10 February 2017

Answer of the Week: These eye-opening sleepers may keep you awake at night

Wake up, people! Let’s talk about sleepers. No, we don’t mean campers, customs or passenger trains with bunk beds — although we have to admit we teed it up nicely for every jokester on Facebook when we asked, “What’s the ultimate sleeper car?”

Robert Anderson suggested a Nash, which debuted its “Bed-in-Car” fold-down seats in the 1930s and offered the feature well into the ’50s. Robert included a 1948 photo from Life magazine to emphasize how Nash had its eyes wide open when it came to “sleeper” cars.

Lee Yablonski kept the joke going by posting a picture of “Grandpa Munster’s Drag-U-La Coffin Car, the ultimate sleeper” — a wild hot rod that appeared on the 1960s Munsters television series. A short while later, Lee poked the bear again by posting a photo of Ray Farner’s custom hearse, “Boothill Express.” He was immediately flagged for piling on and had to sit out the second half.

More serious nominations (we think, anyway) included automobiles that snuck up on exactly no one, and Michael Myko Micho just couldn’t take it anymore. “Some people need to look up what ‘sleeper’ means,” he wrote. Joshua Chacon quickly came to the rescue. “Sleeper: a vehicle that does not look fast … and embarrasses people trying to race it. Pretty easy concept.”

Hey, that’s what we were thinking! Thankfully, many of you were, too. So, without further ado, here are your “ultimate sleeper cars,” in no particular order:

Ford Panther Platform: Every week we roll the dice knowing that whatever photo we include with the question of the week might sway the vote. So it comes as no surprise that many of you nominated the Mercury Marauder, the very car we used to illustrate our question. In our defense, we’re confident the Marauder would have made the list no matter what photo we used.

The 2003–04 Marauder and 1992–2011 Crown Vic, built on the same Panther platform, look like something your grandmother might drive … on her way to martial arts class. The Marauder received a 302-horsepower 4.6-liter DOHC V-8 — also used in the 2003–04 Mustang Mach 1 — which provided enough oomph to propel the car from 0–60 mph in 7.5 seconds.

“Always loved the Panther bodies, especially the Marauder,” Tommas Rockstroh wrote. Juan Carlos was even more emphatic: “Definitely the Marauder.”

When released in 1992, the Crown Vic carried a 190-horsepower 4.6-liter SOHC “modular” V-8 engine (also used in the 1996–2004 Mustang). The P71 police package — reserved for law enforcement vehicles — included upgraded shocks, anti-sway bars, dual exhaust and a boost to 250 horsepower. Those “wolf in sheep’s clothing” models are fairly easy to find these days.

Bill Bennett said he drove five hours to purchase a 1999 Crown Vic in 2010, and he called the car “a terrific work horse for police agencies and taxi companies,” a tribute to the Vic’s sneaky power and durability.

Volvo “Turbo Brick”: Quite a sexy nickname, no? Volvo’s turbocharged 850 T-5 R, 850R and V70R wagons, as with all turbo Volvos, share a less-than-flattering moniker, “Turbo Brick.” But considering their surprising power and speed, who cares?

The 850 T-5 R, offered in 1995, had a 245-horsepower turbocharged inline five-cylinder engine that pushed the speedometer past 150 mph. Subsequent 1996–97 850R and 1998–2007 V70R models maintained their pedestrian looks while increasing horsepower. In fact, the second-gen (2004–07) V70R’s turbo engine generated 269 horsepower and accelerated from 0–60 mph in 5.9 seconds. Hey, even a guy named Buck Rogers nominated it, and he knows what it’s like to fly.

Ford Taurus SHO: This sleeper has been causing insomnia longer than you might think. Ford first offered the “Super High Output” version of the Taurus in 1989, and after taking a decade off (2000–09), brought it back in 2010. It’s still turning heads today, but not for its looks.

First-gen SHO cars (1989–91) carry a Yamaha-built, 220-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 engine capable of revving to over 7,000 rpm. Offered with a five-speed manual transmission, the car boasted a top speed near 150 mph. A larger 3.2-liter V-6 arrived in 1992, along with optional automatic transmission, before the evolution took a big jump forward in 1996. Third-gen versions featured an all-aluminum, 235-horsepower 3.4-liter DOHC V-8 — with a unique 60-degree V angle — at a time when no other Taurus carried a V-8. Exclusivity may have been its downfall, however; Ford halted production in 1999.

The Taurus SHO returned in 2010, but the fourth-gen version is bigger, heavier and all-wheel drive. And instead of a high-revving engine, it features a twin-turbo 3.5-liter DOHC V-6 that generates 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque.

“Ninety nine percent of people have no idea what it is,” Zach Kundinger wrote. “It looks so unassuming …” Vincent Proteau crossed party lines and cast his vote for the Taurus SHO, admitting “I’m not a Ford guy.”

Bottom line: While the Taurus SHO has always looked like an average sedan, it isn’t. Far from it.

