The 10 Best Le Mans Liveries: Rothmans, Silk Cut, Martini & more
The liveries of Le Mans cars have been as iconic as some of the races, but which is the best? Find out our top ten Le Mans liveries of all time here.
Many of the greatest motorsport liveries have appeared at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Autosport has already selected the best-looking Le Mans cars and now we’ve chosen the top colour schemes.
For this list we picked out the liveries we thought looked best and factored in their impact and success, particularly in the world’s most-famous endurance race.
10. BMW Art cars
The car of Andy Priaulx / Dirk Muller / Dirk Werner, BMW Motorsport, #79 BMW M3 at the 2010 Le Mans 24 Hours
Photo by: Drew Gibson / LAT Photographic
Key years: 1975-77, 1979, 2010
Key cars: BMW 3.0 CSL, 320i, M1, M3 GT2
OK, so we’re cheating a bit here by putting all the BMW Art Cars together, but they have a special place in history and you could have a good debate about which one should be put forward.
The result of BMW’s first collaboration with a leading artist arrived at Le Mans in 1975, when Alexander Calder designed a multi-coloured livery for the 3.0 CSL of entrant Herve Poulain, Sam Posey and Jean Guichet. They failed to finish, as did the Frank Stella-designed Art Car in 1976.
The BMW 320i with Roy Lichtenstein’s design was the first Art Car to go the distance at Le Mans, taking ninth overall in 1977 driven by Poulain and Marcel Mignot.
Any Warhol’s effort on a BMW M1 in 1979 – and which finished sixth overall – is perhaps the most famous, but for pure aesthetic appeal we reckon it’s a call between the original 1975 design and the Jeff Koons-penned design on the M3 GT2 that was driven by Andy Priaulx, Dirk Muller and Dirk Werner at Le Mans in 2010.
9. Gitanes Matra
Henri Pescarolo/Gerard Larrousse, Matra-Simca MS670B, 1974 Le Mans 24 Hours
Photo by: LAT Photographic
Key year: 1974
Key car: Matra MS670C
For this list we’ve stayed away from the national liveries that predominated in European motorsport before the commercialisation of the 1960s, but the blue of Matra sneaks onto this list thanks to French cigarette brand Gitanes.
Gitanes was a primary sponsor of Ligier in sportscars and F1 (getting it on to another of our lists) but was also on the four Matra sports-racers at the 1974 Le Mans.
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There wasn’t a lot of opposition for the world sportscar dominator in the 24 Hours. Matra qualified 1-2-5-6 and finished 1-3, Henri Pescarolo and Gerard Larrousse leading the way home to complete the team’s Le Mans hat-trick.
Though not a criteria for this list, we’d also argue that the scream of the three-litre Matra V12 is one of the finest ever heard at the Circuit de la Sarthe. There’s just something cool about those Matras, even if this livery appeared on the same grid as two that are much further up this list…
8. Pink Pig Porsche
#92 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR: Michael Christensen, Kevin Estre, Laurens Vanthoor at the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours
Key years: 1971, 2018
Key cars: Porsche 917/20, 911 RSR
When the unique 917/20 arrived at the 1971 Le Mans test day in April it could not be argued it was the best-looking of the array of Porsche models. The car, developed in collaboration with SERA, was an attempt to match the straightline speed of the long-tailed 917 and the handling of the 917K – and the result was a wide and dump-looking machine.
By the time of the race in June, Porsche’s stylists had painted it pink, with butcher’s cuts decorations. Martini, the main backer of what was essentially a second works Porsche team, wasn’t happy and wouldn’t allow its logos on the car, thereby disassociating itself from one of the most memorable motorsport paint schemes ever.
Driven by Reinhold Joest and Willy Kauhsen, the car qualified seventh (only two spots behind the eventual winner) but retired when a brake issue caused an accident. It never competed again.
In recent years Porsche has run several retro liveries on its 911 RSR GTE racers. The ‘Pink Pig’ made a return at Le Mans in 2018 and won GTE Pro in the hands of Laurens Vanthoor, Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen.
