According to you: What’s the best “sleeper” car of all time?
There’s nothing quite like an unassuming car that can leave high-power metal for dead at a stoplight. “Sleeper” cars are just plain old fun—unless you’re the one left staring at the taillights unexpectedly.
Last week, we asked you to shout out your favorite sleeper cars of all time. Nobody mentioned the 1994–96 Chevy Impala SS explicitly, but that would be our vote. Nonetheless, your responses covered an incredible range of vehicles across all decades and makes. This was a lot of fun to comb through. We grabbed an oodle of your responses for this story, but if the one you’re thinking of didn’t make the list, let us know in the comments.
We have a lot to cover, so let’s hop right in.
Late Model Pontiacs
Be it front- or rear-wheel drive, the final days of Pontiac gave us more than one “sleepy” way to enjoy LS V-8 power. Oh, and the sistership Chevrolet SS, which absolutely deserves to be on this list.
@George: 2008/2009 Pontiac G8 GT. I’ve owned my 2008 since new and to this day almost nobody knows what it is. Thank God for Google. The 2006 GTO was also severely underrated for sure.
@Glenn: I’ll second that. I’ve owned an ’09 G8 GT for several years. Only the most die hard gear heads actually know what it is and what it is capable of. Most people think it’s just another FWD 6 cylinder 4 door typical of what GM has put out for years. What the unwashed masses do not know is that this rebadged Holden Commodore SS has more in common with a Camaro SS than it does a G6/Malibu/Impala.
@jal11180: Chevrolet SS – perhaps the most underrated SS vehicle that Chevrolet had made, even more so than the Cobalt SS, HHR SS, this badge swapped Holden Commodore was truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
@Bill: 2007 Pontiac Grand Prix in silver with the GXP badges removed. Totally invisible!
@MJ: I’ll say the new GTO. LS motor in a Cavalier body? Yeah, that would catch you off guard.
Volvo Turbos/V-8 Swap
Whether it’s the stock turbocharged versions or the V-8 swapped monsters that occasionally surface, Volvos in all shapes and sizes make for great sleepers.
@Tim: Somebody help me with the exact model. I remember there was a Volvo wagon that was quite the performer for it’s time. I can’t recall if it was a late ’80s or ’90s model. I know there have been later higher-performing Volvos, but this one I’m thinking of was definitely a sleeper.
@Mike: Tim, I think you’re referring to a 740 Turbo…
@David: The Volvo wagons Paul Newman and Letterman had. The slowest vehicle I have ever driven was a Volvo wagon, those should have surprised anyone.
@Vijay: How about the unassuming, Volvo 850R wagon?
Quite frankly, I was surprised at all the recognition the turbo Chryslers garnered from our question. Surprised, but very thankful indeed:
@Johnathan: The Dodge Omni GLH Turbo, and even more so, the Shelby GLHS version. These cars looked like econoboxes (which they were at their core), but would outrun almost any contemporary vehicle … at least up to 100 mph.
@My Kismet: The ultimate sleeper would have to be the 1992 Dodge Spirit R/T in Silver. The 91 & 92 Spirit R/T were all sleepers but the red or white wheels on red or white cars made them stand out a little. But the only other physical difference was a tiny trunk spoiler. So these cars and especially the Silver 92 (only 30 made) looked mostly like every other grocery getting Spirit. But they were the quickest production car when it came out in 1990. I had one and even by today’s standards you wouldn’t be shamed by most cars on the road. Back then it was scary quick.
@Norm: I’ll go along with Carroll Shelby’s favorite Q-Ship (in fact he said it was his favorite Shelby-produced vehicle of all time): the 1986 Shelby GLHS Omni Turbo. A blacked-out 4-door little bottle rocket that was in the top 5 quickest mass-produced cars in the world (not just the US) for that model year. I refer you to the April 1986 cover story of Hot Rod Magazine, “Shelby GLHS Whips GT350” at the race track.
@DUB6: We owned a 1988 Chrysler LeBaron GT Turbo Coupe once, and although it was a little fancier-looking than your ordinary K-car, it was an absolute bullet when your foot ticked that turbo into action. I surprised plenty of Mustangs with it.
@Cason: I feel the Spirit R/T deserves a spot on the list. Sure, it was a performance variant with delightfully 90s color-keyed wheels; but essentially no one knew about it and, well, it was Dodge Spirit and maybe slightly understated vs. a Galant VR-4 (which is always worth a look).
@Gary: How about the first generation Chrysler minivans with the turbocharger and 5 speed manual trans?
