A sleeper car is a car with high performance but an exterior that looks unassuming. Basically, it's a car that looks slow until you race it, and then all you're looking at is its taillights. Here's a list of the top sleeper cars of all time:
10. Buick Grand National
In the mid-1980s, Buick made turbocharged performance versions of their Regals and called them Grand Nationals. Most of them were produced with black paint jobs and black and gray interiors. There were even special performance editions made of the Grand National to boost speeds even more, such as the lightweight WE4 option and the GNX.
The great thing about these cars is that they still look like a mid-1980s Buick and not a sports car. Buick was pressured into ending Grand National production by General Motors because they were outperforming the Corvettes that Chevrolet was making at the time, and they didn't want their companies top sports car to be outdone by a Buick, a car brand mostly associated with elderly drivers.
9. Chevy Nova
The Chevy Nova was a compact car made during the muscle car era of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Nova SS was the performance variant, and it was one of the smallest muscle cars ever built. Engine options on the Nova SS were V8s and produced 300 horsepower or more. The most powerful Nova was the Yenko Nova, which was a specially outfitted Nova with a 427 cubic inch engine.
8. Subaru Forester 2.5XT
The next time you think about racing a Subaru Forester, make sure it isn't the Forester 2.5XT, which is the performance version of the family-carrying grocery-getter with a turbocharged engine similar to that found in the Impreza WRX STi. These cars are quick, even though they might look boring. Proceed racing them with extreme caution.
7. AMC Hornet SC 360
Starting in 1971, AMC made a muscle car named the AMC Hornet SC 360. This car was powered by a 5.9-liter V8 engine making between 250 and 300 horsepower, depending on options. The only thing that gave this car away as a possible muscle car was the hood scoop. Otherwise, you'd have no way of guessing that it could do a quarter mile in under 15 seconds and handled amazingly well thanks to its light weight.
6. Mercury Marauder
Lasting just two model years, the Mercury Marauder was a high-performance variant of the Mercury Grand Marquis. This car was a muscle sedan, similar in concept to what Chevrolet tried to do in the mid-1990s with the Impala SS. The Marauder had a V8 with dual overhead cams making over 300 horsepower. These cars are most often found in all black, including the grille, which would have been chrome on the Grand Marquis. It might look like it belongs to a government official, but these cars are seriously fast.
5. Plymouth Duster
Dusters went on sale in 1970 and were related to the Plymouth Valiant. Some Dusters were just slow, compact economy cars. Others were built with a V8 engine as large as 5.6 liters. The Duster 340 was a serious muscle car despite its size and will frustrate the hell out of people who soup up their Dodge Chargers with big Hemi engines only to eat the dust of these much cheaper Dusters.
4. Chevrolet Impala SS (7th Generation)
The 7th generation of the Impala was produced from 1994 through 1996. These Impala SSs were muscle sedans designed for people who needed speed and lots of interior space and room in the trunk. These cars were related to the Chevrolet Caprice police package, but with an upgraded LT1 engine. Although the transmissions on the Impala SS were not robust enough to handle all the power from the engine, many owners have since swapped them out for something more performance-oriented.
3. Saab 9-5 Aero
Although it might not look too different from a standard Saab, the Saab 9-5 Aero introduced in 2000 is a sports car in the body of a European compact. Featuring a 230 horsepower turbocharged engine and sport-tuned suspension, these cars are often used as police vehicles in Sweden. Private owners have also found ways to get a lot more horsepower out of the engines, so some of the 9-5 Aeros you find out on the street are a lot faster than the already fast factory models.
2. Ford Taurus SHO
The Ford Taurus SHO came about because Ford had a massive surplus of small but powerful Yamaha engines that they had ordered for a car that was canceled before they could start production. With all these engines sitting around, they figured why not drop them into their most popular passenger car, the Ford Taurus. The result was the Ford Taurus SHO or Super High Output. These cars had well over 200 horsepower and plenty of torque and can outrun many of the sports cars from the same period. The best part is that they look just like the Ford Taurus except for the "SHO" embossed on the rear bumper.
1. Shelby GLHS
The top sleeper car of all time is the Shelby GLHS. The best part about these cars is that they are based off the Dodge Omni, which were compact economy cars that seemed to be everywhere in the 1980s. The Omni was slow and ugly, but the Shelby GLHS added a turbocharged I4 engine and could do a 1/4 mile run in under 15 seconds. These cars could go faster than their speedometers could even indicate, reaching top speeds in the 140s.
What's your favorite sleeper car?
Charlie on October 22, 2019:
What can you tell us about the AMC Javelin
Espn on December 29, 2014:
Could you write about Phsciys so I can pass Science class?
Zah on November 02, 2014:
Buick Grand National, blew away corvette and only had a 3.8 V6----yes a V6! They should have let those Buick guys out of the cage.
boostedbastarf on September 07, 2014:
There was no 92 aero, there was a 92x which was the saabaru. The 93 sedan post 03 was just a impalibu (epsilon). The 95, especially the pre gm ones can handle around 500 hp on stock block.
Lost in the woods on April 21, 2014:
1966 Pontiac Tempest 2 door hard top with the cooper paint job. Over head cam 6. 4 barrel carb, 4 speed hand shaker. Limited slip diff. 396 Novas didn't like me one bit At the line take her to 4500 and side step the clutch. She just squat and go.
strkngfang on December 17, 2013:
Great hub, especially for us car lovers. The Buick Grand National is still my favorite, talk about a wolf in sheep clothing.
RADERKNOWSBEST on December 05, 2012:
98-04 regal gs/ pontiac gtp/Bonneville ssei
wetard from Illinois on February 09, 2012:
Great Hub! I noticed you mentioned the AMC SC360 Hornet, what about the 1968-1970 MX, and the 1969 Hurst S/C Rambler, and 1970 Machine?
