The 1980s was a period in time largely identified through its mantra of “excess and escape.” From outlandish 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, factory paint schemes and motorsport liveries. The idea of excess transferred into the car industry, giving us some of the wildest examples of paint colors and sponsorships decals, and here at HotCars, we sure are thankful for it.
Here we dive into some of the most iconic factory paint jobs and motorsport liveries of all time. Some of these examples have long been forgotten, and some of these top the list of many car enthusiasts everywhere. Let’s take a look at some of the best factory paint jobs and motorsport liveries of the ‘80s.
DR30 Nissan Skyline 2000RS Turbo: Beacon Red/Black
When it comes to the Skyline family, 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 “Godzillla.” However, if it weren’t for the DR30 reviving the lifeblood of the Skyline lineage, we might not have some of the greatest cars ever in the R32, R33, and R34.
It also holds the distinction of being the only Skyline offered with a factory two-tone paint scheme. Of course, none more enticing than the combination of Beacon Red with black cladding. Add in gold decals on both sides that reads “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 call-back to the excess and escape mentioned earlier, some the ‘80s most legendary racing liveries are tobacco related, and ironically enough, they were also some of the most successful racing teams. None more than the partnership between McLaren and Marlboro.
The fact remains, in Formula 1, there isn’t a more iconic livery than the red and white paint scheme, with bold black lettering. It’s easy to see why too, as McLaren dominated the late ’80s and early ’90s winning six constructor’s cups from 1984-1991, with a stable of the greatest drivers ever. Which included: Alain Prost, Niki Lauda, John Watson and a blossoming Ayrton Senna.
AE86 Sprinter Trueno: Panda Trueno
When it comes to humble econoboxes that possess immense tuning capabilities, one of the first examples that comes to mind is the Toyota AE86. More specifically, the Sprinter Trueno. Only recently achieving worldwide praise, the AE86 is considered to be one of the pioneers of the early drifting days in Japan. It was then brought to prominence in the racing scene through Keiichi Tsuchiya, unequivocally considered to be the father of drifting, and the AE86, itself.
But it wasn’t until Tsuchiya’s love for the car, and inclusion in the immensely popular manga and anime, Initial D, that the AE86 became a cultural icon. It’s also no coincidence that Tsuchiya’s paint scheme of choice, is the same as the Fujiwara Tofu Shop livery, otherwise known as the Panda Trueno.
As far as two-tone paint jobs go, it could be argued that the Panda Trueno is the tamest of the ‘80s, however, there also isn’t another car, with a specific paint job that is as recognizable as this particular AE86. It can be identified across multiple generations across the world, a feat that can’t 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 brother that allowed the FC and FD RX-7 go on to become some of the most recognizable tuner cars in history.
In another similarity to the Skyline lineage, this particular FB RX-7, although far from the most recognizable, is the reason for many the success Mazda enjoyed in the ’80s. Thanks to Rod Millen and his FB, the RX-7 went on to become a major force in American rally stages and the infamous, Pikes Peak Hill Climb.
Not because he used this particular FB RX-7, he achieved his greatest success with an FC. However, it was Millen’s love for the RX-7, and success in the late ‘70s, with an FB, that motivated him to adapt his build to the newly minted FC. If it wasn’t for this particular FB RX-7, we would have never known the excellence of his plucky, little Mazda dominating the late ‘80s in hill climbs.
Toyota SR5 Trophy Truck: Precision Preparation, Inc. (PPI)
In what can largely be considered the most recognizable trophy truck of all time, Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s Toyota SR5 also happened to be the most dominant for a span of 20+ years. Although Stewart was a world-class driver before the use of the SR5, it wasn’t until the driver and truck were united that he became a household name.
This truck’s importance spans over decades of time, and like most children of the ’80s and ’90s, chances are, you had the Hot Wheels version of this particular truck. If it weren’t for the absolute domination of Stewart in the ’80s and ’90s, it’s tough to say where Toyota and the TRD subsidiary would be, luckily, thanks to the Ironman, we never had to worry about a world without its influence.
BMW Z1: Keith Haring Art Car
Since its inception in 1975, the BMW Art Car Project has invited numerous world-renowned artists to use their talents in creating art through use of a BMW canvas. Such artists as Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Jenny Holzer, and David Hockney have lent their name and talents to create beautiful, bespoke BMWs.
However, one of the best versions is considered to be an unofficial example, going so far as to not even be recognized by BMW. This is of course a reference to the late, Keith Haring, and his red, BMW Z1.
Haring is still considered to be one of the most influential artists in the realm of modernism, particularly in the United States, sharing the moniker with the likes of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Haring’s Z1 is a direct call-back to his use of strong, graphic lines that create emblematic symbols, and it is his belief is that art is for all people, not just the higher class. Thanks to his Z1, his passion for art will forever be immortalized for all to enjoy.
Lancia Rallye 037: Martini Racing
It would be nearly impossible to create an article dedicated to some of the greatest paint jobs and motorsport liveries and not mention Martini Racing. In what can be considered the most recognizable livery of all time, Martini has a long history with motorsport, winning, and beautiful cars.
In what may be considered the most eye-appealing Group B car, the Lancia Rally 037 was a highly-competitive vehicle in the early days of Group B. Unfortunately, its RWD drivetrain found itself becoming a thing of the past once teams began introducing 4WD and AWD versions of their rally cars, in the finals years of Group B. Luckily, due to rules set by the FIA, Lancia left us with the 037 Stradale homologation cars, and were just as beautiful as the Martini Racing rally car.
Jaguar XJR-9: Silk Cut
In yet another example of a cigarette-sponsored racing team achieving success, the Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-9’s run was much more limited than most tobacco-donning cars. Debuting 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 saw immediate success winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans, considered to be the mecca of endurance races. Not only did it beat Porsche by the narrow margin of two minutes, it did so through the use of only four gears, as the XJR-9 has a notorious gearbox failure in fifth gear that would basically destroy the transmission. The win gave Jaguar its first win at Le Mans in 30 years, and it would continue to win 6 of the 11 races it entered in 1988. It also produced one of the best sounding, naturally aspirated V12 engine of all time.
Unfortunately, 1989 saw the rise of Nissan and the beginning of its domination with the R32, and the XJR-9 was now considered dated, so much to the point where Jaguar developed the XJR-11 to finish the season alongside the XJR-9. Luckily, it was still sporting the Silk Cut colors.
The 2021 BMW M4 is a successor of the widely-known series that has been around since 2015.
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