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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.