Turbocharged HHR and PT Cruisers
We always remember the HHR and PT Cruiser as fashion statements that fell out of favor almost as quickly as they rose to popularity, but they also had a sleepy side:
@hyperv6: The best that I have owned was my HHR SS. I added the GM tune that pushed boost to 23 PS1 and power to 300 hp and torque 315 lb-ft. I just loved the time a Mustang next to me took off and I was door handle to door handle with him. The next light he rolled down the window and said, “how are you doing that?”
@David: So true about the HHR SS. I’ve thought of mine (owned for 14 years) as a sleeper, because the ‘SS’ moniker back in the day was so sadly abused, it wasn’t taken seriously. I enjoy surprising the unsuspecting out in the twisties when they try to keep up. Nurburgring indeed…
@Zoey: I drive a 2005 Chrysler PT Cruser 2.4 Turbo GT. Surprise! It is a sleeper. I love this car and I am 73 years old.
@Gary: Like the turbo Chrysler Minivans, another good one is the PT Cruiser turbo 5-speed.
Sneaky V-8s from GM
General Motors made a lot of sleepers that aren’t easy to pigeonhole, so we just put them in a singular category of “sneak” for this article:
@DUB6: I had a ’56 Chevy pick-up that had been a ranch truck, so it had all of the requisite dings, scratches, rust spots, dull paint, cracked side glass, and dog dish hub caps. After dropping a 325 horse 396 and 4-speed in it with 4:11 rear gears, it fooled a lot of people at the red lights downtown.
@jal11180: 1969 Chevrolet Biscayne—do you want to have a Chevrolet Chevelle SS but also lack the money to get one outright? Why not save some money and get the exact configuration of that vehicle for the fraction of the price, as in the 454 LS6 version of the Chevrolet Chevelle SS, and put that into the Chevrolet Biscayne?
@JAS 73: Many years ago, a friend of mine had a 1969 Impala station wagon with a 427 as a tow car for his drag Corvette. The only clue was an emblem on the fender.
@Walt: I have a 1966 Chevy Impala 4 door sedan. It has dog dish hubcaps and looks like a family car. However, it has the factory 396 under the hood, 4 barrel carb, and headers. Puts out about 375 horse. I have high performance tires with the lettering turned inward. Love to have little bubble cars think I am driving grandma’s car on the interstate until I open it up and…well, you know!
@EP: A pea green 427 Chevrolet Biscayne with 327 emblems!
@Darrel: There was a guy in Crawfordsville, IN “back in the day” that had an all-black 63′ Biscayne 2-door sedan base model. vinyl seats, rubber floor mats, black walls with chrome center wheel covers. The only thing that gave it away, was if you had a chance to look inside it had a 4-speed and the tach in the dash like a SS. It had a dual-quad 409 under the hood.
@jal11180: 1967 Chevrolet Chevelle SS Station Wagon/Estate Car—what? The Chevelle not only had a station wagon/estate car variant, but that it also had an SS package? Yes, it might not be as powerful as the 1968 to 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS, but all of the options for that car could easily fit under the hood of this vehicle, but, even in this guise, there is a lot of potential for engine and transmission upgrades to honestly make the more well known variant of that vehicle look slow.
@NovaResource: Well, any “big engine” 1968+ Nova would be an SS and not a sleeper (in my opinion). But the 1966 and 1967 Chevy II 100-series 2-door sedan with the 350-hp L79 327 would absolutely be a sleeper.
@Barry: Pontiac T37… most don’t know what it is. Ask some old timers from the late 60’s, very unassuming car, I believe a 4-speed and a 455 was what it had. (Agreed. – SM)
@Ron: How about a 1963 Bonneville with 421 Super Duty? 421 cid with Tri-Power and 425 horse and a 4 speed, had a convertible. Perfect sleeper, looked like a grandma car. Ran great when I got those 3 deuces working together.
@Not Old Not Grumpy: On that note an original 62 Catalina Super Duty is the ultimate plain Jane sleeper…. Until the cutouts are unbolted!
@snailish: The 55 Pontiac Chieftain modified by Vic Hubbard (or his shop – story is murky?) with a 421 SD Pontiac engine in the early ’60s.
@Mark: A car that is a true sleeper is the late ’50’s Eldorados with the standard Dual Quad or Tri-Power set up. I owned a ’59 Eldo with the standard 390 V-8 and 3 Deuce carburation. When I floored it, the car would leap forward like it wanted to fly. No one would believe it was a stock engine.