7. Renault Sport/Elf
Didier Pironi / Jean-Pierre Jaussaud, Renault Sport, Renault-Alpine A442B at the 1978 Le Mans 24 Hours
Photo by: William Murenbeeld
Key years: 1976-78
Key cars: Alpine A442, A442B, A443
The distinctive yellow, black and white Renault Alpines first appeared at Le Mans in 1976 and then lost out in a hard-fought battle with Porsche in 1977.
Race of my life: Jacky Ickx on the 1977 Le Mans 24 Hours
The team meant business in 1978 and brought four cars – across three slightly different models – to fight three factory Porsche 936s. This time the French squad beat the German manufacturer, Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud winning in what was probably the best-looking of the Alpines – the A442B with ‘bubble’ canopy for extra straightline speed on the Mulsanne Straight.
Mission accomplished, Renault then left endurance racing to concentrate on its Formula 1 effort that led to the turbo revolution.
6. New Man Porsche
Klaus Ludwig and Henri Pescarolo, Porsche 956, 1984 Le Mans 24 Hours
Photo by: LAT Photographic
Key years: 1983-85
Key car: Porsche 956
Joest Racing should be on anyone’s list of great Le Mans teams. Twice in the 1980s and twice in the 1990s Reinhold Joest’s squad defeated factory efforts in the 24 Hours, then it dominated sportscar racing as the works Audi operation in the early years of this century.
The various Audi R8s, R10s, R15s and R18s were effective, but it would be tough to argue any of those cars should be on this list. Instead, the honour goes to the New Man Porsches that Joest raced in Group C during the 1980s.
The team appeared in the fashion brand’s colours in 1983 and scored a brilliant Le Mans victory the following year. In the absence of the works Porsches but against strong privateer and Lancia opposition, Henri Pescarolo and Klaus Ludwig recovered from fuel-feed issues in the opening hour to triumph.
Perhaps even more remarkably, the same 956 (chassis 117) in the same livery won the 24 Hours again in 1985, this time against the factory Porsche squad. Engine failure ended the car’s run the following year, by which time the yellow, black and white was dominated by taka-Q.
The attractive livery is also notable for having been on the 956 in which Ayrton Senna made his one Group C start, at the 1984 Nurburgring 1000Km. The future Brazilian F1 star finished eighth sharing with Pescarolo and Stefan Johansson.
5. Renown Mazda
Volker Weidler, Johnny Herbert, Bertrand Gachot, Mazdaspeed Co Ltd, Mazda 787B, 1991 Le Mans 24 Hours
Key years: 1989-92
Key cars: Mazda 767, 787, 787B, MRX-01
The green-and-orange Renown Mazda livery will forever be associated with the manufacturer’s remarkable 1991 Le Mans victory but it had first appeared (also with Charge sponsorship) on the 1988 767.
What gave the 787B, backed by textile/clothing firm Renown, its chance in 1991 was a weight break that helped it to outrun the reliable Jaguar XJR-12s, and a Mercedes disaster that meant the pacesetting C11s retired or were seriously delayed.
Johnny Herbert, Volker Weidler and Bertrand Gachot took victory by two laps, scoring the first Le Mans win for a Japanese marque.
What’s often forgotten is that the livery appeared again in 1992, adorning a Mazda MXR-01 – essentially a Jaguar XJR-14 fitted with a Judd V10 and run by Mazdaspeed – for the same three drivers. Against bigger efforts from Peugeot and Toyota, the trio came home fourth, while the colours have appeared sporadically on subsequent Mazda racers.
4. Silk Cut Jaguar
Jan Lammers, Johnny Dumfries, Andy Wallace, Jaguar XJR-9 LM, 1988 Le Mans 24 Hours
Photo by: LAT Photographic
Key years: 1986-91
Key cars: Jaguar XJR-6, XJR-8, XJR-9, XJR-12
There are some in the Autosport office who feel the predominantly purple Silk Cut livery, as worn by the 1991 world sportscar championship-winning XJR-14 and the XJR-12s that finished 2-3-4 at Le Mans that year, is the best version. But it has to be the 1988 design that gets the nod here as it was part of an iconic moment: the end of Porsche’s Le Mans domination and Jaguar’s first win in the 24 Hours for 31 years.
