Colour fast

While picking its favourite colour schemes, the Motor Sport editorial team noticed that one name kept cropping up: Peter Stevens. So Richard Heseltine asked the designer/stylist behind those beautiful Parmalat F1 Brabhams to contribute to and pass judgement on the final selection

Liveries. You’ve got to love ’em. Or hate ’em. We all have our pet favourite, be it a Tarmac-spec Stratos in Alitalia colours or, shudder, a Brabham BT44 in Hexagon brown. But Peter Stevens is more objective and knowledgeable than most on this prickly subject, albeit very self-deprecating when discussing his own work. This former design head for Lotus, Lamborghini and more recently MG-Rover, is no velvet-panted art boy blighting conversation for anyone not up to speed with this week’s design-speak. He’s an enthusiast who’s blissfully happy whether cajoling his Model T speedster up Prescott or acting as team manager for a Bonneville record attempt. But then he is Jenks’ nephew, after all.

“The first livery stuff I did came about through a friend of mine who was the editor of Custom Car: Andy Anderson,” says Stevens. “He had a mate called Richard Lloyd who had approached the magazine in regards to some sponsorship for a Chevy Camaro he was racing in the BSCC. I was asked to propose how to go about putting CC‘s graphics on the car so I met up with Richard and we became good friends immediately. This led me to doing his overall red-and-white Simoniz livery. Through Richard I then met Guy Edwards, who was very switched on to getting sponsorship. At that time nobody was really doing renderings to go with proposals so I ended up doing a lot of these for him.

“One thing I felt was very important was that the graphics should look integrated with the whole car. Back then people would just put stickers on their cars in the paddock and they always looked really crummy. One of the first things I did was to contain all the smaller sponsors in one giant sticker with a line around it, either along the sill or on one corner — if the car was red, I would say put them in white. The principal sponsor then felt like it was his car. You could make a much better pitch that way.”

Which in turn led to some of the most striking liveries of them all, for Brabham: “I’d read in Motor Sport that Brabham was looking to introduce a new sponsor (Parmalat) after Martini so I just phoned up the factory and said, ‘Can I speak to Mr Ecclestone, please?’ It seems amazing now, but I was put straight through. I told Bernie that I would like to do his new graphics. He said, ‘Alright, be here at three this afternoon.’ This was at lunchtime.

“I presented myself at the factory, but what I hadn’t realised was that the car had already been decorated. Niki Lauda had seen the car and it looked like a fairground ride: green, orange, gold, white, red and blue. It was dreadful. Niki was stalking around the car saying, ‘It looks like shit and I’m not going to drive it.’ Bernie said to him, ‘It’s all right, I’ve got a new chap in. This is Peter Stevens and he’s going to have new design proposals ready for us by tomorrow.’ No pressure! I worked all night and took some drawings with me the next day and was then told that we needed to mock the car up by the end of the week! On the first one I cut letters out of Fablon and they actually worked quite well, right down to the small Alfa Romeo lettering on the nose-cone. And that was the start of my involvement with Brabham; it was fascinating for me to be privy to cars like the ‘fan car’.

“When I first started on the Brabhams, most people watched races on black-and-white tellies. Wella had a car in the Aurora F1 series and it was red and white, colours that washed out on TV. I learned that Renault had researched this and discovered that black and yellow showed up best: that scheme was nothing to do with those being its corporate colours.

“A friend of mine who was in TV helped with an experiment. I got all kinds of colours and letters and looked at the results on a black-and-white monitor. Red and blue looked like black and white. A lot of thought went into how the cars should look; a lot more than people probably appreciate.

“At this time Bernie was disillusioned with anything Italian (including its national racing colour) so that’s why I came up with the simple blue-and-white colour scheme when we went over to DFVs. Bernie had sufficient clout to tell sponsors how he wanted his cars to look. He had a very purist approach to design: it had to be credible and high class. Present something clean and stylish and sponsors will want to be a part of it.

“What I proposed, which didn’t happen a lot back then, was to make the drivers’ overalls blue and white as well. Nelson Piquet was notorious for not cleaning his overalls and for peeing in them during racing. Bernie just said, ‘We’ll keep spares in stock and he’ll have to buy a new set for each race.’

“I also got the trucks painted in blue and white. And this was during the refuelling period so the fuel drums were blue anodised, too. It started a much more cohesive look in the paddocks, the sort of stuff I’d seen done in the States for years.”