@TG: The mid-80s 4-door Malibu came off the assembly line with V-6s or gutless V-8s. But in most cases making one with a little enhancement would make a pretty effective sleeper.
@Charles: The best sleeper I ever made was a ’72 Skylark 4 dr. with the 340 hp 400 cu.in. Pontiac engine from my wrecked ’70 Grand prix. In the early 80’s when I did that, the car was a consistent high 13 second runner. That easily outran just about anything from the factory and was such a plain wrapper that no one gave it a second look.
1987 Callaway Twin-Turbo Corvette
You could say that no Corvette is a sleeper, but how many of you think a C4 Corvette is truly special? Not enough of you, and parking one next to a 1980s Porsche 911 Turbo, Ferrari Testarossa, Lamborghini Countach, etc. back in the day would get you laughed out of the lot. Until others realize you have RPO B2K, and that means you can destroy your competition with ease:
@hyperv6: The First Callaway Corvettes were very understated. The only real external clue was a boost gauge in a AC vent. Or if you were lucky the Dynamag wheels if optioned. Back in 1988 the Vette was not all that fast but it was the best thing around. But the Callaway was good for 200 MPH and much faster 1/4 miles.
Big Block Mercedes-Benzes, AMGs
You need not own a 6.3-liter, a 6.9-liter, or a modern Mercedes-AMG product to see the appeal of a sleeper luxury car, as the car chase in the movie Ronin makes it pretty clear:
@Frank: Undeniably it would be a Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 or more recently a Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG, preferably a wagon. The former was a 150-mph sedan–in 1970! The latter (2005-2006) goes even faster and does 0-60 in 4.1 seconds. Mine has 125,000 miles behind it and has surprised quite a few muscle-car owners. To make it an even better sleeper, simply remove the E55 AMG logos. Even cops never give the wagon a second look.
@Kenny: I would say any real AMG Mercedes, especially if de-badged. They look like any ordinary Mercedes with AMG wheels, but pack a considerable punch. The 2 I’ve been fortunate own have been a 1999 E55 and a 2004 CL55. The CL has the supercharged V-8. Looks like a big, comfy coupe, but will move when you hit the gas.
Turbo 3.8-liter Buicks/Pontiacs and 4.3-liter GMCs
General Motors made something very special in the 1980s for Buick, and in the early 1990s for GMC. Turbochargers on V-6 engines are great, but these particular examples had so much more to offer, provided you knew what you were looking at:
@jef bockus: I have a white 87 Buick Turbo Limited with a bench seat and landing lights. Even in stock form it a blast to drive and dead quiet and smooth, love it.
@Scoupe: The 1989 Turbo Trans Am. Sure the Buick Grand National is the Vader of the streets, but Pontiac decided to revise the 3.8T’s heads and added the usual other supporting mods. The least suspecting and likely cheapest way to hit 160 mph in the ’80s, and no one says a word about them.
@Rich: I vote for the Buick T-Type as a classic sleeper. Most looked at it and figured it was just a standard V-6 Regal and not one of those Grand Nationals . At the time there was a wealth of information available to implement significant performance upgrades which I took full advantage of. My standard line after many stop light adventures when asked “what the heck do you have in that car” was this – “This is my fathers Buick” that tended to receive many interesting comments.
@Scoupe: Surprised, no mention of the Sy/Ty GMC twins in here. (Thanks for that! – SM)
Modern Turbocharged GMs
These new Turbo GMs don’t get the love of the aforementioned 3.8- and 4.3-liter examples, but that just makes them even more of a sleeper:
@Jack: I have a 2017 Buick Regal Premium II that’s tuned along with a larger turbo and CNC milled head and that little 2.0-liter moves put! Surprises most everyone, and if I don’t want to be passed on the interstate I just drop the pedal down a little bit. Understated and a comfortable ride along with a little pep! That’s my Sleeper! Especially after owning various Mustang GT’s and Shelby GT500’s all my life!
@Dean: The neighbor’s kid has a Chevrolet Cruze with a 2.0T stuffed into it out of a Buick Verano. It looks bone stock and kind of beat up. He’s pushing about 350 hp. No will race him because no one in their right mind believes it could possibly be fast.
Modern-day Cadillacs are nothing like the bold, flashy, audacious examples from decades past. Whether or not that’s a good thing is debatable in the comments section, but there’s little doubt that your average motorist knows just how special the V-series examples are for the enthusiast looking to perform without making a statement:
@Bob: 2009 Cadillac CTS-V 4 door with no badges showing. Unbelievably fast for only 556 hp. GM had to rate it below Corvette’s blown models.
