The first automobile race, as the old yarn claims, occurred shortly after the second automobile was built. While the accuracy of this anecdote is, to put it gently, questionable, it wouldn’t at all be a reach to assume the first race took place on a public road. It would take a few years before someone would suggest racing cars on dirt ovals designed for horses, and the first racecourse designed specifically for motorcars – England’s Brooklands circuit – wasn’t constructed until 1907, a full 21 years after Karl Benz received a patent for his self-propelled tricycle that was steered with a tiller from the comfort of a park bench.
But even after the invention of permanent circuits, street racing has endured; sadly, there are far fewer legal street races (with roads closed to traffic and temporary barriers set up) staged than there are illegal ones. While we here at Sub5Zero unequivocally do not endorse illegal street racing (mainly because our legal department – which is comprised of a magic 8-ball and a law school textbook written around the time Ralph Nader started potty training – says we shouldn’t), we realize we can’t reach out of your monitor and bitchslap you for deciding to do it anyway. If you truly insist on endangering the safety of yourselves and others and risking getting your ass thrown in the pokey (You do know why they call it that, right?), at least do so in something that has a decent chance of winning. Something like one of these fine rides.
One of the biggest – if not the biggest – keys to victory in the “stoplight grand prix” is getting a good launch. And few street legal cars launch with the kind of ferociousness that the Nissan GT-R does. The new one has 530hp and a please-don’t-call-it-launch-control function to get it out of the hole, but the speed just. Keeps. Coming. Not bad for a nearly two-ton 2+2 coupe.
Ford Shelby GT500
No list of top notch street-racing hardware would be complete without at least one muscle car, and the current leader of Ford’s Mustang herd, the Shelby GT500, is one of the best you can buy new. The all-aluminum supercharged 5.4L V8 cranks out 550hp, and is matched with a take-it-or-leave-it 6-speed manual transmission. However, the most valuable component as far as street racers are concerned might very well be the solid rear axle, which is far less susceptible to wheel hop than most independent rear suspension designs.
Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3
Staying with the muscle car theme, one of the first to come out of Germany was the Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3. By taking the 6.3L M100 V8 from the company’s flagship 600 and dropping it into the W109 S-Class, Mercedes-Benz engineers created one of the all time greatest sleepers (cars that are much faster than they look).But for one “6.3” badge on the trunk, you’d think it was just another long wheelbase S from the late ‘60s or early ‘70s. Only when the light turned green would your rival know you were packing a 300hp punch.
Buick Park Avenue Ultra
Like the mighty Merc seen above, the Buick Park Avenue Ultra was a wolf in high-society sheep’s clothing. Looks-wise it wasn’t that different from the one that carted your grandparents to and from Denny’s, but features a supercharged version of the standard model’s 3.8L V6 that produces 240hp and 280 lb.-ft of torque. No, it isn’t scorchingly fast, but it’s quick enough to sneak up on and humiliate the average cocky Civic driver who thinks his Type-R badges and fartcan exhaust makes him invincible (especially if you can score a Park Avenue Ultra with curb feelers or an external wheelchair rack).
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is born out of the Japanese firm’s success in rallying. And in rallying, acceleration and grip are key to setting fast times, so it’s no surprise the Evo is a force to be reckoned with on the street. The turbocharged 2.0L inline-four provides 291hp, and the MR version features a dual-clutch 6-speed transmission for rapid-fire shifting. It also has Bilstein struts, Eibach springs, and two piece front brake rotors, should the impromptu track on which you’re competing include some curves.
You seldom see “Volvo,” “station wagon,” and “high performance in the same sentence…unless you’re talking about the V70R. With a 300hp turbocharged 2.5L inline-5, AWD, an optional 6-speed manual, and a sophisticated multi-mode suspension system, this wagon definitely hauls more than jumbo packs of toilet paper. And unless your adversary knows what to look for, he won’t know the sort of beat-down that’s coming.