The Tom Walkinshaw Racing, Silk Cut-sponsored Jaguars first arrived at Le Mans in 1986. By the following year the livery had evolved into the one with which we’re all familiar, with a touch more yellow, while the XJR-8 was the dominant force in Group C.
But Jaguar still lost Le Mans and TWR returned in 1988 with a five-car attack. Its job was made easier when the Sauber-Mercedes team withdrew its C9s following tyre issues, but that still left the factory Porsche team – winner of the previous two editions.
The narrow victory for Jaguar’s ‘hare’, driven by Jan Lammers, Johnny Dumfries and Andy Wallace, has gone down as one of the classic Le Mans moments.
Sauber-Mercedes got its revenge in 1989, when the best Silk Cut Jaguar was fourth, but boycotted the non-championship 1990 edition. Against strong Japanese opposition, particularly Nissan, the XJR-12s (with tweaked liveries) finished 1-2 following the late demise of the Repsol Brun 962, another good-looking Le Mans Porsche.
3. Rothmans Porsche
Vern Schuppan, Al Holbert, Hurley Haywood, Rothmans Porsche, 1983 Le Mans 24 Hours
Photo by: LAT Images
Key years: 1982-87
Key cars: Porsche 956, 962
What’s your favourite Porsche 956/962 livery? There are plenty of candidates and we particularly like the Jagermeister and Momo schemes (both of which appeared on other cars), plus the Shell colours of the three works Porsches in the epic 1988 contest against Jaguar.
But it’s hard to argue with the classic Rothmans livery worn by the factory cars for four Le Mans victories in the 1980s. The long-tailed 956 scored a 1-2-3 on its Le Mans debut in 1982 and took a 1-2 the following year with a tweaked livery (no blue down the middle).
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The works team skipped Le Mans in 1984 due to a disagreement over fuel regulations and returned in 1985. That only yielded a third for Derek Bell and Hans-Joachim Stuck, but better things were ahead.
Teamed with Al Holbert, Bell/Stuck won the race in 1986 and 1987, the latter victory being against the odds after the other factory 962s retired early and left the trio to face a strong Jaguar challenge alone.
It wasn’t just the four Le Mans successes from five starts, Rothmans Porsche was the dominant force in the early years of Group C, taking four consecutive world sportscar title doubles.
Vic Elford, Gerard Larrousse, Martini International Racing Team Porsche 917 LH, 1971 Le Mans 24 Hours
Photo by: David Phipps
Key years: 1971, 1976-78, 1980-85
Key cars: Porsche 917, 911 Carrera RSR Turbo, 935, 936, Lancia Beta Monte Carlo, LC1, LC2,
The Martini stripes – whether on a base colour of white, red or silver (or even green) – have looked superb on a wide variety of cars across F1, sportscars, touring cars and rallying.
The silver, red and blue of the 1971 917L of Vic Elford and Gerard Larrousse was perhaps the best looking, while special mention has to go to the ‘psychedelic’ Martini-entered long-tail from the year before, but it’s the classic white with blue and red stripes that has to get the spot here.
The first Le Mans win for Martini came in 1971, Gijs van Lennep and Helmut Marko taking the unique magnesium-chassis 917K to victory and setting a distance record that would stand for nearly four decades.
Porsche ran 935s and 936s in Martini colours through the second half of the 1970s, dominating the World Championship for Makes and winning Le Mans in 1976 and 1977, and finishing second and third in 1978.
Martini moved to Lancia’s Beta Monte Carlos in 1981, taking the under two-litre class title and finishing eighth overall at Le Mans. There were race victories with the cheeky LC1 that took advantage of a Group C loophole in 1982, though the cars failed at Le Mans.
The Martini-liveried LC2 remains a Group C favourite, but it largely played second fiddle to the Porsche onslaught. Lancia locked out the front row at Le Mans in 1984, with Bob Wollek on pole, but unreliability meant eighth – and top non-Porsche – was the best the team could manage.
