that read “4 Valve DOHC RS-TURBO Intercooler” and you have arguably the most iconic factory paint job of any Skyline.
McLaren MP4/2: Marlboro
In a callback to the excess and evasion mentioned earlier, some of the most legendary racing liveries of the 80s are tobacco-related, and ironically enough, they were also among the most successful racing teams. Nothing more than the partnership between McLaren and Marlboro.
The fact remains that in Formula 1, there is no livery more iconic than the red and white paint scheme, with bold black lettering. It’s also easy to see why, since McLaren dominated the late 80s and early 90s winning six constructors’ cups from 1984 to 1991, with a stable of the greatest drivers of all time. Among them: Alain Prost, Niki Lauda, John Watson and a blooming Ayrton Senna.
AE86 Sprinter Thunder: Panda Thunder
When it comes to humble econoboxes that boast immense tuning capabilities, one of the first examples that comes to mind is the Toyota AE86. Specifically, the Sprinter Trueno. The AE86 has only recently gained accolades worldwide and is considered one of the pioneers of the early days of drifting in Japan. It was then brought to prominence on the racing scene thanks to Keiichi Tsuchiya, unequivocally considered the father of drifting, and the AE86, himself.
But it was only through Tsuchiya’s love of the car and its inclusion in the immensely popular manga and anime, Initial D, that the AE86 became a cultural icon. It’s also no coincidence that the paint scheme chosen by Tsuchiya is the same as that of the Fujiwara Tofu Shop livery, also known as Panda Trueno.
When it comes to two-tone paint jobs, one could argue that the Panda Trueno is the most tame of the 80s, however, there is also no other car, with a specific paint job as recognizable as this particular AE86. It can be identified over several generations across the world, a feat that cannot be said by many econoboxes.
4WD FB Rx-7: Rod Millen’s Pikes Peak machine
Similar to the Skyline, the RX-7 has a long history with motorsport, and similar to the DR30 mentioned above, the FB RX-7 is the long-lost sibling that helped the FC and FD RX-7 become some of the most recognizable tuner cars in history.
In another similarity to the Skyline line, this particular FB RX-7, while far from the most recognizable, was the reason for much of Mazda’s success in the 80s. Thanks to Rod Millen and his FB, the RX-7 became a major force in American rally stages and the infamous Pikes Peak Hill Climb.
Not because he used this particular RX-7 FB, he got his greatest success with an FC. However, it was Millen’s love of the RX-7 and success in the late 70s with an FB that motivated him to adapt his build to the new FC. Without this particular FB RX-7, we would never have known the excellence of its plucky little Mazda that dominated the late 80s in hill climbs.
Toyota SR5 Trophy Truck: Precision Preparation, Inc. (PPI)
In what can be widely considered the most recognizable trophy truck of all time, Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s Toyota SR5 also proved to be the most dominant for over 20 years. Although Stewart was a world-class driver before the SR5 was used, it wasn’t until the driver and truck were united that he became a household name.
The significance of this truck spans decades, and like most 80s and 90s kids, chances are you have the Hot Wheels version of this particular truck. If it weren’t for Stewart’s absolute dominance in the 80s and 90s it’s hard to say where Toyota and the TRD subsidiary would be, luckily thanks to Ironman we never had to care about a world without his influence.
BMW Z1: Keith Haring’s artistic car
Since its inception in 1975, the BMW Art Car Project has invited many world famous artists to utilize their talents in art creation through the use of a BMW canvas. Artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Jenny Holzer and David Hockney lent their names and talents to create beautiful bespoke BMWs.
However, one of the better versions is considered an unofficial example, going so far as not even being recognized by BMW. This is of course a reference to the late Keith Haring and his red BMW Z1.
Haring is still considered one of the most influential artists in the field of Modernism, particularly in the United States, sharing the nickname with Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Haring’s Z1 is a direct reminder of his use of strong graphic lines that create iconic symbols, and he believes art is for everyone, not just the upper class. Thanks to his Z1, his passion for art will be forever immortalized for the pleasure of all.
Lancia Rallye 037: Martini Racing
It would be almost impossible to create an article dedicated to some of motorsport’s greatest paint jobs and liveries without mentioning Martini Racing. In what may be considered the most recognizable livery of all time, Martini has a long history with motorsport, victories and beautiful cars.
In what may be considered the most attractive Group B car, the Lancia Rally 037 was a very competitive vehicle at the start of Group B. Unfortunately, its RWD transmission became a thing of the past once teams started to introduce 4WD. and AWD versions of their rally cars, in the final years of Group B. Luckily, due to the rules laid down by the FIA, Lancia left us the 037 Stradale homologation cars, and looked just as good as the car from Martini Racing rally.
Jaguar XJR-9: silk cut
In another successful example of a cigarette-sponsored racing team, the race of the Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-9 was much more limited than most tobacco cars. Launching the purple, white and yellow XJR-9 in 1986, it was largely unsuccessful for two seasons.
The Jag was retooled for the 1988 season and enjoyed immediate success winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans, considered the Mecca of endurance racing. Not only did it beat Porsche by a narrow two-minute margin, it did so using just four gears, as the XJR-9 has a notorious fifth-gear gearbox failure that would essentially destroy the transmission. The win gave Jaguar its first Le Mans victory in 30 years, and it would go on to win 6 of the 11 races it entered in 1988. It also produced one of the best naturally aspirated V12 engines of all time.
Unfortunately, 1989 saw Nissan’s rise to prominence and the start of its dominance with the R32, and the XJR-9 was now considered dated, so much so that Jaguar developed the XJR-11 to end the season alongside the XJR. -9. Luckily, he still sported the Silk Cut colors.
The zero-emission truck is a huge step forward for the company.
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