The best – and worst – football-themed cars
The beautiful game has inspired some unique special editions. Here are the most memorable. - by Graham Hope
A version of this article was first published on YesAuto UK.
Every couple of years, our love affair with football goes into overdrive as the finals of a major tournament come around. Whether it’s the Euros or a World Cup, a heavy schedule of matches and wall-to-wall TV coverage ensure the beautiful game dominates the conversation. This national obsession presents opportunities for strategic car makers, and you won’t be surprised to learn that they have attempted to tap into the game’s overwhelming popularity with the odd special edition over the years. Here, then, are the good, the bad and the ugly of football-themed cars…
MINI Paceman GoalCooper
The award for the most cringeworthy pun in a football-inspired car? Step forward the MINI Paceman GoalCooper, BMW’s Brazilian-themed homage to the game which coincided with the World Cup being hosted there in 2014 (although as BMW had no official affiliation with the FIFA tournament, the accompanying press materials made no reference to it). The Paceman was said to be fully equipped for training thanks to an AstroTurf clad boot and it came with a miniature table football set, but it was the date of the launch of this “new star of the MINI team” that was most telling – 1 April 2014. Yes, this was an elaborate April Fool’s joke.
Volkswagen Polo Werder
While the north German club Werder Bremen endured a dismal 2020-2021, being relegated from the Bundesliga, they have a pretty stellar pedigree, with four league titles to their name and former players including Mesut Ozil and Rudi Voller. In 2008, a sponsorship deal with Volkswagen saw VW release the Polo Werder, a special edition available in three colours – white, black and silver – and distinguished by an unmissable rendering of the club’s badge over the C-pillar, with more logos inside. The car clearly inspired Werder, as 2008-2009 was a memorable season: they won the German Cup and reached the UEFA Cup final, losing to Shakhtar Donetsk.
Chevrolet Sail Manchester United
Many thought it was odd when Chevrolet signed a shirt sponsorship deal with Manchester United then subsequently pulled out of Europe. But the global reach of the English game meant the exposure could be milked in other markets, and Chevy certainly made the most of it in India with limited-edition Manchester United versions of the Sail saloon and Beat hatchback. Apparently produced in response to “strong customer demand”, the models featured rather gaudy Man U decals as well as an array of extra kit as they paid tribute to some of the legends who’d worn the red shirt. But in terms of desirability, they were more Eric Djemba-Djemba than Eric Cantona.
Opel Corsa Football Championship Edition
Here was another model built to celebrate soccer’s biggest global showpiece which didn’t dare reference the W***d C*p in case FIFA’s lawyers issued a red card. And so we were treated to the rather clunkily titled Corsa Football Championship Edition. It marked Germany’s qualification for the South Africa finals in 2010 with, it has to be said, a rather stylish white paintjob complemented by stripes in the colours of the German flag running from the bonnet to the rear quarter window. It obviously proved motivational, as this was the World Cup in which Germany thrashed England 4-1 in Bloemfontein.
Fiat Panda Italia 90
Ah yes, the iconic World Cup of 1990. Pavarotti. Ireland’s heroics. Toto Schillaci. And, of course, England’s semi heartbreak. Indelible memories, one and all. So, you’re forgiven if this Fiat Panda Italia 90 special edition passed you by. Based on a standard white 750cc Panda, it added a football flavour with red and green stripes, to reflect the Italian flag, a custom interior fabric called Azzurri blue – paying tribute to the traditional colour of the national team – and most memorably, unique football-styled wheel covers. Incredibly, the model was available to buy across Europe, while Fiat also commissioned an Italia 90 convertible that was showcased at matches. Kitsch enough to make Gazza cry.
Lifan X60 Figo
It’s probably fair to say that the X60, from Chinese brand Lifan, is not a machine that has made a massive impact on the world of motoring. It’s a derivative compact crossover that is most notable for resembling any number of cars depending on which angle you look at it. But the X60 did cause a stir at the 2014 Beijing Auto Show when Lifan unveiled a version emblazoned with an image of Portuguese star Luis Figo, who was in attendance and frankly, looked a little perplexed. Figo, a Ballon D’or winner, who played for both Barcelona and Real Madrid, had been engaged by the brand in an attempt to raise its global profile.
Fiat 500X Fulham FC Edition
The Craven Cottage outfit has become a bit of a yoyo club in recent years, flitting between England’s Premier League and the second-tier Championship, but it did have the distinction of getting its own Fiat 500X special edition, courtesy of a tie-up with retailer Fiat Chrysler Motor Village UK. A limited run of 15 cars based on the 500X Pop Star were produced, featuring an exclusive white, black and red paint finish and unique FFC badging. Guaranteed to cut a dash on the genteel streets of West London.
One of the most prominent tie-ups between cars and football was this ultimately ill-fated soccer-themed foray into motorsport. The premise was simple, and seemed to have potential – a race series where the team sponsorship was provided by football clubs. A number of top names were attracted including Liverpool, AC Milan, Rangers (pictured), Porto, Borussia Dortmund and Sevilla. (Tottenham were also involved). The racing cars were branded in the clubs’ colours, but although the format had promise, particularly for a TV audience, it never really caught on and in 2011, four years after its arrival, it came to a low-key end.
Jeep Renegade Juventus
Branding a car with a football club’s colours can be a dangerous business, as some of our selections here demonstrate. But Jeep hit the target with this 2015 version of the Renegade built to celebrate Juventus reaching the Champions League final. Turin’s Old Lady are renowned the world old over for their kit’s black and white vertical stripes, but this zebra interpretation put a clever new spin on the colour scheme (and indirectly provided a preview of Juve’s third kit for the 2016-2017 campaign). While a fleet of zebra Renegades made quite an impression on the streets of Berlin prior to the final, Juventus were less convincing on the pitch, losing 3-1 to Barcelona.
What is it with Fiat and major football tournaments? Prior to the 2016 Euros, it showed its backing for the Italian national team with this striking blue version of the latest Panda called, appropriately enough, the Pandazzurri. Among the design highlights were seatbelts in the colours of the Italian flag, the Italian Football Federation’s logo on the side of the car and special stickers in tribute to legends Gianluigi Buffon (number 1) and Andrea Pirlo (number 21), plus the many playmakers who have starred for the Azzurri over the years (number 10). Curiously, this most Italian of Pandas went on sale not just in its homeland, but Belgium and the Netherlands as well.
Check more Graham Hope's articles on YesAuto UK.