Home Cars 26 Race-Ready Road Cars That Rocked The Auto Industry

26 Race-Ready Road Cars That Rocked The Auto Industry

Vukasin Herbez March 18, 2020

Even if you aren’t a huge car enthusiast, you’ve probably heard of the term, “homologation special.” It describes special vehicles that mainstream brands build. They are road-going passenger cars they design mainly for participating in racing. Most racing championships only allow racing cars based on regular production models. So to get an advantage on the track, manufacturers often produce special limited runs of production cars.

They equip them with unusual features and specially tuned engines, transforming them into true thoroughbreds. Because homologation specials feature specially-designed racing parts, they are always more exclusive than the rest, but they are worth the investment. Read on to learn about the 26 wildest homologation specials ever produced.

26. Lancia 037 Stradale

After the enormous success of the Stratos in the late ’70s, Lancia needed a new rally weapon for the ’80s. The best candidate was the 037 Stradale. It was a pure racing car with a mid-mounted supercharged engine delivering up to 350 HP in full racing spec. However, to homologate this car for the infamous Group B rally series in 1982, Lancia needed to produce at least 200 road-going examples.

Lancia presented the 037 Stradale later that year, and the street-legal car was almost as extreme as the racing model. The Stradale featured a lightweight plastic body with a mid-mounted 2.0 or 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine producing up to 280 HP. Interestingly, most of the components in the street and racing versions were the same. Production of the 037 Stradale lasted for just two years until 1984, so they only produced 207 cars.

25. Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Jet

Ford presented the legendary 428 Cobra Jet engine in 1968 and immediately put it in the Mustang. The Mustang 428 CJ was a mid-year introduction Ford intended for drag racing, which is why they sold modest numbers. But the real drag racing special was the 50 Wimbledon white Fastbacks with the 428 CJ engine. They came with a close-ratio four-speed transmission and heavy-duty suspension Ford to qualify for NHRA rules.

Ford rated the new 428 Cobra Jet at 335 HP, but everybody knew the new big block produced more than that. The real output of race-prepared white Fastbacks was closer to the.500 HP mark. Even with less power than some competitors, the Mustang managed to win races since it was smaller, lighter, and more balanced than Mopars.

24. Ferrari 288 GTO

Exactly 22 years after the release of the original Ferrari 250 GTO, Ferrari presented the 288 GTO. It was a mid-engine car with a 2.9-liter turbocharged V8 engine that delivered 400 HP. Today, most people consider the GTO one of the best supercars ever made. But this car started its life as a homologation special.

Ferrari noticed Porsche’s success in rally racing and wanted a piece of the action. However, they didn’t have a proper car. So they developed a turbocharged monster in the form of the 288 GTO, starting the homologation process to participate in racing. But just before the 288 GTO could participate, the FIA canceled the class and made this car obsolete. Even so, the 288 GTO is still an important piece of Ferrari history.

23. Dodge Daytona/Plymouth Superbird

The NASCAR races were one of the most important battle arenas in the muscle car wars. Back in the late ’60s, superspeedways were the places of many fierce clashes between Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Plymouth, and Pontiac. But the most interesting period was in the late ’60s when NASCAR rules allowed modifications to cars to make them more aerodynamic.

The condition was to apply those changes to regular production examples and sell a limited number of such cars to the public. Most manufacturers jumped at this opportunity and created “Aero racers,” special cars homologated for the tracks. Two of the most famous are the Dodge Daytona and Plymouth Superbird.

They built these two cars for one year only, offering the Dodge in 1969 and the Plymouth in 1970. Despite looking almost identical, the Daytona and Superbird have just two things in common – the front nose cone and headlight covers. They designed both cars using a wind tunnel, adding a big wing on the back to achieve a large downforce at high speeds for the NASCAR races.

The company built a little over 500 Daytonas and around 2,000 Superbirds. When they presented the Daytona in 1969, the rules stated they had to build over 500 copies. But when they introduced the Superbird in 1970, the rules had changed. Manufacturers had to produce one car per dealership, which was exactly 1,936 cars in the case of the Superbird. Both models were successful at NASCAR, so the investment paid off. Today, the Daytona and Superbird are rare and highly sought-after pieces of muscle car history.

22. Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 COPO

Back in the late ’60s, Chevrolet was under the General Motors racing ban. This meant that no official Chevrolet product could race. However, nobody stopped Chevrolet from helping other racing teams through their “back door” programs where they developed special engines and components. In the late ’60s, the Can-Am was a popular racing series featuring prototype class cars with V8 engines. Chevrolet wanted to purpose-build a powerplant for this championship.