@Scoupe: The first generation (2004–2007) Cadillac CTS-V. Own one as we speak, and it still gets the gamut of ridiculous questions after stoplight shenanigans have ended. “No it does not have the Northstar.” “No it is not FWD.” “Yes, it really came factory with a stick.” Truly a stealthy high-12s Q-Ship out roaming the streets.
@Warren: The ultimate “sleeper” is my 2013 CTS-V Wagon, 556 hp and 551 lb-ft of torque. I tried to find a baby blue metallic [example] but found out that only 4 were made. I had to settle for black. Some fellow in a BMW was aggravating me as I was driving to Houston from Temple, Texas. He kept passing me and slowing down on the two lane rode. Finally I had enough of him and passed him and kept my foot on the gas, never saw him again. Must have embarrassed the guy to be outrun by a “family station wagon”.
Sneaky V-8s from Ford
Much like our list for General Motors sleepers, let’s consolidate a lot of sleepy, sneaky Fords in this list:
@Bob: I had a stock appearing 1937 Ford Business coupe (this was in 1954) with a 281 CID flathead V-8, 4 carbs, track cam, etc. It ran best on a heavy load of nitro and never lost a street race. It turned 104 mph at Orange, MA back in the day. It was a real money maker. One exhaust was short and hidden from scrutiny.
@Gayle: Best sleeper ever from the early ’60s: My mother had a ’54 Lincoln Capri 4-door sedan (317 c.i. Y-block) into which my father added a solid lifter cam, dual 4bbl Holleys (the old teapot type), Mallory ignition and dual exhausts (quiet though). Surprise!
@Postman: My 1973 Ford Maverick 2 door. It had a 302 and white walls. Surprised a lot of folks back in the day.
@David: I don’t know if it’s the best, but one of my favorites is the Mercury Marauder of the early/mid 1960s. It’s not just your basic Monterey or Montclair…
@TG: I bought an 1989 Mustang LX that started life as a 4-banger but was 5.0 swapped. Shortly after I bought it, one of the tail pipes fell off of the hastily installed dual exhaust, so I picked it up and threw it in the back. I rode around in this very 4-cylinder looking mustang with one tailpipe out the back for a couple of months before I finally got around to putting it back on. I surprised quite a few folks at the green light. I was also going to mention the Ford LTD/LX that Sajeev wrote about—the very hum-drum looking 5.0 capable Ford
@jal11180: Mercury Marauder (Last Generation)—say what you will about the Mercury Marauder of the 1960s, as it certainly is an underrated road beast, but, even in the current configuration, the early 2000s itineration of this vehicle is a pretty good muscle sedan in its own right, and, with a bit more work, those numbers can go up considerably.
Oldsmobile Quad 442
This one has a lot of validity. To be honest, the Cutlass Calais Quad 442 is a little bit of that 1960s muscle car magic applied in the early 1990s. What a shame so few people see this car for what it is:
@Scoupe: The 1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais Quad 442 W41. Put your pitchfork down, I don’t care if it’s FWD. I’d be more ashamed of the 17-second quarter miles the G-body cars laid out at the same time. 2550 lbs of nasty little coupe paired with a close-ratio 3.94FDR 5MT, sport suspension that actually was worth a damn, and glorious RPMs, all 7500 of them. I had a warmed-up W41 around 10 years ago and the races it won were hilarious.
V-6 Fords: Taurus SHO & Thunderbird SC
While the 5.0 Mustang of the era was winning races around the country, Ford was doing the same for other models. But they weren’t getting the same amount of credit for it:
@Chris: Loved my 93 SHO. That stick had a very unique feel. And when pushed, that car pulled! Bright red exterior was fun too…
@Mike: Having owned a few I have to vote for 89-95 Taurus SHO. Especially my 90 in black. Invisible.
@Mike: I loved my ’95 SHO, or at least the engine! It freaked people out to see a stick shift in a Taurus and it was always fun to surprise folks by dropping it into 3rd gear on an approach ramp and nailing it.
@Gary: Of course the first Taurus SHO is the ultimate sleeper (had one in 88)
@John: 1991 Taurus SHO!
@Charles: I had 2 Taurus SHO’s. The 89 blended in with every other “jellybean” car on the road with few visual clues. The 92 was not as stealthy. Both were quick for the day.
@jal11180: 1989 Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe – basically, this vehicle was a street version of the NASCAR version of the Ford Thunderbird of the time, and this Seventh Generation version of the vehicle is arguably the highest performance version of the entire history of this vehicle. Alternatively, getting similar upgrades to the same year Mercury Cougar could also be a cheaper, as well as more viable, and, obtainable, option.
