Last time out we showed you some of the greatest – if criminally underrated – liveries ever to grace a circuit or special stage, so this time we thought it only right to go the other way, to plumb the depths of motorsport history for the worst of the worst. None of the following 10 schemes is likely to challenge a Martini-clad Brabham or JPS-shod Lotus in the looks department, but, as is the case with a subjective list of this kind, there’s every chance that you’ll disagree with some (or all) of our choices. Let us know if so.
Penthouse/Rizla, Hesketh 308D – 1976
Time and reality caught up with Hesketh with indecent haste, and the plucky, outlandish went from being F1’s cheeky outsiders with a solitary win to their name, courtesy of James Hunt’s stunning drive at Zandvoort in 1975, to also-rans in the space of less than 12 months. 1976 saw Hesketh field an updated version of the car which had brought them success the previous season, the 308D, but with Hunt having been departed to McLaren and its designer, Harvey Postlethwaite, having gone to Walter Wolf’s own back marker outfit, results were very hard to come by.
Worst of all for a team accustomed to running a neat, effortlessly cool white livery, the 308D competed with the garish colours of Penthouse magazine and Rizla. The resulting scheme doubtless has a ’70s charm all of its own, though it was a far cry from the team’s former effort and marked the beginning of Hesketh’s terminal decline.
British American Tobacco, BAR – 1999
Time for a controversial effort, though one that had the potential to be truly jaw-slackening. BAR, an American company, wanted to enter F1 with two different liveries, one for each of its cars alas Indycar. They planned to promote both Lucky Strike and 555, both schemes we’ve seen on various competition cars over the years, and both proven winners.
The FIA swiftly disabused them of this notion however, leaving BAR scrabbling around for a solution – any solution. The one they came up with was the effort shown here, a scheme swiftly nicknamed ‘the zipper livery…’and a controversial decision ever since.
Monster Energy, Anything – 2002
This one might well be the most contentious entry on this list, and we will admit that there are a few instances when the lurid green and black does look OK (the Doran RS200 for example) – but they’re definitely in the minority. Again, this will be likely be a deeply subjective entry as Monster is fairly beloved by most, but the clash between lime green and pretty much anything else is a tricky thing to reconcile on a motorsport livery.
Subaru, Subaru World Rally Team Legacy RS – 1989 – 1990
Another left field entry and one some of us at Retropower will admit to really liking, if only because it’s so of its time that it’s almost physically painful. Prodrive’s early Group A Legacy RS rally cars competed with the odd pink, blue, green and white effort shown here between 1989 and 1990, seasons when the unwieldy saloons were still beset with reliability gremlins. It certainly didn’t help team morale that their car, service vehicles and garb looked very much like a goalkeeper’s away kit from a struggling first division football team.
Marlboro, McLaren MP4/2 F1 – 1985
This one will take a little explaining because it’s more than a little specific. Now, we know what you’re all thinking – Marlboro liveries are some of the best of the best, perfect on anything from a McLaren or a Ferrari F1 car to a Makinen-spec Mitsubishi Evo. This is all true, but in 1985, McLaren and Marlboro got together to drop a advertising clanger in readiness for the Portuguese round of that year’s championship, and opted to use the opportunity to promote the nation’s favourite variety of Marlboros – Lights. The result? The washed out yellow effort shown here. Hardly a classic
Ferrari F93A F1 – 1993
If there’s one thing everyone, be they a fully paid up petrolhead or a passer by in the street, knows about Ferrari F1 cars, it’s that they’re supposed to be red. Rosso Corsa, to be precise. Motorsport nerds will be swift to tell you that this hasn’t always been the case of course, with Nicky Lauda’s championship winning cars sporting a mixed red and white effort. It worked surprisingly well, probably because of the somewhat dumpy appearance of F1 cars of the time.
Flash forward 20 years though, and things were rather different. Ferrari’s effort of 1993 tipped its hat at the likes of the 312 by racing with a massive white stripe along its flank, and the effect was…ungainly. It certainly didn’t help that it was deeply unsuccessful by Ferrari’s own standards with a best result of 2nd, at home in Italy.
Honda ‘Earth Dreams F1 – 2007
Rarely has an F1 car launch been greeted by as much disquiet as that of Honda’s RA107 of 2007. This was partly down to the sheer pretentiousness of using motorsport to float an ‘Earth concept,’ but mainly because the resulting car looked absolutely dreadful – and things stubbornly refused to improve once the season was underway. The cars of Jensen Button and Rubens Barichello were some of the slowest on the grid that year and they were both regularly beaten by Honda’s own junior outfit, Super Aguri.
Listerine, BMW E36 BTCC – 1993
This is another very ‘of its time’ scheme and one with plenty of admirers. It looked pretty good on the Sierra RS500s and BMW E30s which preceded it, but by the time of the E36 of 1993 it had begun to show its age. It never looked quite as at home on the smoother, less square-set lines of the E36 Coupe, doubtless not helped by having so much turquoise green – and the massive cartoon dragon on its bonnet!
Spam Racing, Ford Thunderbird NASCAR – 1995
That’s right, back in 1995 the hilariously named Lake Speed found himself racing for the even more hilariously named ‘Spam Racing.’ You know, the deeply suspect pork luncheon meat from a can. Hardly the kind of sponsor to set pulses racing (though it probably would increase your blood pressure if consumed in large enough quantities), and probably not conducive to glamorous post-race parties.
Xena: Warrior Princess, Tyrell F1 – 1997
There’s little quite as depressing as when a once great race team is on its ‘uppers,’ effectively circling the drain and, at the risk of labouring this metaphor, waiting for the plug to be pulled. That’s the situation Tyrell found itself in 22 years ago, with the multiple championship outfit scrabbling for points and pounds in an increasingly desperate fashion.
Things really must have been dire for Ken Tyrell’s eponymous outfit, as the team found itself accepting sponsorship from the then new Channel 5. The broadcaster wanted to promote its new flagship show, ‘Xena: Warrior Princess,’ and the effect was, well, we’ll let you guys be the judge using the above image.