The Aussie Connection: Forget the stereotypes, there’s a lot more to Australia than walkabouts, Foster’s beer and the Sydney Opera House. The Aussies also know a little something about cars and, obviously, sleepers.

Based on the Holden Monaro and produced Down Under from 2004–06, the final version of the Pontiac GTO doesn’t resemble older Goats, nor does it have that muscle-car reputation. But late-model GTOs are sneaky quick off the line. Powered by a 350-horsepower, 5.7-liter LS1 in 2004 and a 400-horsepower, 6.0-liter LS2 in 2005–06 — and mated to a six-speed manual transmission — they have G6 looks and a Corvette heart. The proof is in their acceleration: 0–60 mph in 4.8 seconds.

The Pontiac G8 GXP (2008–09) and Chevrolet SS (2014–17), based on the Holden Commodore, have similar personalities. The Australian-built family sedans carry a 415-horsepower, 6.2-liter LS3 with a six-speed manual, and they look very low-key … when they’re parked.

Terry W. Davis nominated the GXP and Brandon Smith quickly seconded the motion, but Terry obviously didn’t have a friend in James Taylor, who wrote simply, “No.” Terry’s response? “Thanks for sharing your expertise.”

Buick Regal (Turbo): While most of you kept your nominations short and sweet, the mid-1980s turbocharged Buick Regal T-TypeGrand National and GNX generated more chatter.

The turbo Regals (particularly the T-type) looked pedestrian, right down to the paint, as most were black. But they generated up to 245 horsepower, which surprised more than a few unsuspecting drivers. The 1987 GNX (Grand National Experimental) featured a McLaren-upgraded turbo that generated 276 horsepower and 360 pound-feet of torque. With 0–60 acceleration in 4.6 seconds, it covered a quarter mile in 12.7 seconds at 113 mph. Those numbers were better than the Ferrari F40 and Porsche 930. Seriously.

“Nobody knew about (the Grand National) when it came out,” Robert L. Martinez wrote. “Plenty of turbo Regals out there looked normal back then, too.” Jeff Broughton agreed. “I had an ’87 turbo Regal — looked just like a normal Regal except for the wheels and that little bubble on the hood. Fooled lots of people!”

That, dear friends, is a textbook sleeper car.

GMC Syclone/Typhoon: GMC applied the Grand National formula to the 1991 Syclone pickup and 1992–93 Typhoon SUV, turning ordinary into extraordinary. The all-wheel-drive trucks were equipped with a 280-horsepower, 4.3-liter turbo V-6; torque was 350 pound-feet for the Syclone and 360 for the Typhoon. With a payload capacity of only 500 pounds, the GMC sleepers could accelerate from 0–60 in 5.3 seconds and cover a quarter-mile in 14.1 seconds at 93 mph. That’s quicker than the Ferrari 348TS.

Dodge Magnum/Chrysler 300C SRT8: With plain-wrapper looks and a 425-horsepower, 6.1-liter Hemi V-8, these are more than grocery getters.

The 2006–08 Magnum SRT-8 wagon accelerated from 0–60 mph in 5.1 seconds and 0–100 in 11.7, and it posted a standing quarter-mile time of 13.1 seconds at 108 mph. Top speed was an astounding 169 mph.

Meanwhile, the 2005–10 Chrysler 300C SRT-8 sedan was even quicker: 0–60 mph in 4.9 seconds. Not enough power? From 2011–14 the 300C SRT-8 carried a 6.4-liter Hemi that generated 470 horsepower.

Nevertheless, Kevin MacDonald is looking for more. He posted a photo showing the rear exhaust of a military jet and asked, “Too obvious?” Move over, Lee Yablonski and those crazy hot rod nominations... Kevin needs a seat on the bench.

3 Reader Comments

  • 1
    PATRICK T. O'CONNOR Salinas, CA March 29, 2017 at 20:57
    No one ever mentions the 1989-1990 Mercury Cougar XR 7/ T Bird! I'm on my second 1990 Cougar. They came with a supercharged 3.8 L V6, adjustable suspension, 5 speed manual transmission, independent rear end, 4 wheel disc brakes. NONE of the cars in your article had all of these features! Mercury only produced the Supercharged XR7 for a year and a half. They made around 450 XR 7's in 1990 then went to a normally aspirated 302V8. My 1990 XR 7 has an original 86,000 miles.
  • 2
    Joseph Messmer PA March 31, 2017 at 17:50
    I'm not hearing about w body gms with 3800 supercharged motor. I believe they all were around 250 hp and all in the 14 second quarter and not much work or money drops them into the 13s or even 12s
  • 3
    Britt Nilsson Blackfoot, Idaho June 21, 2017 at 19:16
    The mention of the 2003 - 2004 Marauder as a sleeper reminded me of my high school girlfriend's 1967 Mercury Marquis two door hardtop with a 410 marauder engine. Pretty fast for a luxo barge. That car surprised a few pony car drivers!

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