@Cason: I must mention is the 1989 to 1990 Mercury Cougar XR-7. This offered 100% of Thunderbird Super Coupe performance and manual shifting in a more subtle package, including the more “formal” Mercury rear window. Say no more!
Considering the number of these Infiniti rear-wheel-drive sports sedans and coupes I see in my neighborhood being piloted by the Gen Z crowd, I wonder if they truly are sleepy sleepers. But still, this is power in the hands of the few, and it deserves to be highlighted here:
@Pickle: Another more modern sleeper are G35/G37 sedans. They are literally 350z/370z cars with 4 doors. They blend in with the all the Camcord style sedans, yet in the case of the G37, you get a 330-hp V-6 and rear wheel drive. Get the G37S and you get an LSD, 4 piston calipers with 14 inch rotors, a quicker steering ratio, and fantastic sport suspension. Unless you really know what you are looking at, it is hard to distinguish the S from the regular G37. I’ve dropped a number of back country road tailgaters who thought 5-10 over wasn’t fast enough, yet they couldn’t hang when the road got twisty. When I bought mine, the wife thought it was, and I quote, “a grandpa car.” Then she drove it…
@Tinge of Ginge: Y’all are missing the point. Anything with an SHO or SS badge is not a sleeper. Marauder gets close, but its Vader-esque nature almost shows its hand. If you want sleepers, have to go Japanese sedans from the late 90s/early 00s: 03-04 Infiniti M45
Did you know the Rover V-8 has a slew of performance parts available? And did you know you can drop them all into a vehicle much smaller than a Land Rover?
@Brian: In 1979 or 1980 I recall being a passenger in my best friend’s 1970 “worked” 350 Chevelle SS with a 4:10 rear end and both of us feeling pretty invincible should anyone decide to challenge us on the street that day. At a traffic light in Chicago, a Triumph TR7 pulled alongside of us and indicated that he was up for the challenge, at least we thought it was a TR7. Unfortunately, we were able to determine it was a TR8 by the callouts on the rear of the car as it drove past us in the short straightaway we had.
Pentastar V-6 Minivans
If you’ve ever rented one of these back in the day, you know they make fantastic sleepers. The Pentastar V-6 is no joke, this van will humiliate a lot of seemingly high-performance vehicles in a drag race, as @JimInTheSand says:
“Not the best sleeper by any means, but something you would not expect to be so snappy are most recent Dodge Grand Caravans. Stock with 283 hp, 6 speed automatic… not grandpa’s mini van.”
Sleepers aren’t necessarily just the fastest accelerating things, are they? As @Arthur put it:
“My little Austin Mini was a sleeper in a different way. They did not sell them in the U.S. for many years while still available in Canada, and on a trip through New England I surprised a fellow in a Vette coming down a mountain. He was surprised when I passed him and disappeared down the mountain through the tight bends; he did not catch me until we got down onto the regular roads. That’s when he went roaring past with a look of disgust at this little car which he could not match on the twisty bits.”
“S” Code Mercury Cougar
@David said it well when he suggested this particular Cougar is actually a sleeper Shelby:
“Best Sleeper Car of all Time, hands down, is a 1967 Mercury XR-7 GT. The “S” Code got you an FE big block with a 4 speed in what looked, at a stop light, like a bone stock luxury car. 428 cubic inches or 390 cubic inches, your choice. It’s a Cobra, without the Shelby badges. And this true sleeper would also be painted Black, of course. Motor Trend thought so too: 1967 Car of the Year. They said it should be called King Cougar.”
And just like the tiny Austin Mini, the Germans came out with something that was a force to be reckoned with:
@Mike: Go back to 1968, when a little boxy German sedan started showing up in the US, with a blue and white badge that said “BMW.” If you were driving any import sports car other than an XKE, a 911, or something exotic and Italian, you quickly learned not to engage in stop light grands prix with one of ’em. Nor could you keep up with ’em on a twisty back road. Especially when painted an innocuous white, beige or silver, at least for fellow import enthusiasts, the BMW 2002 was a real sleeper, and proved you could have sports car handling, room for four, and their luggage.
Sneaky V-8s from Chrysler, other Americans
It’s truly amazing how many sleepers were made by American automakers, even more so when considering how their owners souped them up to make them even faster:
@Kurt: The 1957 Rambler Rebel. Who would think a 4-door Rambler would be perhaps the fastest car you could buy in 1957?