Ford Taurus SHO
When we heard Ford was reintroducing the Taurus SHO, we had our doubts about it being able to recapture the magic of the first three iterations. We needn’t have worried, because even though it’s substantially chubbier and pricier than its predecessors, this baby moves. The 3.5L twin-turbo V6 makes 365hp, and there’s AWD to make sure it all gets to the pavement. Best of all, it takes a highly trained eye to distinguish an SHO from a regular Taurus.
We know what you’re thinking: What’s a car that’s often bought by senior partners in law firms and semi-retired stockbrokers doing on a list of star street racers? The answer is 11.9, because that’s how many seconds it took one to cover the standing quarter-mile when Car and Driver tested one in 2004. The 5.5L twin-turbo V12 produces 493hp and 590 lb.-ft of torque, but this car’s real calling card is being able to catapult from stoplight to stoplight…while still having toys like a retractable hardtop and massaging seats. It’s beautiful in its absurdity.
Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
While the Shelby GT500 is the current king of the modern muscle cars in terms of sheer power, it’s about to be trumped by the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. While not as subtle as it’s 1969 namesake, the 2012 Camaro ZL1 does pack a supercharged 580hp V8 that’s not that detuned relative to the similar one found in the Corvette ZR1. Maybe it’ll be déjà vu on Woodward Avenue.
Porsche 911 Turbo S
If the Nissan GT-R is Godzilla, than the Porsche 911 Turbo S is Mothra. Like the Nissan, the 911 Turbo S features AWD, a dual-clutch transmission (with 7-speeds rather than 6) and a twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine (a 3.6L flat-six mounted in the rear instead of a 3.8L V6 sitting up front). Also like the Nissan, Porsche’s baddest AWD 911 reaches 60 mph faster than a great many cars can hit 30 mph, something that comes in handy when you’re trying to beat an opponent to a not-always-marked finish line.
While most of the cars on this list derive their speed from brute power and copious grip, the Caterham R500 is fast by being feathery. Like 1,116 lb. feathery. That figure looks even crazier when you factor in the 263hp Ford four-banger that supplies the power. Caterham claims the R500 does the 0-60 sprint in 2.88 seconds and tops out at 150 mph. Not bad for a car whose basic design dates back to 1957.
Mercedes-Benz R63 AMG
Regardless of what you choose to call the Mercedes-Benz R-Class – wagon, minivan, crossover, or turducken – it’s hard to call the AMG version anything other than crazy fast. With 507hp and room for six, it’s the ideal car for soccer moms who prefer to get their adrenaline highs from smoking young punks in their V6 Mustangs rather than doing the nasty with the pool guy while the kids are upstairs. Soccer moms have needs too, you know.
Dodge Caravan Turbo
Of course, the R63 AMG wasn’t the first high-po people hauler. In 1989 and ’90, the Dodge Caravan (and its Plymouth twin, the Voyager) was offered with a 2.5L turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at 150hp and 180 lb.-ft of torque. Those figures are hardly noteworthy by today’s standards, but more than respectable at the time. Better still, the engine could be paired with a 5-speed manual transmission (though it seldom was). Would it surprise you to know that at least one has been hopped up and raced? Didn’t think so.
Ford Mustang LX 5.0
We know we’ll probably catch some flak for featuring more than one Mustang, but the Fox-platform 5.0 LX is just too cool to ignore. Available in all three body styles (hatchback, notchback and convertible), the 5.0 LX featured the same 302 cubic inch (which actually works out to 4.9L) Windsor V8 as the GT, but without the GT’s flashy body kit and slatted taillight covers. And since the Fox Mustang is one of the vehicles most heavily supported by the aftermarket even today, increasing the stock 225hp figure is a piece of cake.
Bugatti Veyron Super Sport
Come on, you didn’t think we could get through this list without throwing in the fastest street legal production car, did you? Sure, other cars might be quicker off the line by virtue of weighing less and not having to deal with the lag associated with having four turbochargers, but if you’ve got a big enough budget (and the “track” consists of long enough city blocks) you really can’t go wrong (well, no more wrong than racing on public roads is) with the baddest Bugatti of all.
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