So in 1969, they produced an all-aluminum 427 big block they called the ZL-1. It was a high-revving, 7.0-liter V8 delivering up to 550 HP in mild tune. This monster of an engine was far more powerful than anything Mopar or Ford had at the moment. Chevy produced around 200 of those engines. They installed 69 ZL-1s in the C.O.P.O Camaro, selling them to drag racing teams. The Camaro ZL-1 looked the same as a regular 1969 Camaro, but it was so fast it was barely street legal.

21. 2016-17 Ford GT

Ford’s quest for performance and racing victories in the early 21st century is the mirror image of the Total Performance Program of the 1960s. However this time, there is no Ferrari or revenge. The new GT is a race car disguised as a road-going supercar. They installed practically every component, part, and design feature with racing in mind.

Although the new GT looks like a road-going sports car, it is truly a race car. So nobody was surprised when Ford won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2016 after a long battle with Ferrari. Ford’s success was the perfect commemorative moment for the legendary 1966 Le Mans win as they beat a red Ferrari for first place again.

20. Subaru Impreza 22B STI

As you may know, the Impreza built its reputation on rally stages all over the world. They built numerous rally specials over the years. But among all those cars, there is one immensely important model: the 22B STI. They produced it in the late ’90s in just 424 examples. The 22B STI is the Holy Grail of the Japanese car industry.

The 22B STI was not just a two-door version of the Impreza STI. It was also a special racing version that celebrated 40 years of Subaru and three World Rally Championship titles. Under the hood, Subaru installed a 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-four engine with a conservative rating of 280 HP. The car also had a racing suspension and wheels as well as an aero kit. All the 424s were right-hand drive versions.

19. Dauer 962 Le Mans

This car is possibly the most ultimate supercar they ever built. It is so extreme and fast, it could put most of the latest supercars to shame despite the fact that it is over 20 years old. They derived the 962 Le Mans from the Le Mans-winning Porsche 962 race car. Dauer, a German company, built it from 1993 to 1997. This supercar is basically a race car with some trunk space. In those days, Porsche wasn’t directly involved with Le Mans racing, but it supported small teams and companies who used their cars.

Dauer was one of those racing outfits that received help from the Porsche factory. However, the rules demanded they had to build a street version, so Dauer made 12 street-legal 962 LMs to sell to the public. The streetcar used the same engine, chassis and body style with two interesting differences.

It had narrower tires with street treads and a more powerful engine. The streetcar was more powerful than the racing models because race cars had to have air restrictors but streetcars didn’t. The Dauer 962 produced 750 HP from its 3.0-liter turbocharged flat-six engine.

18. Ford RS200

Back in the mid-80s, motorsports were all about rallying and the dangerous Group B. Group B was a part of the World Rally Championship. They featured factory prototypes loosely based on production cars, only with insane turbocharged engines and all-wheel-drive systems. The cars were crazy-fast and dangerous, yet loved by fans all over the world.

Eventually, they canceled Group B. But for a few years, manufacturers battled each other for supremacy on rally stages. This brought the public many fast road cars since car manufacturers were obligated to produce a number of road-going vehicles.

One of them was the RS200 Ford introduced in 1984 as a mid-engine, turbocharged, sports car. It featured lightweight body construction, a 2.1-liter engine producing 250 HP and two seats. It was a race car with no intention of hiding it. Thanks to all-wheel drive, it was capable of jumping from 0 to 60 mph in five seconds. They made 200 road versions they detuned from 450 HP and up to 500 HP for the race version.

17. BMW M3 GTR

Every M3 since the mid-80s until today is already German engineering ready for racing. However, in the extremely competitive world of motorsport, BMW needed a more efficient weapon. They wanted an edge against Porsche and Ferrari in the IMSA championship of the early 2000s.

For that series, BMW prepared the E46 M3. Instead of the high revving 3.2-liter, six-cylinder, the M Performance division installed a special 4.4-liter V8 engine, making the M3 unstoppable on the track. Other teams in the race series cried foul since the V8 wasn’t a production item in the M3 range. So BMW decided to create one of the craziest homologation specials ever: the M3 GTR.

The M3 GTR came with 493 HP, full racing equipment and an aero package. BMW built 10 cars but never offered them to the public. Apparently, all 10 are still in BMW ownership even though there were interested buyers at $220,000 apiece.

16. 2000 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra R

The coolest-looking fourth-generation Mustang is undoubtedly the 2000 SVT Cobra R. Again, this is a limited-edition model with the “R” designation Ford produced in only 300 copies for racecar drivers and teams. Unlike other regular Mustangs, the Cobra R featured several improvements and enhancements.

The first upgrade was the 5.4-liter V8 delivering 385 HP and 385 lb-ft of torque. The second improvement was a body kit with front and rear spoilers and side skirts. The third update included stiffer suspension and a few chassis modifications. Ford built this car for performance, which buyers got when they pressed the gas pedal.

15. Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe

Despite being in production for just two years, the Aerocoupe is one of the most interesting ’80s muscle cars. Basically, it was a regular Monte Carlo SS but with a few design tweaks to homologate it for NASCAR. Chevrolet presented the Aerocoupe option in 1986. It featured a panorama-style back window with a back spoiler. The new rear glass provided a fastback profile, which vastly improved aerodynamics on the NASCAR superspeedway tracks.

However, mechanically speaking, the Aerocoupe was identical to the regular SS. That meant its power came from a 180 HP 305 V8 engine. They only built 200 of them for the 1986 model year, but that was enough to homologate the car. In 1987, Chevrolet produced an additional 5,852 cars.

14. Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution

When you talk about the Mitsubishi Evolution, everybody thinks of the Lancer-based, turbocharged, all-wheel-drive Evo models. However, this is something different because they based this Evo on the Mitsubishi Pajero SUV from the ’90s. Mitsubishi was always a big name in off-road racing, winning numerous races.

However, in 1997, the company decided to introduce the Pajero Evolution, a special off-road version of the three-door Pajero SUV that was ready for racing. The Pajero Evo got a new suspension, a 3.5-liter V6 engine with 276 HP and Recaro seats. Some models even got a white paint job ready for the sponsor’s decals and stickers. Production lasted until 1999 and they built over 2,500 of them.

13. Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2

Domestic car buyers were surprised when Pontiac introduced an interesting 2+2 package for its popular luxury coupe in 1986. It was a muscle car the company lacked since the late ’60s and an interesting version of the boring ’80s Grand Prix. Similar to the Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe, the Grand Prix 2+2 used the same platform, rear glass, and rear spoiler for NASCAR races.

Unfortunately, Pontiac didn’t provide the 2+2 with an exciting performance for the street. All the cars got a 305 V8 delivering only 165 HP. The Grand Prix 2+2 handled much better than the Aerocoupe since it came with gas-filled shocks, stiffer springs and sway bars, as well as high-performance tires. Pontiac produced this model for two years, building 1,225 cars.

12. 1986 Buick LeSabre Grand National

You’ve probably never heard of this extremely rare model from Buick. Back in 1986, Buick wanted to race in NASCAR and homologate its sleek new LeSabre two-door model. However, they needed to produce over 100 of them so NASCAR would accept the car.

The company introduced the LeSabre Grand National and produced just over 100 copies, which was enough to get the homologation permit. Sadly, this model didn’t get the proper Grand National treatment with a turbocharged V6. Instead, it only got 150 HP from its 3.8-liter V8.

11. Lancia Delta S4 Stradale

The ’80s were a crazy time for homologation specials. One example is the Delta S4, which was one of the greatest rally cars with an equally impressive road-going version. To make its new, highly-advanced Group B rally weapon track-legal, Lancia engineers produced 200 examples of the Stradale between 1985 and 1986.

The Stradale was equally ludicrous as its racing twin. It featured a special, custom-built body that only resembled the regular Lancia Delta hatchback. The car featured space frame construction, a Plexiglass body, a full racing suspension, and a highly capable all-wheel-drive system. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine was both turbocharged and supercharged to deliver 250 HP in street trim.

10. Ford Mustang Boss 429

The mythical Mustang Boss 429 is a homologation special legend. Ford conceived it in 1969 as a pure racing engine for use in NASCAR. The Boss 429 featured a different engine architecture than the rest of Ford’s big blocks. First, it was much wider and had semi-Hemi combustion chambers. That helped it achieve higher revs and get better flow inside the head to produce more power and torque.

Factory rated at 375 HP, this unit produced over 500 HP in reality, and much more in race trim. Ford decided to put this engine into the Mustang, creating a limited production of the Boss 429. But NASCAR decided not to homologate it since they only accepted intermediate and full-size cars and the Mustang was a pony car model.

To address that issue, Ford homologated the Torino Talladega as the body and the Boss 429 as the engine. It participated in the 1969 season with Torinos and Mercury Cyclones powered by Boss 429 engines. Those cars proved successful, winning 30 out of 54 races that year.

9. Porsche 911 Carrera 2.7 RS

Today, the Carrera is a basic 911, but in 1973, it was a model designation of a special and influential car. The name originated from the famous Carrera Panamericana Mexican road race that Porsche won in the mid-50s. The factory wanted to commemorate this success by naming the new performance version for homologation.

Ever since the late ’60s, displacement of the 911 engines steadily grew. By 1973, the biggest was the 2.7-liter in RS trim that delivered 210 HP. The Carrera 2.7 RS was a fully lightweight car with a wider rear track, revised suspension, and racing instruments. The lightest and fastest 911 to date, it was the perfect racing car to conquer the world racing scene.

Porsche needed 500 examples, but since the car was so good, they built 1,580 copies. Today, all of them are highly sought-after collectors’ items with high price tags.

