For A Time, Leyton House Was The Picture Perfect Privateer
Sometimes, beauty being only skin deep isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Without it, we wouldn’t remember the sponsor and, sometimes, privateer team, Leyton House. I can’t think of many other cars or teams that have long remained in the minds of motorsport fans, often moreso for looks and rarely because of performance or results.
What could have been is another matter. At the height of its exposure on the world stage, the potential for the team to succeed once in Formula 1 was all there. Dealings with the brilliant and successful engineering firm March led to a title sponsorship of the team in 1987, and a buyout by 1990.
Leyton House Racing officially entered Formula 1 in 1990, and besides financing from a Japanese business empire on the verge of implosion, the team had a brilliant Technical Director, Adrian Newey.
Thanks to Newey and the rest of the technical team—or maybe it was the searing aquamarine livery—the cars seemed to always look visually fresh compared to the rest of the grid. Color aside, the cars did have a few firsts in terms of aerodynamics and construction methods, so had owner Akagi not been arrested for fraud, they may have ended up with the performance to match the looks.
Newey himself said that at its height, the team could have been a success story like that of Red Bull…if not for the disastrous infrastructure. So with not much more to say about the technical side of the cars, we’re left with my favorite element: styling.
Back in my advertising days as a creative, “ownership”—be it a word, character etc.—was the Holy Grail of a successful campaign idea. And ownership of a colour was even more gratifying. Because of its rarity in racing, the Leyton House livery not only owns, but dominates Aquamarine Blue. For its short term in existence, it still managed to be the go-to reference for describing the colour. If the team had lived on, we’d probably use shorthand like, “Leyton House Blue” as much as we do “Ferrari Red”.
Along with “owning” a colour, the livery also unwaveringly stuck to a similar structure, with clean, bold lettering: “LEYTON HOUSE”. Always, too, with just enough space around the text to make the name really pop. When on an F1 car or the 1987 Porsche 962, it was always just the right size and in just the right place.
It didn’t stop at the cars on track. Remember, this story isn’t about a particular car, but that of a team. Its entire package looked slick. Nothing let the design ethics down, from the shirts on the back of the pit crew, to the transporter truck: every element punched you in the face with an explosion of pure, early ’90s, colour.
Were you as obsessed with it as I was? I sprayed my Suzuki RG125 Gamma in it, used it in most of my design projects at Art College, and only went off it—for a little while—when every boy-racer in the UK adopted it for their ridiculous hatchbacks. Aquamarine shell-suits didn’t help much either, of which I confess to once owning…in that very colour.
The Porsche 962 is still my favorite incarnation of the Leyton House livery. There’s enough stiff competition from many a famous 962 (sorry, New Man) but when an entire modern racing car is covered in Aquamarine—minus the mirrors in a contrasting orange—it has the power to totally transform the look of a car.
Though not as famous as the later F1 cars, or numerous other 962s, I think you’ll agree that the livery really manages to exploit car’s vast surface area. Stock cars and sports racing prototypes are, basically, the best-shaped vehicles: there’s lots of surface area to work with.
If you’re a fan of this livery, I’m happy to report that this piece will end on a high note: even though Leyton House Racing is long gone, there are scale model cars, memorabilia to find on eBay, and most importantly, it’s still possible to get a brand new official team shirt.
Editor’s Note: If you’re a fan of March, or want to start dreaming of buying a vintage single seat race car, check out the impressively documented history of the team at marchives.com.