The LC2s finished sixth and seventh in 1985, after which Lancia (and Martini) concentrated on dominating the World Rally Championship into the early 1990s.
Richard Attwood, Herbert Muller, JW Automotive Engineering Porsche 917K, in a line-up of Gulf-sponsored John Wyer Porsche cars
Photo by: Rainer Schlegelmilch
Key years: 1967-71, 1973-75, 1994-97, 2008-15
Key cars: Ford GT40, Porsche 917, Mirage GR8, McLaren F1 GTR, Aston Martin DBR9, Lola-Aston Martin B09/60, Aston Martin Vantage (GT2 and GTE)
Martini and Gulf would both have been worthy of this top spot, but Gulf’s longevity and Le Mans success edges it ahead. And the powder blue-and-orange livery is arguably the most recognisable and iconic in motorsport.
Gulf Oil was also crucial in backing the JW Automotive Engineering team that, having run the Ford GT40-based Mirage M1 in 1967, fielded developed GT40 Mk1s in the 1968 world sportscar championship. A rule change had banned the bigger-engined cars and JWA battled the factory Porsche team throughout the season, winning the title with victory in the season finale, September’s Le Mans 24 Hours.
The GT40 was showing its age by 1969, but Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver scored a remarkable victory in the 24 Hours – driving the same chassis (1075) that Pedro Rodriguez and Lucien Bianchi used to win the 1968 edition – as the monstrous Porsche challenge floundered.
Remarkably, the Gulf-liveried, JWA-run factory Porsche challenge failed to win Le Mans in either 1970 or 1971, despite winning pretty much everywhere else, though Richard Attwood/Herbert Muller did finish second to the Martini 917K in 1971.
Changing regulations forced the team to develop its own three-litre sports-prototypes after the end of the 917 programme in 1971. The cars, run under the Gulf Research Racing banner, tended to be overshadowed by the Ferrari or Matra opposition, but tight fuel regulations at Le Mans in 1975 offered an opportunity.
With none of the big marques present, Ickx and Derek Bell took the GR8 to a narrow victory over Ligier as Gulf scored a 1-3.
After the closing of the team, Gulf stayed away from Le Mans until returning on the K8 Spyder that finished sixth in 1994, driven by Bell, Jurgen Lassig and Robin Donovan.
David Brabham, Antonio Garcia, Darren Turner, #009 Aston Martin DBR9, 2008 Le Mans 24 Hours
Photo by: Kevin Wood / LAT Photographic
Gulf then supported Ray Bellm’s McLaren F1 GTR GTC Motorsport team that ran Bellm and James Weaver to the 1996 BPR GT title. The team also finished fourth at Le Mans in 1995, as McLarens finished 1-3-4-5, and fifth the following year.
The livery changed each season and did again in 1997, when the long-tailed F1 GTR arrived as Porsche and Mercedes upped the ante in the newly formed FIA GT Championship. Gulf cars once against found themselves up against works teams but Le Mans provided a highlight. Jean-Marc Gounon, Pierre-Henri Raphanel and Anders Olofsson took second overall and won the GT1 class following a late fire for the leading works Porsche 911 GT1.
Gulf did appear on Johansson Motorsport’s Audi R8, but the colours made their next big impact on the 24 Hours in 2008. The Prodrive-run Aston Martin team wore blue and orange as it beat the Chevrolet Corvettes in a hard-fought battle to win the GT1 class.
When Aston Martin stepped up to LMP1 it took Gulf with it. Tomas Enge, Stefan Mucke and Jan Charouz won the 2009 Le Mans Series crown and finished fourth at Le Mans that year.
Since the end of the failed AMR-One project in 2011, Gulf colours have appeared on a range of GT cars, including Aston Martin GT2 and GTE contenders. Among its successes was the GTE Am class victory for Nicki Thiim, David Heinemeier Hansson and Kristian Poulsen at Le Mans in 2014.
#95 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage V8: Kristian Poulsen, David Heinemeier Hansson, Nicki Thiim at the 2014 Le Mans 24 Hours
Photo by: Eric Gilbert
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