@Roger: Yes Kurt!! l was looking for someone to mention the ’57 Rebel! The ultimate sleeper, perhaps! 0-60 in 7.5 seconds—factory stock! Naturally aspirated.
@JimB: In 1966 a fellow engineering college student built a heavily modified ’57 DeSoto Firesweep. He chose this model for its light weight in spite of its large size. He began by stripping more weight. He probably removed a few hundred extra pounds. Nothing was left untouched, except it looked stock from the outside, like he was driving his dad’s car. He installed a well-built 392 Hemi, 727 TorqueFlite with a moderate stall converter, quiet exhaust, and higher ratio differential. There were some minor suspension mods. He sometimes ran cheater slicks, the only giveaway. He ran it once at a local drag strip, just to get a time slip. I would really like to know what this mild mannered car did on the strip, but never did.
@Danders54: The best sleeper I can think of was my dad’s 1966 Coronet 4-doors with a factory 426 Street Hemi. His was the 4-speed. Lore says 4 of these sedans were originally ordered for the FBI but ended up with ‘civilians’ instead. Dad gave it a good tune and removed the Hemi emblems and would go ‘hunting’ for fast looking cars. He also installed a Road Runner ‘beep-beep’ horn to add insult to injury as drove away from who he raced. He also has several trophies from the local MN dragways drag strip. When he was not terrorizing the street or strip it was my mom’s grocery getter that she drove us kids around in.
@Al: Much like the ‘66 Hemi Dodges four-door cars, one of our NHRA club members had a black ‘67 two-door Coronet sedan. It was a competition option package that didn’t even have carpets or a heater as I remember. Total sleeper.
@Cy: I once had a 1966 Plymouth Belvedere 1 station wagon with a hemi automatic. White with dog dish hubcaps. I had fun with it.
@wolfgang: I would like to add the Modern (2012) Chrysler 300 SRT8 with the 6.4 Hemi under the hood. I have surprised quite a few Mustangs and Camaros that didn’t know what it was. Also the 6.1 liter Dodge Magnum wagons from 2006–2008.
@Steve: One of the best factory sleepers ever would likely be one of the few ’66 Belvedere 4-door sedans that got Hemis, especially if it only got the inscrutable “HP2″ fender emblem. My own best effort at the genre was a fairly ratty Duster that hid a 512 [cubic-inch] Indy-head big block and ran low 11s. What it needed was a set of basic steel wheels, and quieter mufflers to complete the deception.
@Doug: The sleeper-est car I’ve ever had (and I’m a classic car dealer) was the one I sold in order to start my business. It was a 1969 Plymouth Barracuda 340 Formula S notchback, finished in Spanish Gold and green interior. It was also a 4-speed AND a stripe delete car. Other than 3 round emblems on the car, you couldn’t tell what it was…..until you put your foot into it. That car would LITERALLY rip the knobs off the dashboard while trying to find grip. It destroyed stock 383 and 440/4 Mopars with regularity—yes, at the strip. An absolute torque monster, and with manual steering, manual drum brakes, No AC, and flat-as-pancake bucket seats, the single-most uncomfortable long-trip cruiser I’ve ever been in.
@jal11180: AMC Hornet – basically, this vehicle is the more high-performance version of the AMC Concord and, with a little bit of work, it could be a true street beast.
@Roger: consider a ’64 Studebaker Commander or Challenger (yes, Studebaker used the name in ’64) 2 door with a supercharged R3 engine and 4 speed with the right rear end ratio. About 400 hp at the rear wheels and 0-60 in well under 7 seconds. Factory stock and nothing except a couple of inobtrusive badge to give it away.
No mention of a Chevy Kingswood wagon with a 427 BBC? A Catalina 2+2 with a 421 CID and a 4 speed? A Mercedes-Benz R63 AMG? Hemi-powered Coronet Sedans, and big block Novas were mentioned 🙂 If I had to pick a favorite…1963 Pontiac Tempest Super Duty wagon!
Now do the opposite of a sleeper, which is a much less distinguished category: the “all hat, no cattle” car. This is a car that looks like it ought to be fast, or nimble, or off-road capable, or able to pull a gigantic boat, or whatever… But isn’t/can’t.
Like a ’90 SS454?
I don’t understand your SS454? That was not a sleeper and was a complete waste of money in 1990. 0-60 in 7.1 and a 1/4 mile time of 15.7. Even by 1990 standards that was not going to surprise anyone.
That’s Andrew’s definition of “all hat, no cattle”.
