16 cars named after famous racetracks
Manufacturers are quick to tie the cars on the dealership floor to the cars that trade paint on the racetrack. Everyone wants to own a race winner. It has led to checkered flags appearing on the fenders of numerous brands, including Pontiac, Ford, and Chevrolet. That “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” mantra has also brought the names of many of the world’s most prestigious racetracks directly to some of our favorite cars. Here are some of the best examples of cars named after famous circuits.
The upscale Monza trim was said to be part of the impetus for Ford to develop the Mustang. It made up the bulk of Corvair sales in the early 1960s and takes its name from Monza Eni Circuit, the third-oldest racing track in the world. The name was also used, on its own, for Chevrolet’s second-generation H-body compact, replacing the Vega.
With so much success at Le Mans, it’s no surprise Ferrari named a car after the famous 24-hour race. The 250 LM also happens to be among the most desirable Ferraris of all time, as one of Ferrari’s first forays into mid-engine design, and influencing a tradition of high-performance road cars that continues today. It was the last Ferrari to win Le Mans outright, taking the checkered flag in 1965.
When the Shelby team competed at Le Mans in its Cobra roadsters, it became apparent that an enclosed cockpit and better aerodynamics were necessary to challenge Ferrari. Former General Motors designer Pete Brock designed the Daytona Coupe on the shop floor around the wrecked chassis of a Cobra. Although the car was designed with Le Mans in mind, it debuted at Daytona and was forever known as the Shelby Daytona Coupe.
Talladega is NASCAR’s largest tri-oval superspeedway, and its high banking and higher speeds led Ford to name its special NASCAR homologation after the 2.66-mile track. Ford’s attempt at a more aerodynamic coupe to help tame the air at nearly 200 mph gave the already handsome Torino a longer nose and smaller grille. It added a bit more front overhang, but the results are pleasing to the eye, and the atmosphere. It helped Dave Pearson win the NASCAR championship in 1969.
The 1969 Dodge Charger 500 was Mopar’s first attempt to get B-body Chargers to be more aerodynamic and dominate on NASCAR’s speedways. We’re not sure whether the name referred to the Daytona 500 or the minimum number of homologation cars NASCAR would require, but we do know that Dodge never managed to produce all 500 it had promised. With a flush grille and rear window, two of the Charger’s best styling cues were gone, yet the resulting model still looked sleek and muscular. However, it wasn’t enough to challenge Ford’s Torino Talladega and similar Mercury Cyclone Spoiler on NASCAR’s fastest tracks.
Later in 1969, Dodge took the aerodynamic advances of the 500 even further, creating the Charger Daytona by adding a tapered nosecone with pop-up headlights and a tall wing that helped keep the car planted and headed straight. The Charger Daytona and its Plymouth Super Bird stablemate dominated NASCAR in 1970, bringing the championship to Dodge driver Bobby Isaac.
Named after the land speed racing salt flat on the western edge of Utah, the badge on Pontiac’s luxury cruiser wasn’t the brand’s only association with the speedway. Pontiac was big on land speed racing and partnered with Mickey Thompson to power his Challenger streamliner to 406 mph in 1960.
Beginning as a trim level on the compact, rear-transaxle Y-body Tempest, eventually LeMans would move to the mid-size A-body where it would spawn the GTO. Some say it’s named after the famed 24-hour race at Circuit de la Sarthe, others say the race (which first ran in 1923) merely foretold the coming of the handsome Pontiac. We may never know the truth.
The fuselage-bodied B-body intermediates were Mopar’s last gasp of the muscle car era. The Sebring, named after Florida’s Sebring International Raceway, was the upscale version of the Satellite coupe, a sister car to the Plymouth Road Runner and Dodge Charger. It may have been a submodel of the Satellite, but if we mention the funky rear-drive B-body, we can pretend that Chrysler didn’t use the name for a front-wheel-drive coupe, convertible, and sedan in the ‘90s and 2000s.
Though not nearly as cool as the last Dodge to wear the Daytona name, the front-drive K-car derivative coupe did look pretty sharp. It was available with a 3.0-liter Mitsubishi SOHC V-6 or a slew of four-cylinder options, including several turbocharged variants. Mopar and at least one aftermarket company built rear-wheel-drive conversion crossmembers for them, so there are more than a few out there packing GEN III Hemi power, making them a top contender for cars that look fast but aren’t (but actually are).
The long Mulsanne straight at Circuit de la Sarthe led race teams to adopt more streamlined racers to get every last bit of speed out of their rides, like the Shelby Daytona. Bentley didn’t care and put the name on their behemoth three-ton luxobarge. It may not look aerodynamic, but the 500-horsepower V-8 should do quite nicely on any three-mile straightaway.
Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca
Ford revived the historic Boss moniker for a special run of track-focused Mustangs in 2012 and 2013 and all of them used a unique suspension, optional side-exit exhaust, and tuned Coyote V-8 that increased output to 444 horsepower. The Laguna Seca model took the track prep even further with a rear seat delete and stickier tires. It was perhaps the ultimate fifth-generation Mustang for both the street and road course.
In the 21st century, Germany’s infamous Nürburgring became the de facto measuring stick for any serious track car. When Lexus debuted its long-awaited LFA with its sonorous V-10, it released a special model with a 10-horsepower boost, stiffer suspension, faster-shifting transmission programming, and improved aerodynamic downforce to help cement its status as the brand’s flagship performance model. It clocked an impressive lap time of 7:14.64, and now sells for nearly a million bucks with the right options and minimal miles.
Porsche has applied the Carrera moniker to versions of the 356 and 911 in addition to the limited-production Carrera GT. In each case, it refers to the Carrera Panamericana race in Mexico that originally ran from 1950-1954 and never saw a Porsche take the win. The race was cancelled as it was far too long to safely monitor, leading to dozens of fatalities. The resurrected race is now dominated by Studebakers.
Remember the Carrera Panamericana? The race we just mentioned that Porsche has never won? Well, Porsche decided its grand touring sedan was worthy of a name that suggests a high-speed cross-country race, and it dawned on the Germans they’d named three cars after the first word of the race’s name, and no cars after the second word. We have no idea how they came up with “Macan.”
This concept is named after the southern California dry lake bed that has been used for land speed racing since before WWII. The sleek coupe, which debuted at Pebble Beach in 2013, previewed Cadillac’s future styling as it moved away from the Art & Science styling language.
Another concept, this streamlined and scissor-doored Corvette from 1986 was yet another mid-engine design study. The shape resembled Group C race cars and the soon-to-be-revealed Oldsmobile Aerotech.
After Ferrari’s 1-2-3 finish at the 1967 Daytona 24 Hours, the unofficial Daytona nickname was placed on Ferrari’s 365 GTB/4.
Bentley Blue Train
It’s true that the car was named after a particular train that ran from the French Riviera to Calais, and not a particular race track, per se, but it’s the fact that a car raced the train and won that makes it at least partly eligible for our list.
While named after a luxury vacation destination and a type of racing, respectively, put the Dodge and Pontiac together and you get the Monaco Grand Prix. It’s bending the rules quite a bit to include them in this list—but they’re our rules.