Faster Than They Look: Top 10 Factory Sleepers

Hidden in the hustle and bustle of ordinary daily drivers lies the sleeper car, well-concealed in ordinary car camouflage but with enough power to take you by surprise.  Only someone “in the know” about a particular model will be aware of just what it can do because the vehicle’s appearance says otherwise. Here we call out our favorite 10 sleepers:

1986 Shelby GLH-S: Modeled after the Dodge Omni GLH (aka, “Goes Like Hell”), this boxy little  number looks anything but fast at first glance. It holds a top speed of 130 mph, producing a total of 175 horsepower. Weighted at approximately 2,200 lb., the car’s performance is unquestionably impressive, achieving speeds from 0 to 60 in just 6.5 seconds.

1989 Ford Taurus SHO: The SHO looks like a standard, rather bland four-door sedan on the outside, but it has a Yamaha V-6 offering 220 horsepower. The telltale signs that hint at its speed include the 8,000 rpm tachometer, sport seats and manual transmission. The Taurus SHO (“Super High Output”) has the ability to go from 0-60 mph in 6.6 seconds, with a top speed of 143 mph— not too shabby for a Taurus.

1995-99 Buick Rivera: Buick has produced several sleeper-like vehicles over the years, such as the 1994 Roadmaster and the not-so-sleeper GNX, but we had to narrow our choices. The Rivera‘s discreet looks successfully hide its impressive power, which is provided by a supercharged V-6 that dishes out 225 horsepower and 275 ft.-lb. torque. It was possibly intended for hip granddads with a need for speed, or the car enthusiast who doesn’t want to attract unwanted attention.

2003 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG Wagon: This is where the family wagon meets performance. The supercharged intercooled 24-valve V-8 fuels up to 469 horsepower and 516 ft.-lbs. torque. The mind-blowing results on the track, accelerating from 0 to 60 in 4.1 seconds, make this a wagon that daddy won’t be embarrassed to drive — perhaps he will even be enticed to race a Ferrari.

1994 Chevrolet Caprice:  The LT1 350 engine was standard in the wagons and tow-package sedans, and optional in the rest of the sedans as well as the police-package. With this engine, the Caprice maintained a surprising amount of power and was one of the fastest police cars of its time. It utilized a detuned version of the Corvette’s LT1, but still produced up to 260 horsepower and 330 ft.-lb. of torque.

2002-05 Subaru Forester 2.5 XT Limited: Beat by a soccer mom? Don’t feel too bad; the Forester 2.5 XT’s turbocharged boxter motor pumps out 230 brake horsepower and 235 ft.-lb. of torque from the factory. As a nod to car enthusiasts, it comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission and has the ability to run from 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, making this five-passenger, five-door wagon the ultimate sleeper. 

1989 MG Maestro Turbo: This is perhaps a lesser-known car with only 500 produced, but it’s very sleeper-like nonetheless, minus the standard rather large “TURBO” graphics along the side, which could be removed if you prefer. The Maestro turbo has an inline-four engine generating 150 brake horsepower, giving the car the ability to run from 0 to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds.

1993 Cadillac Allanté: For this particular year, the model’s last, the Allanté received the 4.6-liter Northstar DOHC V-8 engine. With performance in mind, Cadillac upped the original engine’s horsepower from 290 to 295 before it hit production lines. With a torque output of 290 ft.-lb. at 4400 rpm, teamed with a road-hugging suspension, this car packs a wallop that onlookers wouldn’t expect.

1960-61 Ford Galaxie Starliner: To the uneducated, the Galaxie Starliner doesn’t look like a typical sports car, even by 1960s standards—it lacked the curves common to that era, instead going for a futuristic, sleek look. In fact, this two-door hardtop was Ford’s choice for NASCAR racing, and understandably so. The OHV V-8 352 cid packed a punch of 360 brake horsepower, and the 1961’s enlarged 390 big-block offered up to 401 brake horsepower. Why is this second-to-last on our list? At first sight, an educated classic car enthusiast will more than likely know what this car can do.

1989-1990 Dodge Caravan Turbo: Ok, so perhaps this caravan isn’t exactly fast compared to most factory sleeper cars, offering 150 horsepower from a turbocharged 2.5-liter Turbo II, with the option of a four- or five-speed manual transmission. But with some easy modifications it does have the potential to burn rubber— just imagine the dejection of someone who has to surrender to a wood-paneled, seven-passenger loser cruiser.

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