Oooh that’s good. My 87 Porsche 944na fits that bill! Handles and brakes great but your average minivan will outrun it. Can certainly get faster ones- but this one isn’t it!
Other contenders…. Hummer H2. Most modified 4×4 pickups set up as mall crawlers… list goes on!
Here’s one for you Andrew. Go back to the beginning of the article, and rethink the 90’s Impala SS models. Unless modified by Lingenfelter or Callaway, they only surprised anyone by being SLOWER than they looked.
They could clear the left lane, however, since they were often mistaken for police cruisers.
That would be a Volvo 940. Lucky if it had 80 HP to the rear wheels, lol. Slow as slow can be … but, I still own one inching close to 300k miles and it still runs, and with very little rust, even after 30 New England 4-month-straight road saltings.
I’d give that to the King Cobra Mustang II’s and Camaros/Firebirds of the malaise era. Just primed to get a powerful swap. Great looking cars that look faster than they were.
Wagons are the greatest sleepers .
As teenagers my buddies and I cruised in a 1968 vista cruiser 400 ci turbo 400 duel exhaust and what was probably a 410 rear end gear . His dad had bought it to tow a 35 foot house boat .
We surprised chargers ,cudas ,mustangs and even the odd corvette when we left them at the light , they laughed at two teenagers in a flamed daddies car until the light turned green and we left the behind
I think it all started with the full house 327 Nova’s in the mid 60’s
I built a 1979 Caprice coupe with a Cadillac engine bored and stroked to 540 CID. Dead silent, fantastic acceleration off the line, and a complete sleeper. It was dark blue, like the State Police Caprices of the time, and I never got a ticket. The air conditioning worked just fine, too.
The GMC Sy/Ty are clearly the winner for this group. There are no other U.S. production cars with almost no external distinctions that could beat the exotic cars of the day. Add in that they are wrapped in a pickup and SUV body and it is other worldly. Today’s poor copies (TrackHawk, Raptor R, etc.) featuring supercharged V8s are way to overt to surprise anyone
You might want to include the 2014 thru 2019 Cadillac CTS VSport. It’s definitely a sleeper with it’s twin turbo 3.6 V6 putting out 420 hp @ 5750 rpm and 430 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm. Zero to 60 mph is 4.4 sec and the standing ¼-mile: 12.9 sec @ 111 mph. With a little tuning, these cars can easily see 600+hp.
I second that of Bruce Ramirez. If you were to debadge an STS-V as well it could be a contender.
YES PLEASE! The CTS-V Sport is one of the most underrated cars of all time. Lighter than an M550 BMW, better stopping power than cars 2x its price, looks 90% like the 2.0 Turbo CTS on any rental lot. I’d do bad things for a minty CTS-V Sport.
Bruce, you are so, so, so right. That car was criminally unloved. Very fast, very comfortable, very under the radar.
Only thing that annoyed me about it was the tendency for the front wheels to tramline over bad pavement. And CUE. CUE can rot in hell.
I can attest to the amazingness of the CTS VSport – 420+hp twin-turbo V-6, 8-speed paddle shift Aisin auto, eLSD, Brembo brakes, Mag-Ride, wide rubber, no external “flash” other than a small “V” logo. The true definition of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I enjoy driving the CTS more than my C6 Vette (640hp blown) in most driving situations – I haven’t tracked it yet, but I think it will do quite well.
i was a service mgr for a Cadillac store for over 30 yrs. ill never forget when the CTS-V came out and i got one as a demo. it blew my socks off! all tho i drove that car like it was made to drive, i took perfect care of “my baby” until 6000 miles later when i had to give it up. MAN, what a car.
Jeez. I suggested the Mercury Marauder of the 1960s, but I am a BMW 2002 owner for the last 13 years. If I may face palm myself.
The 2002 was certainly unexpected, but I can’t say I disagree with that contribution!
I have owned over 200 cars in my time and my 1969 BMW 2002 was by far and away the car that I most loved. Incredible acceleration for a 2 litre, great handling and brakes were also up to scratch. I had a 1967 Mustang Coupe at the same time but when I needed to make a fast 500 mile trip it was the BM that I used.
I had so much joy, blowing off a couple V8 cars with my 2002tii, and later, a Bavaria 3.0 with a manual. And if the road was tightly and curving, no one could get away from me.
