News & Stories

Martini & Rossi’s High-Speed Vermouth Billboards

March 9, 2018 In the News

By John Lamm

Drinking and driving may be a bad idea, but apparently blending vermouth and auto racing isn’t. For decades, Martini & Rossi, purveyors of not only Italian vermouth but also Asti Spumante sparkling wine, have been splashing its colors over race cars.

Martini & Rossi red and two-tone blue stripes have been a common sight on competition cars. There’s a time-honored allure to those bands, traversing the nose, arching along the sides front to back, aiming straight down the middle or even encircling the door numbers. Instantly recognizable. So much so that Porsche even made a limited run of 911s in 2014 with oversized Martini decals, for sale at your local dealer.

Nine classic race cars sporting the Martini & Rossi livery will be displayed at this year’s Concours d’Elegance in Amelia Island, FL on March 10th. And this raises a question. Why do cars painted with a vermouth corporate logo have more allure and appeal to enthusiasts than, say, cars sporting the logos of Bud Light, Shell, Pennzoil or McDonalds?

A Martini & Rossi-liveried Lancia LC-1 leads a Sauber and Ford C100 at the start of the 1982 24 Hours of Le Mans. Photo: Revs Digital Library

“Longevity,” explains English motorsports historian Murray Smith. “The colors and their use are fantastic and so complimentary to the white, silver and red that are usually the base color of their cars.”

Smith adds: “Martini & Rossi sponsorship was consistently seen on the top-running cars that won at Le Mans, the Monte Carlo Rally, Formula 1 and even on offshore powerboats. Burned into history.”

Concours organizer Bill Warner points out there are even famous race cars like some Porsche 917s and 935s that are specifically remembered not as Porsches but as Martini & Rossi 917s and 935s. Italian vermouth, it seems, just has more panache than hamburgers.

The vermouth maker literally started small, with “Martini & Rossi Racing Team” lettering on the front wheel arches of two Alfa Romeos at the 1973 3-hour Daytona Continental. Now the blue-and-red Martini banding flows from nose to tail on the 2018 Williams FW41 Formula 1 cars that Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin will race in 2018.

Still at it in Formula 1, Martini & Rossi on the 2018 Williams FW41 Mercedes. Photo: Zak Mauger/Williams F1

While beer might be the favored sponsor alcoholic beverage in U.S. racing, Martini & Rossi — now owned by Bacardi — resonates with the international crowd. It’s estimated some 4 million spectators worldwide attend a season’s Grand Prix races, while some 400 million watch on TV.

Autosport magazine says 92% of fans are male with 59% age 18-40. Given Martini’s long-standing sponsorship, perhaps the 37% age 40 and up are nostalgic about the Martini stripes. The company’s long-term faith in sponsoring motorsports has been neither shaken nor stirred.

At this year’s Amelia Island Concours, nine Martini & Rossi-sponsored sports racing and rally cars will be on display. Among them are half a dozen Lancias owned by John Campion, who learned to love that marque while growing up in Ireland. Here’s a list of the nine:

From The Revs Institute’s Miles Collier Collections, a 1971 Porsche 917K with “Martini Racing Team” across the nose and on the tailfins. The stripes flow rearward both down the center of the car and along its flanks. Photo: Peter Harholdt

Winner of the 1971 24 Hours of Le Mans, this legendary Porsche 917K will be in attendance at Amelia. Photo: Revs Digital Library

A classic photo of a Martini & Rossi Porsche Carrera RSR, here at Le Castellet. In 1973, Porsche’s RSR R6s were a major factor in racing, many in silver with Martini & Rossi stripes sweeping fore-aft and wrapped around the side race numbers. Targa Florio winning Chassis 911360 0588R6 will be at Amelia. Photo: Revs Digital Library

Lancia Beta Monte Carlos were made by Dallara with Pininfarina doing the “silhouette” Group 5 bodywork. A 1.4-liter engine was turbocharged to produce 450 horsepower. Collector John Campion’s chassis 1009, pictured above, won the under 2.0-liter Group 5 class at Le Mans in 1981 and will be at Amelia Island. Photo: John Lamm

A Lancia LC1 in 1982 with Piercarlo Ghinzani at the wheel. John Campion will be showing  LC1 chassis 002 that won the Nürburgring’s 1000 km race in 1982. Photo: Revs Digital Library

For the 1983 Lancia LC2, the 4-cylinder was swapped for corporate cousin Ferrari’s two-turbo, 800-horsepower V-6. Martini-liveried LC2s won 1000-km races at Kyalami and Imola. Pictured above is an LC2 at the 1983 24 Hours of Le Mans. Photo: Revs Digital Library

Back to his rally roots, Campion has a Lancia 037 with a transverse supercharged 2.0-liter four and 325 horsepower. Rear-wheel-drive 037s were the World Rally Championship car in 1983. Photo: John Lamm

One of the most outrageous race cars ever, Lancia’s Group B Delta S4. Mid engine, all-wheel drive and 0-60 in less than two seconds. The deaths of Henri Toivonen and co-driver Sergio Cresto in an S4 in the 1986 Tour De Course rally led to the banning of Group B race cars. Photo: John Lamm

Lastly, a Martini & Rossi striped Lancia Delta Integrale will be on the field. This was easily Lancia’s most successful rally car, winning the World Rally Championship manufacturer’s title from 1987-1992 plus four driver’s titles.

In addition to sponsoring race and rally cars, Martini and Rossi backs Formula 1 cars, here a Brabham BT46 Alfa Romeo. Photo: Revs Digital Library

Today’s Williams sponsorship isn’t Martini & Rossi’s first foray into Formula 1. After lackluster seasons with the Techno team in 1972 and 1973, Martini money went to Brabham. The Gordon Murray-designed white Cosworth V-8 BT44s and red Alfa flat-12 BT45s were Martini’s team in 1975-77. Moving to Lotus, Martini paid to play for one year, 1979, and had a small label on Ferrari’s 2006 F1 car. Since 2014, the vermouth maker’s stripes have snaked over the nose and back to the tail of Williams’ F1 cars.

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John Lamm started his automotive journalism career in 1965 as a racing photographer for Autoweek magazine. After a tour in Vietnam, he joined Motor Trend in 1969, then Road & Track in 1975, where he worked for 37 years. He has also written for Car and Driver and Automobile magazines. Credits include 10 books and Lamm has been honored with the International Motor Press Association’s Ken Purdy and the Motor Press Guild’s Dean Batchelor awards for writing. Lamm’s photo archives include hundreds of thousands of images ranging from an 1893 Benz Victoria to many of the latest automobiles. He is on the organizing committee for the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and been a judge at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for two decades. Lamm lives in San Clemente, California with his wife, Scheri.

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