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”), Shelby made this boxy little number, that looks anything but fast at first glance, GLH-Some more. 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.
Cadillac CTS-V Wagon: Cadillac’s CTS-V sedan is impressive in itself, but no one expects to get passed by a wagon. If you do, there’s no shame in it, as long as it’s adorned with the V badging. The CTS-V has a wicked combination of serious performance and great looks, with low production numbers that keep the values and demand high. It’s powered by a 6.2-liter LSA V-8 derived from the engine that powered the mighty Corvette ZR1, and that fire-breather was rated at 556 horsepower and 551 lb-ft of torque.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.