27 September 2013

Five Surprisingly Fast Cars

Call them sleepers. There are some cars out there that are a hell of a lot faster than they look and capable of giving genuine comeuppance to the drivers of other more obvious performance cars. Here are five of our favorites over the years:

  1. 1986 Dodge Omni GLHS: The Dodge Omni GLHS was the brainchild of Carroll Shelby of Cobra fame. The Omni GLHS looked to most people like a regular econobox, but thanks to Shelby, it had a highly tuned 175hp 2.2-liter turbo four-banger capable of propelling the car from 0-60 in less than seven seconds. In those days, that was Porsche and Ferrari territory.  GLHS stood for “Goes Like Hell S’More.
  2. 1965-67 Sunbeam Tiger: The Tiger was another project of — you guessed it — the prolific Carroll Shelby. Using the same formula that turned the Cobra into a world beating sports car, Shelby took an MGB-class British sports car called the Sunbeam Alpine, chucked its 1700cc four cylinder and replaced it with a small block Ford V-8, with predictable results. The Tiger surprised its share of Corvettes at stoplights and served as the car of TV comedy spy Maxwell Smart on the show “Get Smart.”
  3. 1992 Nissan Sentra SE-R: The Sentra SE-R harkened back to the BMW 2002tii of the early 1970s. A basic unassuming box with a fair bit of horsepower, its 0-60 time of under eight seconds put the Sentra SE-R in the class of 3 series BMWs of the day and set numerous subcompact speed records.
  4. 1989 Ford Taurus SHO: The Taurus SHO to most eyes looked like any other Taurus in late 1980s suburbia. It took sharp eyes to spot the extra ground effects, special alloy wheels and SHO badging that indicated that the Taurus in question was equipped with a Yamaha-built DOHC V-6 with 220hp. The SHO quickly became a cult car that surprised its share of BMWs along with more than a few Mustangs.
  5. 1978-79 Lil’ Red Express: In 1978-79, the fastest-made American vehicle was not a Corvette or a Trans Am, or for that matter even a car. Dodge got the last laugh of the performance era of the 1970s. When insurance premiums, EPA standards and corporate average fuel economy targets scuttled the muscle cars, Dodge came up with the short-lived muscle truck. The Lil’ Red Trucks sported 220hp versions of the police interceptor 360 V-8 plus big rig-like exhaust stacks, wood trim and loud side graphics.

10 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Jamie Henrie Texas September 29, 2013 at 21:49
    thanks a lot for this site
  • 2
    Ray Hamman Michigan September 30, 2013 at 17:26
    Good list. My daily driver for 3 years was a Taurus SHO and it was a great car - perfectly fine as a daily driver and a total blast when you wanted it to be, and unless you looked closely it was a real sleeper. That engine really liked to rev. Years ago my son owned (briefly) an Omni GLHS. Different story completely - teeth shattering ride, actually unpleasant except on silky smooth roads (we live in Michigan so that's just a guess about the smooth roads), but it was fast, and it didn't look like it should be. But even my son couldn't deal with the solid metal suspension and traded it rather quickly. He recently owned a Buick Lacrosse Super - 5.3 V8 and unique performance suspension - a true sleeper very much in the tradition of the original SHO that hardly anyone has even heard of, very few were sold.
  • 3
    CARRIE 62 MOHAWK AVE. October 2, 2013 at 22:22
  • 4
    Yolanda Besant 31315 October 3, 2013 at 10:26
  • 5
    Dave Mathers St. Thomas, Ontario October 15, 2013 at 14:28
    In 1989 we put a Superchip in a SHO demo. I was driving to Ford Oakville at about 5.30 A.M. on the 'Brantford Salt Flats' (Highway 403 - Woodstock to Brantford) and as there was no traffic I let it go. Got it to seven grand in fourth. Figured no point trying O/D as the Mustangs of the day went faster in 4th than 5th. Tried it anyway - revs dropped to five grand and I was absolutely astounded when it went to 6500 in 5th gear. Came back home to the dealership and did the math - 275 KPH or 170 MPH. Wow!! I surprised a LOT of Mustangs, Camaros and others with it. AND it got a bazillion miles per gallon when driven normally (not very often!!!).
  • 6
    Roger Puget Sound October 15, 2013 at 14:30
    Not sure the Red Truck really qualifies as a "sleeper." On another note, I'd suggest VW's R32 (or Golf R) as a replacement. More performance than their GTI, but with less bling. Who else does that?
  • 7
    David J Dean United States October 15, 2013 at 15:27
    I had the pleasure to own some of these on the list, Tiger, Shelby lancer, and GLH, and the SHO . Prior to the SHO I also had a 1991 Dodge Spirit R/T - This had the double cam turbo intercooled 4 cyl with the Lotus cylinder head. This little sedan was very quick and easily surprised SHO's. I believe there were reliability issues with the engine - mine cracked 2 heads under warranty, I have not seen one of these around in years, There were some IROC Dodge Daytona's that used this engine - and even those are gone. That was the era when Dodge was putting turbos on anything.
  • 8
    Greg Vincent Norton, MA October 16, 2013 at 15:09
    What about the Scarab Z cars based on the Datsun 240, 260 and 280Z bodies of the Seventies but with Small block 327 Chevy motors and 4 speed Muncies. There were even dual turbocharged Chevy 350 version. I think it was Hot Rod Magazine who called them the "Cobra of the Seventies" These tight handling V8 powered cars ruled the canyons of LA for years
  • 9
    steve costa picayune,ms October 16, 2013 at 05:20
    I had a Charger GLHS and it only took me 6 months to fold it back to the firewall! I will alwys remember it fondly but I now drive a nice,slow pickup
  • 10
    I have a 1979 Dodge Lil Red Express truck and I need the passenger side aluminum panel with the oak face if anyone can suggest a place to find it. I also need an original Tuff Steering wheel.

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