Molly Sanders: The guy who programmed your brain

We all know that, just as the sky is blue and cardinals are red, Kawasakis are supposed to be green, and (no matter how Yamaha tries to force blue bikes on us), Yamahas are supposed to be yellow, with a fat black hash-line across their flanks. Buick Grand Nationals are supposed to be blacker than the dark side of the moon. Tidbits like these are so hardwired into our neural pathways that they all seem plainly self-evident. But why are these things so? Or, perhaps more accurately, who made them so?

Molly, wearing the iconic Yamaha "track stripe" he created.

The answer is Rollin Sanders, aka “Molly.” You might not know his name, but he was the guy who filled in all the blank pages of the coloring book inside your head.
This looks like a Kawasaki because Molly said so.

Racing Kawasakis were originally red prior to Daytona in 1969. That’s when Molly, working as a consultant, convinced Kawasaki execs to repaint their A1RA roadracers and F21M dirt bikes with an eye-jolting lime green color to make them stand out on the track. Despite their initial objections, the Kawasaki guys agreed and his over-the-top shade of green quickly became synonymous with Kawasaki race bikes around the world.
Even from the front, you knew it was unquestionably a Yamaha

A little later on, Molly designed the remarkably simple but memorable yellow and black “track stripe” motif for Yamaha U.S.A. For a whole generation of riders who grew up watching King Kenny Roberts and Bob “Hurricane” Hannah, real Yamahas are yellow and black. Period. (There is, somewhere in my parents’ attic, a snapshot of me at 16 wearing my Molly-style Yamaha mesh jersey).
Yamaha still sells clothing that features Molly’s iconic graphic design.

Yamaha eventually decided their racebikes should look the same worldwide, so Molly’s American graphic was abandoned, first in favor of the red-and-white racing colors of Yamaha Europe, then a forgettable blue later on. Like many others, I responded to Yamaha’s move away from the distinctive “bumblebee” graphics with sadness and perhaps a bit of outright indignation. (Blue and white Yamahas? Ain’t them Suzuki colors?) Remarkably, Yamaha still sells gear emblazoned with Molly’s iconic color scheme years after it last adorned a factory racer, perhaps because those later paint schemes aren’t nearly as memorable or evocative as Molly’s instantly recognizable design.

Molly influenced not only bikes, but the car world, too. Working with Buick, he was responsible for the look of the Turbo Regal and Grand National, including the “Turbo 6” logo. He also designed the Lexus logo and a number of racing liveries for both Toyota and Dan Gurney Racing.

The RZ350 KR Replica still showed Molly’s influence at Yamaha

Molly Sanders died in April after battling cancer. But he gave color to the motorcycle and automotive scene, and every time somebody looks longingly at a Kenny Roberts Replica RZ350 or uses the term “Team Green,” they’re keeping Molly’s legacy alive. It’s a shame that they probably have no idea who Molly Sanders was. But I do…and now you do, too.
Special thanks to Terry Sanders (Molly’s wife) for permission to use the lead picture

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8 responses to “Molly Sanders: The guy who programmed your brain”

  1. mthomson Avatar

    In the early 70's my dad took myself, 12, and my younger brother, 10, to the Terre Haute mile flat track races. King Kenny, Corky Keener, Jay 'Springer' Springsteen….a sight to behold. I came home with a Kawasaki green hat and my brother with a Yamaha yellow one.

  2. dukeisduke Avatar

    Wow, awesome. Rest in peace, Molly. And thanks to his wife for contributing to the story.

  3. Rhonda Avatar

    rest in peace molly…>We love u!

  4. Efrain Desmarias Avatar

    Hola thanks for the above entry.

  5. Glen Dickerson Avatar
    Glen Dickerson

    We travel a lot and Molly is everywhere…

  6. Sinclair Nicholson Avatar

    Thank you for useful info. 🙂

  7. เสื้อผ้าคนอ้วน Avatar

    Excellent information with superb visuals. presentand adviseis better than just tell, in my view — speciallywith technologicalnuances.

  8. Mark Avatar

    Lots of people of my generation know who Molly is, I own many examples of his work. The old Yamaha accessory line products that proudly displayed Design by Molly are something I treasure. I wish I could have known him personally, he sounds like a really great guy. This was a great tribute.
    My condolences to his family. He was a true Icon.