So, here you have it. Not a definitive list by any means, but Mr Stevens whittled our long list down to a short one and was genuinely surprised that a fair few of those mentioned were his doing…

JPS Lotus 72

The 72 in JPS colours was terrific and very tastefully done. Even now you can’t really separate black and gold from Lotus so it was clearly a well thought out campaign. Colin Chapman and the JPS people clearly put a lot of effort into how this was going to look, and it showed. Much better than the Gold Leaf scheme on this car.

Gold Leaf Lotus 49

I remember at the time that people thought Chapman had sold his soul to the Americans: sponsorship was a vulgar business and not considered proper. People were appalled. I imagine his exposure to Indy had a lot to do with it. I thought the 49 looked great in these colours but not so well balanced as on the 72, which was a pure wedge shape. The logo was too low down and the whole car looked like it had been divided in half. The Elan road car in these colours was pretty horrible: it looked as though it had melted under a hot light.

Alan Mann Escort

While I was at Ford we worked on various liveries for the Escorts. My group did the Broadspeed dark red-and-silver version. They were really tough. We wanted them to look good and they did. Mann was very conscientious about presentation at a time when many people weren’t, and his cars also created at Ford’s design studio looked exceptionally good. A striking livery that really sold its product — the Escort.

Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-6

My design got reinterpreted by Silk Cut and the painters. It should have been sharp and crisp like the cars but there were some horrible radiuses. I hate radiuses where, when you get a stripe that goes through 90 degrees, the inner and outer radiuses come out the same. Then it doesn’t look like a nice line; it looks sloppy and ill thought out. You should use the lines to enhance the outline of the car. This didn’t come out well

7UP Jordan 191

At the time I thought this was beautiful, although it’s not really 7Up’s corporate green. It’s a shame that 7Up never really got out of this what it deserved, but I assume that all it paid for was the sticker size. It never stayed around long enough to get full mileage from the exposure. A lovely looking car, though.

ERA ‘Romulus’

Siam’s racing colours. Terrific. Painting the chassis was a very American thing: think of all those wonderful Millers. Over here chassis were black and to be ignored: a mechanic would reach down a pot of paint and be done with it. I will definitely be doing a car with a painted chassis in the near future.

Sunoco Penske Racing

I tend to view the Sunoco liveried Penske cars as always looking fantastic but none ever sold Sunoco to me: they were just great looking cars with Sunoco stickers on them, from what I could make out. I particularly liked the Ferrari 512M with the polished sills and subtle pinstriping. Roger Penske was big on presentation but to me this still looked like a simple sticker deal to get free fuel. I wonder what Sunoco got out of it.

BP Toleman TG280

I was imposed on Rory Byrne, a lovely chap but someone who’s not really interested in an arty bloke telling him how something should look. Those Tolemans were pretty clunky. BP was only paying for half the car but we wanted them to feel as though they were paying for the whole car so the BP green and yellow deliberately went over onto the white. Being a Toleman there were some funny, cranky lines and odd sharp edges, which is what happens when you make a body from a plywood buck. There were just too many ‘wobbles’ for it to be fully happy. I thought the F2 ICI Chevron I did around that period was better.

555 Subaru Impreza

The marketing people at Prodrive were very clued up, had a clear idea of what the plot was. There were a few years when the lmprezas didn’t have the 555 logo on them because BAT was sinking its money into BAR. But nobody noticed, which shows just how well the livery worked. On the first Legacys it was a dull grey/blue. When it came to the times of the WRC lmprezas, for which I also did the bodywork, David Richards asked me what to do with the colours. I came up with a more vibrant metallic blue and a much more golden look to the yellow, which has since become their colours completely. I tried to lighten the gold on the wheels: each wheel supplier came up with a different shade. I mounted a campaign to get them changed to a lighter shade but Subaru was in love with that slightly sludgy colour. On the gravel wheels, where there’s more wheel to see, it looked terribly heavy to me.

555/Lucky Strike Bar

Running two liveries at once was forced upon them, so the ‘zip’ was a neat idea — but I think it would only really work on a car with a unified scheme. I reckon a zip that showed carbon peeling back could look good and catch people’s eye.

Brock Datsun 510

Peter Brock is a talented designer and a good friend of mine. Peter has a really good eye for colour: he turned something as humble as a Datsun saloon into a super-looking car. Americans were so switched on to presentation back then and managed to produce whites that were really white. Peter managed to make a Datsun 510 look sexy, which is quite an accomplishment. It’s very crisp-looking.

