One of the best ways to add some sizzle to a new model is to name it after a race track. Even if it isn’t an overtly sporty vehicle, bestowing upon it the name of a motorsports venue can at least make it sound less dull than it is. Of course, some vehicles are just so lame that not even the name of a racing circuit can save them. Yes, we’re talking about you, Chrysler Sebring and last generation Pontiac Le Mans.
But what about the speedway namesake rides at the other end of the scale, i.e. the crème de la crème? We were able to name at least 10 top flight autos that happen to have autodrome monikers. Here, in no particular order, they are.
Auto racing predates the dawn of the 20th century, having begun on public roads and later, in this country anyway, adding horse racing tracks. It wasn’t until 1907 that the world’s first venue designed specifically for motorsports opened near Brooklands, England. The circuit featured a high-banked, kidney-shaped super speedway, a variety of road course configurations, and a super steep test hill.
Unfortunately, the track closed at the outbreak of World War II, never to reopen. However, a large percentage of the speedway’s banking still exists, and there’s a museum to help keep the track’s memory alive. And Bentley – which enjoyed quite a bit of success at the track – built not one but two models named Brooklands. The first, made from 1992 to ’97, was a lower priced, normally aspirated version of the Turbo R sedan. The second, offered from 2008 until last year, was a huge turbocharged, two-door hardtop coupe. If you ask us, both are fitting tributes to this pioneering racing venue.
Though quite a few people know about Maserati’s success in sports car racing, not too many folks know that the Modenese marque won back-to-back Indianapolis 500s in 1939 and 1940. This feat is even more remarkable when you consider it was done with the same car (an 8CTF dubbed the Boyle Special) and driver (future Speedway president Wilbur Shaw) both years. To this day, they are the only Indy 500 wins by an all-Italian car.
No surprise, then, that the company eventually chose to commemorate the accomplishment by applying the name Indy to a production car. When introduced in 1969, this rakish 2+2 was powered by a front-mounted 4.2L V8. The following year saw a 4.7L version introduced, though both of these were eventually replaced by a slightly detuned version of the Ghibli SS’s 4.9L V8 (rated at 320hp).
GM has applied the name of Italy’s most hallowed autodromo to numerous production cars over the years, both as a model name and, in the case of the Chevrolet Corvair, a trim level. However, if we had to pick a Monza we covet the most, we would select the sharp looking Opel seen above.
Sure, it bears an uncanny resemblance to its 3-door J-Car contemporaries (Chevy Cavalier, Pontiac J2000/Sunbird, Oldsmobile Firenza and Buick Skyhawk), particularly in the roofline, but the Opel Monza (offered as the Vauxhall Royale Coupe in Britain) was a very different beast. Essentially a sports version of the brand’s Senator flagship sedan, the Monza was rear-wheel-drive and offered with a host of engines ranging from a 2.0L inline-four to a 3.0L inline-six producing 180hp in GSE form, which closed out Monza production from 1983 to ’87.
Dodge Charger Daytona
By the spring of 1969, Dodge had had it up to here with getting its butt kicked by Ford and Mercury on NASCAR’s high speed tracks. The Charger 500 was an aerodynamic improvement over the standard Charger, but more was needed. By the time Chrysler engineers were done, the Charger 500 had sprouted a wedge-tastic nosecone, basket handle rear wing and rear facing fender scoops for front tire clearance to go with the 500’s flush rear window. The upgrades were successful, and the racing version was a rousing success on NASCAR’s super speedways, including its namesake track, Daytona International Speedway.
De Tomaso Vallelunga
Head north out of Rome and you might stumble across the Autodromo Vallelunga. With a long history hosting motorcycles, sports cars and single seaters, this road course actually started out as a 1.1 mile sand (yes, sand) oval. By the time De Tomaso introduced the Vallelunga sports car in 1964, though, the circuit had been paved and extended into a road course. As for the car, it was a small mid-engine job powered by a 1.5L Ford inline-four rated at 104hp. The Vallelunga wasn’t fast, structurally solid or popular (A grand total of 58 were made over the course of five years.), but boy, does it look cool.
Ford Torino Talladega
Curious who was administering beatdowns to Dodge on the super speedways in the ‘60s? That would be the fastback Ford Torino and Mercury Cyclone. As if the turkey shoots of the 1968 season weren’t satisfying enough, Dearborn rolled out a pair of new aero warriors for ’69. Both featured elongated noses capped by standard rear bumpers modified to fit the new fronts. The Mercury version was christened the Cyclone Spoiler, while the Ford bore the name Torino Talladega, Talladega being town home to NASCAR founder Bill France’s brand new 2.66 mile Alabama International Motor Speedway (later renamed Talladega Superspeedway).
Audi Avus Quattro Concept
Given the success that the Audi R8 has enjoyed, you might be surprised to know that it isn’t Audi’s first mid-engine supercar. Nor was the Le Mans Quattro Concept that inspired it the fist. No, before either of those came the 1991 Avus Quattro Concept. The AQC featured an aluminum chassis cloaked in polished aluminum bodywork, and was intended to be powered by a 6.0L W12 (Alas, the concept’s “engine” is a wooden dummy.).
So what’s up with the name? It comes from the AVUS (Automobil Verkehrs und Übungsstraße, or Automobile Traffic and Practice Road), an unusual racetrack/parkway through the Grunewald, a vast park and wilderness preserve on the western edge of Berlin. It hosted races from 1921 to 1998, but the most famous era was between 1937 and 1967 (with a break for WWII, natch), when the Nordkurve (North Curve) was a brick-paved sweeper with 43° (yes, forty-three degrees) of banking and no guardrail or catchfence at the top. Oh, and you would approach it after blasting down a straightway roughly six miles in length (The backstretch of the postwar layout was “only” 2.5 miles long.). Would you believe it was nicknamed the Wall of Death? Thought so.
After World War II, the United Kingdom found itself littered with suddenly superfluous airfields. Some were demolished, others became civilian airports, and many found new life as racetracks. The most famous of these is Silverstone, which has hosted racing since 1948. The following year, automotive engineer and racing driver Donald Healey introduced the Healey Silverstone. This cycle-fendered sports car featured a 2.5L inline-four engine from Riley and a spare tire that doubled as a rear bumper. Just 104 of these radical roadsters were built, and they are highly sought after.
Pontiac Le Mans
When you think of Le Mans, you probably think of low-slung European sports cars zooming through the darkness of a French summer’s night. The marketing folks at Pontiac in the early 1960s were no doubt mindful of this when they applied the name of the home of the 24 hour race to the uplevel version of the Tempest beginning in 1962, but it didn’t seem to backfire. If nothing else, it dovetailed nicely with the racing inspired names of the Bonneville and the Grand Prix, the latter also brand new for ’62. We’ll just pretend the gag-inducing Daewoo-built 1988-’93 models never happened, okay?
Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano
Enzo Ferrari was always looking for ways to give his racing teams a leg up on the competition (Some strategies were more above-the-board than others.), so few people were surprised when he ordered the construction of a private test track across the street from the Ferrari factory. Opened in 1972, the Fiorano Circuit (named for the town in which it lies) has seen scores of Ferrari road, sports and Formula 1 cars shaken down. So key has the track been to Ferrari’s history that the company named its previous front-engine V12 two-seater for it: The 599 GTB Fiorano.