The Top 10 Scariest-Handling Cars of All Time
Today, in case you didn’t get the memo, is the one day of the year that our society sets aside for dressing up as someone (or something) we aren’t, going door-to-door while dressed up in search of free candy and, of course, scaring each other silly. Whether it’s sneaking up on someone and shouting “BOO,” watching a horror movie or two, or watching some buzzkill upon whose door you knocked place a box of raisins or some other healthy snack in your bag (Seriously, you have 364 other days each year on which to try and force your anti-sweets agenda upon our youth…), there’s plenty of fright to go around on All Hallows’ Eve.
However, none of the aforementioned activities really involve anyone being in mortal peril. We’re led to believe that fright of being in genuine danger is more severe than anything brought on by artificial bringers of terror. So if you really in the market for a good spooking, try to wrangle some seat time in any of the following 10 automobiles. As far as we’re concerned, these machines boast(?) handling that’s more unstable and more unpredictable than anything else on the road; forget Christine and The Car, these are real-life rides that, after a session of “spirited” driving, you’d swear were actively plotting your demise.
Porsche 911 Turbo (930)
It may be a well-behaved sports car in its current 991 form, but in the early days, the Porsche 911 was quite treacherous when pushed hard, particularly if you were to abruptly lift off the gas on corner entry. But compared to the initial 911 Turbo (codenamed 930), the original 911s are AWD slot cars with magnets on the bottom. Installing a turbocharger on a larger 3.0L air-cooled flat-six yielded 256 horsepower in European trim, or about 100 ponies more than the regular 911’s non-turbo 2.7L unit.
It all worked reasonably well in a straight line, but Ferdinand help you if you encountered a turn: Not only did the Porsche 930 still have the lift-throttle snap oversteer of its more pedestrian sisters, but also massive oversteer on exit. You see, there was so much turbo lag that the throttle basically functioned as an on-off switch…an on-off switch with a delay of a couple seconds. The turbo lag (coupled with abnormally tall gearing due to the fact Porsche chose to equip the car with a 4-speed rather than a 5-speed manual transmission for reliability reasons) meant it was super slow if you waited until corner apex to get back on the gas. Consequently, many 930 buyers tried hitting the go pedal early, figuring that by the time the turbo spooled up and unleashed its full fury, they’d already have the steering wheel straightened out again. Sometimes, this technique worked. But usually, it ended with a “Whale Tail”-first trip into the trees.
Enshrined in our fantasy collection though it may be, the Caparo T1 is more nightmare than dream in most situations. As is the case with the formula cars that inspired it, the T1’s tires and brakes need to be warm before they can provide the driver with decent response; of course, to put heat into those components, you have to drive like a coked-up caveman, which is a dicey proposition until they’re up to proper operating temperatures! Quite the Hellerian conundrum, that.
And let’s not forget that the kooky Caparo is also designed to take advantage of aerodynamic downforce, a thing the wings and bodywork only generate when the car is traveling above a certain speed. Said speeds are fairly easy to achieve on a race track, but decidedly less so when, say, negotiating a roundabout in heavy traffic.
Dodge Viper RT/10
When Dodge rolled out the Viper RT/10 Concept at the 1989 Detroit Auto Show, the press and the public were in awe of this latter-day Shelby Cobra. However, deep down, they all knew there was no way Dodge and parent company Chrysler would ever go ahead and put something so outrageously brutal and raw into production…right? Of course, we now know that Chrysler did indeed have the cajones to add this rowdy roadster, 8.0L V10 and all, to its portfolio.
However, just because a car reaches production status, doesn’t mean it has to behave like one. In the case of the first-gen Viper, things like comfort, heat management (Side pipes + bare legs contacting door sills = OUCH), and foul-weather compatibility seemed to be of little or no concern. But it was the driving dynamics that really took the cake. Sure, it had fat tires and fully-independent suspension, but it also had 400 horsepower and 465 lb.-ft of torque. Oh, and zero electronic safety nets. Unlike Mr. T, the Viper does not pity the fool (or anyone else, for that matter).
In late 1985, American consumers were introduced to a diminutive Japanese Jeep-alike called the Suzuki Samurai. Its marriage of light weight, compact dimensions, affordable price and proper 4×4 hardware (read: live axle suspension front and rear and a low-range transfer case) immediately endeared it to off-roading junkies, and sales exploded accordingly.
Consumers Union, on the other hand, was decidedly not a fan of Suzuki’s pipsqueak SUV. The agency concluded after a 1988 test that the Samurai was at a high risk for rolling over during extreme evasive maneuvers. Suzuki decided to sue for libel (eight years later, we might add), contending that CU altered its normal avoidance test procedure in an attempt to get the Samurai to flip. Eight years after the lawsuit was filed, the two entities settled out of court. While we think CU could have chosen the words of its review a bit more carefully, the fact remains that a vehicle with a short wheelbase, narrow track and high center of gravity is guaran-frickin’-teed to be tipsy.
For much of the 1990s and 2000s, British sports car manufacturer TVR put food on the table by building wildly-hued, brutally unforgiving road rockets. As with the team that birthed the Viper, TVR’s owner and chairman at the time, Peter Wheeler, refused to install electronic driver aids in his cars, maintaining that they lulled drivers into complacency and a feeling of invincibility (The same reasoning was used to justify the omission of airbags.).