Essex Lotus 81

Lotus had the launch for its new Essex colours at the Albert Hall at the time I was teaching at the Royal College of Art. There had been a week’s build-up to the launch and the money they were spending on gifts for journalists was remarkable. But I thought this was a ghastly colour scheme. That mirrored sticker was such a bad idea, it showed up every surface imperfection and every bit of dirt. This was a high point in bad-taste design, although I imagine that Chapman wasn’t too worried — he liked a bit of flash.


BASF must have had great control over this project because this expanding concentric circles look was spot-on. You knew from a distance that this was a BASF car. I loved it. I did some Procars for Project Four, including Piquet’s and the Toleman car but I always looked at Hans Stuck’s BASF M1 and thought: ‘That’s a good-looking car.’ Its livery was beautifully integrated.

Canon Porsche 962

The 962 is a great blank canvas. The Canon car was one of mine and the look came about when Richard Lloyd bought it and I went over to Germany with him to receive it. It was parked in a grotty underground car park somewhere in Stuttgart, finished in white and dust. But Canon wanted to do pictures of the car and Richard accepting its keys the very next day. I’d taken a lot of black, white and red sticky-backed Fablon with me so l cut out a bunch of Canon logos, covered some of the less complex surfaces with red material and and stuck them on in this gloomy garage. That’s how the style came about. It was all about expediency as there wasn’t time to spray it. The scheme had to be simple. We refined it later with some pinstripe edges and I thought it looked pretty tough with black Fablon over the headlights for the sprint races: that was a practical move as they were always getting broken and Porsche parts were ridiculously dear.

Gulf Porsche 917

At the time I wasn’t very taken with the 917 in Gulf colours as I thought the blue was very weak, although l realise that through the film Le Mans it’s taken on legendary status: these colours have become absolutely associated with 917s and GT40s. The 917 I really loved was Dick Soderburgh’s ‘Pink Pig’, which I thought was absolutely hilarious.

Toleman Benetton

What a muddle The flag thing encouraged them to make a bad job of it. When David Richards took over at Benetton he asked me to look into the team’s identity — to simplify the car. I did a picture presentation for him with a year-by-year run of earlier cars. It was riotous, anarchic. No thought was given to where logos were placed; some were on top of sidepods where few people other than privileged photographers would ever get to see them. And this was at a time when they were talking of the United Colors of Benetton. Horrible.


There was a very expensive agency that was asked to propose the colours for this programme and it came up with lime green — and a dark grey that looked like primer. So I got Rover to come up with some lighter metallic greys. I was wary of the lime green because it works well on TV for the same reason fluorescent orange does, because it leaves behind a bit of flare on the screen. The problem is, when you take photographs, according to the film or whether it’s a digital camera, it comes out muddy or as different colours. It needs to be consistent otherwise it undermines the campaign. Similarly, replacing a nose-cone or wing can have quite an effect. Everyone paints differently and the colour can be changed by what temperature the paint is dried at or how much lacquer is used, which is a problem for all racing cars. To sum up — too clever by half.

Gitanes Ligier

Very bold. The blue was good because it was the team’s national colour too. The gypsy lady was quite influential in some things I did for Guy Edwards with Rizla and Penthouse that everyone thought was an invitation to look at porn and roll joints! I did a hideous livery with some Penthouse Pet on the nose that was far too busy. I thought the Ligier looked good at the time, but these days I’m not so sure.

Rothmans Porsche 956

This livery was a strong one, but I never felt that it was particularly well done on this car. The bit over the roof was nice enough but it was a muddle at the back, where you had to leave a bit of white between the wing support and the main bodywork. It looked a bit nadgery at the front too. It was memorable, though, so from that point of view it had the desired effect.

Winfield Williams FW21

I always thought Williams’s early Saudi livery was pretty straightforward although, interestingly, none of the restored cars have the Bin Laden logo on the engine cover. Working with Williams on its BMW Le Mans car, I was often down at the factory at weekends and Frank would like to chat about racing. One day he told me: “We’ve got this new sponsor in and I’m not too happy with how the car’s going to look. It’s important that a Williams looks good. Could you come up with some ideas and tune it a bit?” I did some drawings but as Frank said Patrick (Head) doesn’t care how a car looks as long as it wins I didn’t really have the clout to affect it much. Williams’s current livery, while derivative of the old white and blue Brabhams, is well considered.