Hooniverse Asks: What's the Most Surprising Car To Have a Racing Pedigree?

Just as people will invariably gamble over the outcome of any event, so too will competitive types race damn-near anything. There have been bar stool races, beer cooler races, ostrich races, you name it.
When it comes to cars too, people will race pretty much anything with wheels and so much as a downward incline and a hint of a tail wind. That said, not every car ever made could be considered a contender just by meeting the most basic requirements. As example, you probably wouldn’t want to race in any way a 1976 Chevy Caprice hardtop with its grotesque weight and 145-bhp base V8, although you might want to have one around to sleep in between races.
That being said, there have been a number of cars over the decades that have had surprising careers on the track. Maybe not ultimate success there, but they generated enough enthusiasm that people gave them the old college try. What we’re looking for today is a compendium of cars that it is surprising to discover have just such a racing pedigree. What do you think are the most incongruous cars to ever go racing?

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71 responses to “Hooniverse Asks: What's the Most Surprising Car To Have a Racing Pedigree?”

    1. Wayne Moyer Avatar
      Wayne Moyer

      I like how all these years later they are being used in 24 hours of LeMons.

    1. GTXcellent Avatar

      I’d say pretty much all of AMC – Here’s the great Bobby Allison and his Matador that actually managed to take the checkered flag a handful of times

  1. Maymar Avatar

    If just because I owned a couple of these Accents and absolutely hated them, and wish some of the rally pedigree could’ve made its way to the production model.

    1. smokyburnout Avatar

      I’ve actually seen one of these run in the States! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7b12514146352234c17154af9e42cc90c80d26e7bcf7244ea9ee5c65091ef2b5.jpg Dunno if they ever managed to sell it on again http://rhys-millen-racing.myshopify.com/pages/cars-for-sale

  2. fede Avatar

    the tail fin inventor (or at least the one that made it popular)

      1. Fuhrman16 Avatar

        Numbers are hard.

      2. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        The French called it ‘Il monstre’ for some reason.

      3. desmo Avatar

        And it has negative fins for the downforce.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      Why is racing a sports car so weird?

      1. Fred Talmadge Avatar
        Fred Talmadge

        Always thought of them more as personal luxury cars rather than actual sport cars. Did they race any Nash’s? Let us Google.

    2. HuntRhymesWith Avatar

      That’s at the Pittsburgh Vintage GP, isn’t it?

  3. Papa Van Twee Avatar
    Papa Van Twee

    That people could not only race Saturns, but win with them, should be a shock to most people.

    1. Kiefmo Avatar

      Whelp, that plastic body is good for something — weight savings!

    2. HuntRhymesWith Avatar

      One of the best recent Jalopnik pieces tells a great hypothetical Saturn story:

  4. P161911 Avatar

    A Jaguar XK-120 won a NASCAR Grand National Race in 1954, Nascar’s first road race.

  5. Kiefmo Avatar

    Having owned this one (the Dodge-branded one, but who’s counting?), and loved bombing it down dirt roads impersonating Bo and Luke, I was surprised to discover it was road raced for a brief time.

    1. outback_ute Avatar

      Pickup racing is back, in NZ. The V8 ute racing series in Australia will be replaced by mid-size pickups this year or next too. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7c159fd16553124529dd9700d00f18c81a769051108e9fcbd6afecab917519e1.jpg

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      That sure is weird. Did it race against itself, behind red velvet curtains?

      1. dr zero Avatar
        dr zero

        Wouldn’t the curtains have been iron?

        1. Sjalabais Avatar

          Not for ZIL owners.

        1. Sjalabais Avatar

          This is beautiful, and a brilliant suggestion in its own right.

  6. ptschett Avatar

    The Dodge Stratus from the short-lived North American Touring Car Championship.

    1. caltemus Avatar

      Came here for this, was not dissapointed. This just was on bring a trailer a year or two ago for sale

    1. Vairship Avatar

      So..the movie Cannonball Run was essentially a documentary? 😉

  7. Batshitbox Avatar

    The Plymouth / Dodge Neon. A surprising car all around, my parents are still driving one in New England.

    1. JayP Avatar

      Light car, good power. It was THE small car to beat at the autox.