The Sagaris – the last car TVR built before entering a period of dormancy from which it is yet to emerge – followed this formula exactly. With 380 horsepower and 349 lb.-ft of torque on offer from TVR’s own 4.0L Speed Six inline-six, this rather freakish looking fastback would hang its ass end out in the corners if you so much as thought about the gas pedal. On the bright side, the U.K.’s monotonously green roadside hedgerows were made a lot more colorful by the numerous splotches of neon-, fluorescent- and color-shift-painted fiberglass that suddenly started sticking out of them…
Chevrolet Corvair (First Generation)
Perhaps no car has a more widely-held reputation for evil handling than the Chevrolet Corvair. Most people know about its radical-for-an-American-car rear-engine design, and how an ambitious young lawyer named Ralph Nader made it the head scapegoat in his book Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile. But just why did the Corvair garner such a bad reputation?
Turns out it was a combination of factors. First, Chevrolet recommended that the front tires have less air in them than the rears, which would help skew the Corvair’s balance more toward understeer than oversteer. Alas, most owners and service station attendants just assumed that the fronts and rears should be inflated to the same pressure like a conventional car. Secondly, the beancounters nixed engineering’s plan to make a front anti-roll bar standard equipment, which would have done even more to keep the car’s rump in line.
But the original Corvair’s biggest bugaboo was arguably the swing axle rear suspension, even though it was widely used by European brands at the time. Because swing axles don’t have a pivot point at the spindle (i.e. the wheel is always at a 90° angle to its halfshaft), camber angle varies depending on how loaded or unloaded that corner is. For 1964, the Corvair was fitted with a transverse rear leaf spring to help tie the two sides together and a standard front anti-roll bar, and the following year an all-new Corvair with a true independent rear suspension was introduced, but by then, the damage to the model’s (and GM’s) reputation was done.
Shelby Cobra Super Snake
A Shelby Cobra 427 is pretty unruly to begin with, but what if you were to fit that bellowing anvil of a V8 with a supercharger? Or how about two superchargers, you know, for good measure and all that jazz? Well that’s exactly what Carroll Shelby and his team did to two of these Anglo-American roadsters, fitting their 427 cubic-inch (7.0L) Ford V8s with dual Paxton centrifugal superchargers and matching them to Ford C6 3-speed automatic transmissions to create the Cobra Super Snakes.
Ol’ Shel kept one of these roughly 800 horsepower brutes for himself, and presented the other one to one of his friends, the one and only Bill Cosby. Cosby’s brief stewardship of his Cobra Super Snake ended when he decided it was literally scary-fast, though it did give him a story for his standup routine (and the title of the album that included it, 200 M.P.H.).
The Cosby car subsequently made its way north to a San Francisco area dealership, where it was bought by a chap named Tony Maxey. Not too long after that, Maxey and his Super Snake plummeted to shared watery grave after flying off a road overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Shelby’s car survives, having sold for $5 million about seven years ago. It now locked away in a private collection, ostensibly to protect it from the outside world, but also to protect the outside world from it.
We can already hear the howls of indignation: “How very effing dare you put the Gullwing on this list!” “Its tubular spaceframe chassis and direct-injection engine were years, no, decades ahead of their time!” “OMG WTF STFU UR GHEY N KNO NOTHIN ABT CARZ!!!11!!”
You done? Good. Now, hear us out: The Mercedes-Benz 300SL might have been the fastest and most sophisticated production car of the 1950s, but Mercedes-Benz stained it by fitting a high-pivot point swing axle rear suspension lifted from the company’s passenger car lines. Consequently, the iconic Gullwing coupe’s at-the-limit stability was suspect. However, just as Chevrolet eventually upgraded the Corvair’s rear end, Mercedes revised the design for the 300SL Roadster (Specifically, it lowered the pivot points and added a camber-compensating transverse spring.), which arrived for 1957 as coupe production was winding down.
Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray (C2)
Another iconic sports car of the last century, the 1963-’67 Chevrolet Corvette (C2 to its friends) was also a handful. Sure, it had a fully independent suspension and (starting in 1965) optional four-wheel disc brakes, but the Sting Ray’s tires were 6.7” (7.75” starting in 1965) wide. That wasn’t really a problem when you were rocking the base 250 horsepower (300 horsepower for ’66 and ‘67) 327 and a Powerglide, but when you stepped up to the fuel-injected 327 (1963-’65) or the mighty Big Block (396 cubic-inches in late 1965, 427 in 1966 and ’67) and a 4-speed manual transmission, those rather scrawny bias-ply donuts often had trouble coping with all that power and torque. In fact, if you look really closely at the nose of a C2 Corvette today, odds are you’ll see traces of a past repair to the fiberglass resulting from an unplanned meeting with an immovable object.
Think back to when you were young. Like, really young. Did you ever ride a tricycle? If so, did you ever try to make a hard turn at high speed? Didn’t end very well, did it? Clearly, the designers of the Reliant Robin, the last in a long line of English subcompacts, never experienced a tricycle’s behavior at 10/10ths. Why else would they have given the rear-drive economy car two rear wheels and one front wheel?
Okay, so it had a lot to do with getting the British government to classify it as a cyclecar (which allowed buyers to take advantage of tax breaks), but really, did no one in the planning meetings wonder aloud what would happen if a Robin driver tried to swerve to avoid a kid or animal dashing into the street? Certainly Jeremy Clarkson would have spoken up…