A different BMW direction. In 1977 virtually all cars were duds. However I had a 1977 530i. For the time, that car was quick. A friend with a 79? Trans Am turbo refused to believe he couldn’t beat a 3 litre 6 cyl sedan. So we went for a spin in the BMW and he gave in. Said no point in even trying. I’d win. Now that gen of BMW had the nasty thermal reactor emissions and gas mileage was poor, but it was an amazing car. Next gen 528i, 533i, 535i, M5 were better cars but by then the secret was out. Actually the M5 may be the ultimate sleeper.
Gotta agree with Bryan. The original BMW E28 model M5 is THE sleeper. Four door family sedan with the aerodynamics of a brick. Stuff an M1 supercar motor in & a great suspension & gearbox. Autobahn here we come! Porsches better move over to the right hand lane.
The more modern Marauder was a sleeper too.
Yes, came to my mind also, like the impala ss.
Yes, came to my mind also, like the impala ss.
Hi, i totally agree with the pick of the 94-96 impala SS. I had a DGGM 96 and got over 300K outa mine before i sold it. The market was too crazy a year ago and had to. When else are people gonna pay thousands for a car with over 300K miles on it !!
It certainly was a sleeper!
I didn’t know that Chevy MADE Impalas during the 1990s!
Bought a 96 Impala SS new for a family car. What a treat that was. I believe it weighed in at about 4600# or so and was a super fun drive for a full-size, handled extremely well,
a little rougher ride, sportier suspension and the performance was definitely good for a full-size family ride. I think I sold at about 200k miles, though never had any issues with the car. good and reliable. Did I mention it was fun to drive.
There are many and everyone has their favorite. Older vs newer. Each generation gravitates to a certain breed. One that comes to mind for me was a 1964 Electra 225 4 door hardtop that rolled out of the factory with the 425 twin fours and the th 400 transmission. A massive jet black, chrome laden monster that screamed church going geezer special but was anything but.
My first car was a 66 Wildcat 401 with 445 foot pounds of torque. My friend had a 1967 Skylark 401 he added two 4 barrel carbs and 50 series tires. It was a tire smoking machine!
Wasn’t impressed with this list atvall
Yeah, no mention of the biggest sleeper of all.
The Pullman Coach! 🤭
Realize though that if you use that power every other driver on the road thinks you’re delivering pizzas for Dominos.
How about my ’66 Chevelle with 283 flags on the fenders……with a 1971 Z28 350 under the hood. Surprise!
My Aunt Ruth bought a brand new ’68 Chevelle 4 door six cylinder – but the right front fender sported a factory-fresh 307 badge!
My favorite sleepers: 65 Chevelle L79/4-speed, 66 Chevy II L79 4-speed (my ’64 SBC (375hp)MGB would be a sleeper if it was a little quieter , lol, have 4 mufflers on it too)
SVT Contour still to sleeper for the sleeper list I see…
I have a ‘69 Mustang Grandé with 428 Cobra Jet. One of 37 built. Luxury Mustang with white walls and wire wheel covers covered in Lime Gold with a vinyl top. No hood scoop or any badges showing what’s under the hood.
The guy down at the gas station where I grew up had Mom’s yuck green 75 fire bird. It was a plain jane car with a Pontiac 455 SD with two 4 barrel carbs.
1975. High school seniors my bud a I would cruise the strip looking for challengers. His moms 72-3 Bonneville 455 4bbl. 2 door sleeper. If you ouched it from a stop you had to let off the gas to get a little grip. Smoked the tires. My folks had a 74 Electra 225 w/ same motor but wasn’t a smoker. But she would cruise at a buck and a quarter on I-80 (on the way to the prom with a full load) hahahha
The M you show in the pictures is a Second Gen – the one that @Tinge of Ginge is talking about is the First Gen. Known as a Nissan “Gloria” in Japan. Totally badass vehicle and virtually unknown here in the US.
Not too impressed – many of these cars are not and never have been sleepers – the GMs with the Buick turbos were never sleepers, that Oldsmobile was/is a piece of crap. How do do figure a Call. Corvette to be a sleeper?
Yeah there are tons of them out there, anyone can debadge and call a car sleeper. I drove those old Caprices/wagons with the LS motors, they are heavy, handle like crap and not too fast unless you dump tons o cash in them like anything else.
Sorry you never launched my 2005 CTS-V. Your opinion of GM products might change. True sleeper … one out of ten thousand actually knew what it was.
You are right John. I own a stock 1975 Monte Carlo 454 it is not a performance car it has no factory badges on the fenders. At the traffic light my pregnant wife was driving her Mom and the toddlers to the store. the Hot Shot kid in the big 4X4 pulled up on the right ready to take her when the light turned green. My wife said “hold on Mom”. The light changed and the 4X4 was left in the dust.