8. Dodge Viper GT2 Road/Race Version

To continue participating in the FIA GT Championship series, Dodge needed to produce a limited run of GT2 spec road cars. So in 1996, they released the Viper GT2 as a special homologation model.

It featured a big rear spoiler and white paint with blue racing stripes. It came with a 460 HP engine, which was just a slightly upgraded standard unit. The Viper GT2 was lighter than the standard model since it featured less interior equipment and racing details.

7. Renault 5 Turbo

The early ’80s brought the widespread popularity of turbocharged engines in various forms of motorsports. But to participate in racing, car manufacturers needed to produce turbo cars. One of the companies that went almost too far was Renault with its R5 Turbo. The essence of the R5 Turbo was a mid-mounted, 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivered 160 HP.

Renault redesigned and reengineered the whole car just to move the engine from the front hood to behind the driver. The rear track was much wider. The result was an extremely fast, dangerous, and fun hot hatch as well in one of the wildest homologation specials ever made.

6. Panoz Esperante GTR-1

You might remember the Panoz Esperante GTR-1 from those cult racing games like Gran Turismo or Midtown Madness. This American supercar was the talk of the racing community in the late ’90s. However, despite the promising start, Panoz built only a few racing versions and one street-legal example.

The technology behind the Esperante was clearly for racing purposes. It had a space frame body, lightweight panels, two seats, and a front-engine towards the middle for the best weight distribution. The characteristic front was aerodynamically efficient.

Under the hood was a Roush-built, Ford-derived V8 producing over 500 HP they mated to a sequential gearbox. Panoz successfully raced the Esperante all over the world but only built one street version. However, there is a rumor the company will build a new street-legal Esperante GTR-1 for approximately $1 million.

5. BMW M3 E30

When most people think of BMW performance, they think of “M” cars. Among the dozens of models that wore the M badge, the M3 E30 is the most iconic. Produced from 1985 to 1992, the E30 M3 was a homologation special BMW designed to race in the European Touring Car Championship.

The heart of the E30 M3 was the S14 straight-four engine with 2.3-liters of displacement. It delivered 195 HP but later produced 215 HP. Since the car was light, its performance and road-holding were impressive. In fact, the M3 turned to be the most successful racing car in Touring racing history. Road-going variants later received the bigger 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that developed 238 HP, a hefty number even by today’s standards.

4. Mercedes CLK GTR

In the late ’90s, Mercedes was enjoying its newfound performance image courtesy of AMG. With that market success came the need for racing, so Mercedes set its mind on the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans race. To participate in the 1997 Le Mans 24-hour, AMG prepared a fully-operational prototype with a 6.9-liter V12.

According to the rules, Mercedes had to build at least 25 road-going versions before it could race. So AMG produced 20 coupes and six roadsters, all with a race-prepared 612 HP V12 engine in the back.

The cost of a new CLK GTR was over 1.5 million dollars, which earned it the title of the world’s most expensive passenger car in 1998. Unfortunately, the CLK GTR was not successful in racing. Soon, they canceled the racing class and the car became obsolete. Today, it’s a highly-valued collector’s item.

3. Toyota Celica GT-Four

Toyota produced many Celicas over the years, but in 1994, the company introduced the best one yet. Unfortunately, they only sold in Japanese, Australian, and select European markets. The Celica GT-Four ST205 came with lots of rally technology underneath the body.

It had a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 255 HP. The intelligent all-wheel-drive system came straight from a racecar. Also, it had a specially trimmed suspension, aero package, wheels, and interior. Toyota limited production until 1999.

2. Dodge Dart 413 Max Wedge

The early ’60s marked Dodge’s entry to the drag racing scene with several models. The first was the brutally-fast Dart 413 Max Wedge. The 1962 Dart was a mid-size family model with six-cylinder and V8 engines. It was a high-volume car with no racing pretensions until Dodge squeezed the big, high-compression 413 Wedge engine with up to 420 HP into it.

It came with a limited-slip differential, several rear-end ratios, heavy-duty suspension, and a lightweight body. With its stripped interior, the Dodge Dart 413 was a true muscle car for the dragstrip. The 413 Max Wedge package was more expensive, but popular with amateur racers too.

1. Ford Mustang Cobra R

Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT) department was responsible for some of the fastest muscle cars of the last 25 years. So, in 1995, they presented another Cobra R. This time, they made 250, selling them to individuals with a racing license or private team.

Under the hood was a tuned 5.8-liter V8 engine that delivered 300 HP and 356 lb-ft of torque. The Cobra R was a light car, going from 0 to 60 mph took 5.2 seconds. That made it the fastest accelerating American production model at the time.

The Cobra R was available only in white, but it marked the start of the SVT division that turned ordinary Mustangs into land rockets.

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