  8. Wayne Moyer Avatar
    Wayne Moyer

    I’m going to say it’s the classic Mini’s racing in the WRC against cars with much larger engines. They were wildly outclassed and would still pull off miracles..

    1. CraigSu Avatar

      I would have to throw SAAB into the mix for the same reasons as Mini. Not sure which would be considered the biggest surprise, however.

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      At least Eric Carlsson got a beer out of his times racing Saabs.

  9. Sjalabais Avatar

    23 hp two stroke Trabant 601:
    It’s light on everything, power included.

  10. Tomsk Avatar

    For a couple years (1979 and ’80, mainly), the Chevy Impala/Caprice coupe – with its distinctive “bubble-back” rear window – body shape was used in NASCAR Winston Cup. This was the one Kyle Petty used in his rookie and sophomore seasons, 1979 and 1980.

  11. discontinuuity Avatar

    Most people wouldn’t think to race a two-cylinder economy car with a CVT, but the Dutch aren’t most people:

    1. Inliner Avatar

      It’s racing alright – the pedigree part would be harder to prove …

      1. Vairship Avatar

        https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/36/DAF_55_Coupe_45PS_1.jpg/220px-DAF_55_Coupe_45PS_1.jpg A DAF55 placed 17th (1st in class) in the London-Sydney marathon! Yes, some of the other cars (BMC1800) are also noteworthy, but vastly more powerful… http://www.ewrc-results.com/final.php?e=15556

      1. tonyola Avatar

        https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f9f0d3428565f858ccdb92d5510d9a2e1d6ebe778892796e82afd64c79c214f0.jpg Don’t forget the twin-engined “Terrifying Toronado” funny car.

  12. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    Rover P6 in front of the factory Porsche it lapped at Nurburgring

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      There’s also this,a Rover 2000 winning it’s class on the ’65 Monaco Rally

  13. P161911 Avatar

    How about a 1981 Chrysler Imperial in Nascar? Don’t know if it came with the Frank Sinatra collection on cassette or Corinthian Leather racing seats.

    1. ptschett Avatar

      15 years later, a Lincoln Mark VIII-bodied car didn’t quite make it into competition but did see track time in a test session.

  14. smokyburnout Avatar

    Not sure if these really count because they’re pure tube-frame cars, but I read up a bunch on the history of Trophee Andros last winter and they had some oddball entrants.
    Daewoo raced the “Nexia” for a few years. You might notice some Pontiac LeMans in that roofline.
    Aixam-Mega, which at the time in the mid-90s was not just a maker of heavy quadricycles but the constructor of the Mega Track off-road supercar, entered with the Mega Club, which on the road was not mid-engine 4WD but a Citroën AX-based beach buggy.
    More recently, Dacia ran few a few years, not with the Sandero sadly, but with the Duster and then the Lodgy van.

  15. outback_ute Avatar

    1970 World Cup Rally. Special points for the over-the-roof exhaust! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/001d9f85059ad16cf51b9230a67fccf35ac90e98bbe5d200542bd8757d1f4393.jpg

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      How about a Paris-Dakar Corniche?,(based on a Toyota pickup) And at the other end of the scale a Paris Dakar Smart ForTwo, (based on a Polaris XP900)

  16. outback_ute Avatar

    When the 1950’s Round-Australia Trials were described using terms like “car-breaker”, “horror stretches” and barely saw any bitumen or even roads in some cases, would you like to run an MG TD?

  17. outback_ute Avatar

    How would you like to drive from London to Sydney in this? (1977 London-Sydney Marathon, Leyland/Mini Moke) https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4ea48da14ce097d538fd5d66374436d543eed1af2816f78b5709e5f03be4b8af.jpg

  18. outback_ute Avatar

    How about a 1920’s Rolls Royce, run in the Ampol Trials. It was no joke either, coming 5th outright in 1957. Second photo shows why the driver was called Granny Brown. The brilliant part of the story is that the car cost £450 but they won £1300 in prizemoney!

  19. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    The Toyota Prius GT300 in Japan’s Super GT series. Still a hybrid electric but now with a 3.4 litreToyota V8 from the LMP effort.

  20. crank_case Avatar

    Skoda took the 1300cc Class in the RAC Rally (a WRC round), 17 years in a row and punched above their weight with a budget that wouldn’t have kept the bigger teams in tea and biscuits.

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