Sorry, but I am an AMC/ Rambler guy
Irish Spectre on December 07, 2011:
...glad to see the Merc. Marauder listed. I've got a black, bone stock '03 that packs a punch, claws the road, and sounds awesome to boot; to call it fun to drive is a big understatement.
The mid '80's Ford LTD LX, w/ the 5.0 HO engine is another one, as is the Buick Roadmaster w/ the Corvette engine.
rom on October 31, 2011:
mazda GTR also a sleeper car..carrying 210 bhp on the 1.8 liter engine, best hatch ever!!!
Bullwhacker on September 25, 2011:
My grandmother had an Omni and that car would go like a japed ape after a banana..
Five speed with a two barrel holly and allot of guy were just staring with their mouths open.
I just bought a 1990 model and things are going to get interesting as I'm going to make this car a sleeper and see what's it going to do with the rice-boys in their toys. LoL...
Brett Foster from Tallahassee, Florida on July 17, 2011:
Very cool hub!
grease monkey on June 30, 2011:
I knew about all these cars accept the Shelby GLHS. I definitely love the concept of a sleeper and am in the process of turning on old chevy pick-up into one. I know its not original but it's all I got for now. Cool site.
Jason R. Manning from Sacramento, California on June 12, 2011:
Another worthy mention would be Grandpa's 1995 Buick Riviera Supercharged. Looks like another unassuming boat. I still like coming back to this hub to view these cars. Thanks.
FlyingYellowBrick on May 26, 2011:
I think the 95 Volvo T5R should have made this list. Most people know the Nova or the Hornet so no surprises but when a stock Volvo lays down a strip of rubber it's a surprise for most.
I am DB Cooper (author) from Whereabouts unknown at this time on April 21, 2011:
I think the Lotus Omega would have to be modified to look less sporty to qualify as a sleeper. Remove the spoiler, add a less aggressive front bumper, and remove all Lotus badging and it might fool some people into thinking it's a regular old commuter car from the early 90's.
tomfrombelgium on April 21, 2011:
i like us cars but the best sleeper is "lotus omega or lotus carlton" from 1991
it's a family car that looks like opel omega but has a lotus engine (377 hp) . it's gettin rare these days.
0-100 in 5.2 sec, top speed 290 km/h
Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on March 01, 2011:
The Merc Marauder of course!
Darren on January 29, 2011:
kevinwang128 on January 26, 2011:
Chevrolet Impala SS would be my pick XD
Rocco on January 16, 2011:
Grand National, i remember mine. I killed it, being my first car. Not grandma's ordanary boat of a car. As for Pontiboy and Harris, Grand prix wasn't a sleeper to my eyes. They had that long hood-short deck shape made it look fast too. The monty didn't look fast when it came out, though, looked like a 2-door sedan. Why aint that there?
Harris on January 16, 2011:
I agree with pontyboy, 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix. 390 horses in a friggen luxury car. Sweet. Grand National was nice too.
Srsairbags on January 13, 2011:
Saab 9-2 aero = wrx impreza under skin
AskAshlie3433 from WEST VIRGINIA on December 31, 2010:
I really like the SHO. They are a lot of things you can do to that car. My cousin had one and it has some power. Truly under rated.
Pontyboy on December 08, 2010:
What about the '69 Grand Prix, I hit 138 in mine!
kschang from San Francisco, CA, USA on November 20, 2010:
I was think of a Volvo S70 T5 myself... I don't think the R version ever made it to the US. :)
Lew on November 01, 2010:
How about a V8 Miata?
Jason R. Manning from Sacramento, California on October 31, 2010:
As a former owner of a 05 Subaru Legacy GT, slightly modified, these cars are a basket of fun I only similarly experienced with the Mach One I had, the only difference is I never met any car I felt safe traveling 70+ mph on loose dirt roads until my Scooby.
It is questionable if you want to mention the 93 Mark VIII, it was pretty awesome out of the box for such a large coupe. Cool hub.
Derrick on October 30, 2010:
I think everyone is forgetting the ULTIMATE sleeper car of all time. The 1991 Dodge Spirit R/T. Looks like grandmas everyday grocery getter...but it will put most cars to shame in the 1/4 mile. If you sleep...you've already lost!
I am DB Cooper (author) from Whereabouts unknown at this time on October 21, 2010:
@WEEBEDNA: Absolutely could have included the Outback XT. Those cars are incredibly fast considering they don't have that kind of reputation. If I ever expand this list to 20 it'll surely be on there.
I am DB Cooper (author) from Whereabouts unknown at this time on October 21, 2010:
@ AlBrit: Agreed, although I think there are a few cars that got the 429CJ that could be considered sleepers.
WEEBEDNA on October 21, 2010:
Include the Outback XT. I can keep up with the newer Mustang GT's no problem.
AlBrit on October 20, 2010:
I think you have forgotten some like the 1970s Ford ranchero GT with the 429 c.i. Cobra Jet Engine....
random idiot on July 30, 2010:
my favourite car and also favourite sleeper will be the 1967 ford thungerbird 428.underrated and neglected, its cheap fast and looks mean but slow. still that's proved wrong when traffic loghts go green. it was in fact the sleeper of the year in dont remember when and where.
Micky Dee on April 20, 2010:
I guess the Chevy SS and the GTO were expected to be rough and ready, huh? These other cars were "calmly appearing"! Great hub!
Mic on April 19, 2010:
What about the 2004 through 2006 Pontiac GTO's? They were fast but looked pretty much like a typical sedan of the day . . .