How Team Classic Suzuki Mastered The Art Of Retro Liveries
Images courtesy of Team Classic Suzuki
There is a long standing argument (or discussion, if you will) when it comes to contemporary vehicle design and the need to hark back to the shapes that have since become iconic since their inception forty or fifty years ago. I’m referring to contemporary cars such as the Mini Cooper, Fiat 500, the Dodge Challenger, etc. I have no problem with designers taking (at times heavy) influence from these classic forms, though cars such as the PT Cruiser do chuck an almighty spanner-in-the-works from time to time.
When it comes to racing liveries, the story is very different. For many years now, we’ve seen designers creating mock-ups and “what-ifs” of the latest cutting-edge Formula 1 cars adorned in retro liveries from the ’80s ‘90s, and if you’re like me you probably much prefer those graphics to the official liveries that typically turn out much too busy and stuffed with ads rather than style. That’s why it came as a joyous surprise when I first laid eyes on the Team Classic Suzuki livery. The team races newly-built “old bikes,” and the overall look manages to take modern design practices, apply them to classic bikes, and blend heritage with a modern racing series, culminating in a beautiful machine that marries all those parts in one compact shape.
I am somewhat biased as any design based on a theme of varying tones of blue and stripes is always a winner in my book, but being able to play on and remind people of the heritage of Suzuki’s racing history—as opposed to a saccharine, nostalgic mash-up of crowd favorite designs—takes a stroke of creativity that few have. Having worked as a creative in advertising up until only a few years ago, terms such as “a great branding exercise” still send shudders down my spine, but credit is given where credit is due; as a whole package the Team Classic Suzuki design works right across the board, retro but not desperately so. I don’t include the Suzuki paddock scooter in this praise though, as the thing is just too damn ugly!
With that in mind, let’s concentrate on the two race bikes instead. First up is the gorgeous Suzuki XR69. The bike itself is a lot like the livery, matching classic lines with modern performance parts (such as wheels, brakes, and exhaust) to produce that ideal blend of the best from the past with the best from today. It is a replica of an original XR69, albeit with a GSX-R power plant producing over 160bhp. It’s no display piece either, as it won the Classic TT F1 in 2013 and 2015, ridden by the great Michael Dunlop.
It is a looker though. There is a unique quality to livery design from the ’70s, ’80s and even the ’90s wherein it somehow doesn’t look “designed.” Without the ease to chop up and rearrange a look like you can do on the computer, doing this back then by hand and other rudimentary programs helped avoid the pitfalls of “just add another bit here, and another element there” just because you can.
Designing without a computer kept you on your toes by having to be clever with basic techniques. Suzuki has managed to capture this look and feel without getting lost in the box-of-tricks that is at every designer’s fingertips nowadays. Even though one could argue there are three liveries all happening at once on the bike, those delicious tones of blue blend together seamlessly. Details such as the navy blue that skirts around the edge of the fairing and finishes by creating the border to the front number board are so deliciously simple yet captivating. The dashes of red are ideally placed around the bike to break up the blue, and do a perfect job of drawing your eye to all those classic Suzuki traits that are still seen and used today on their sport bikes lineup.
The second bike on the team is a different beast all together. Set up for endurance races like Spa, the Katana—even to this day—is still a pretty radical design, and nothing else on two wheels ever looked similar to me. This is where the designers got really clever, as even when sold as a road bike it was only ever available in single-color schemes. After all, how the hell do you get a race inspired livery across such a small and oddly shaped surface area?
Well you look at how these guys did it. I love the fact that the design works to the shape of the Katana, rather than bodging the striped design from the XR in a hasty cut and paste job. A real sense of delicacy is required when trying to fit the team’s branding to such tiny spaces and keep to those pointed, angular lines of the bodywork. Note how the modern element of the design (the diagonal blocks of color that house the “Team Suzuki” lettering) sit effortlessly next to the retro pin-striping on the nose fairing… plus that tasty little dash of red. In fact I’m such a fan of this color scheme, it helped sway me to sell my beloved Suzuki TL1000S back to the original owner, for him to modify the bike in the classic Suzuki team colors, on the premise I can buy it back sometime in the future. Did I mention I like blue?