Ten Race Cars We'd Like To See Under The Christmas Tree
By Ronan Glon
December 21, 2015
To the untrained eye, the Alfa Romeo GTA looks almost exactly like the 105-series Sprint GT that it shares its basic platform with. However, a closer look reveals the GTA is built with thinner steel, it’s fitted with aluminum body panels, and it boasts a long list of mechanical modifications including an innovative twin-spark engine.
The “A” in its name stands for “Alleggerita,” an Italian word that translates to “lightened.” The GTA was developed specifically to hit the track, and it took first place in countless events on both sides of the Atlantic.
Few race cars do a better job of illustrating the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” than the Chaparral 2J. Faced with the necessity of creating downforce without adding drag, company founder Jim Hall fitted the car with a pair of snowmobile engines that spun fans installed to suck air out from under the car.
The setup was promising on paper, but the 2J – which was nicknamed Sucker Car out on the track – was plagued with mechanical issues early on in its career. To make matters worse, the SCCA accused Hall of using a movable aerodynamic device and banned the 2J near the end of the 1970 season. Hall closed his shop shortly after, but the 2J is still remembered as one of the most innovative and off-beat race cars of its era.
The Ford GT40 was the brainchild of none other than Henry Ford II. When the lengthy and complicated talks to buy Ferrari from company founder Enzo Ferrari ended abruptly in 1963, Ford decided to build an endurance race car capable of beating Maranello’s finest on the track.
Early cars suffered from quite a few teething problems, but Ford made racing history when the GT took the first three spots at the 1966 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Ford bills the limited-edition Shelby GT350R as the most track-capable Mustang ever built by the factory. Based on the GT350, the track-bound R model is powered by a 5.2-liter V8 that sends over 500 horsepower and 400 lb-ft. of torque to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual transmission.
The GT350R’s mill earns the honor of being the most powerful naturally-aspirated V8 Ford has ever produced, and the first Ford V8 fitted with a flat-plane crankshaft. Visually, the GT350R gains a more aggressive-looking front end and 19-inch wheels made out of carbon fiber. If this pony car isn’t a future classic, we don’t know what is.
The new pony car’s racing counterpart is known as the GT350R-C, a variant which made its debut as a mid-season entry into the Continental Sports Car Challenge field earlier this year. While the drivetrain remains largely unchanged, the GT350R-C sees some revisions to the Shelby’s suspension, as it’s fitted with revised spring rates and antiroll bars, lower ride height, unique track-tuned alignment settings, revised bushings and cross-axis ball joints in the front.
Over 25 years after the original model was introduced, the Mazda MX-5 Miata remains the go-to option for enthusiasts who want to have a blast on the track without breaking the bank. The purpose-designed Cup car ships straight from the factory with a roll cage, upgraded brakes, a sport-tuned suspension, and a stripped-down interior.
Billed as the ultimate plug-and-play race car, the MX-5 Cup car can compete in SCCA club races and it’s eligible to race in Mazda’s new MX-5 Cup racing series.
The Peugeot 205 T16 was born to compete in Group B rallying. When the category was canceled after the 1986 season, Peugeot Sport made several modifications to the 205 T16’s design and entered it in the Paris – Dakar.
At the time, skeptics believed Peugeot was simply trying to off-set the cost of developing the T16, and few believed a Group B car could successfully take on the grueling Paris – Dakar. Surprisingly, a T16 driven by Ari Vatanen won the event in 1987, and again the following year with Juha Kankkunen behind the wheel.
The 919 Hybrid spearheaded Porsche’s long-awaited return to the world of endurance racing. It uses a gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain made up of a turbocharged 2.0-liter V4 engine that makes over 500 horsepower and an Engine Generator Unit (EGU) that provides more than 400 horsepower. The V4 spins the rear wheels via a seven-speed sequential transmission, while the EGU uses energy stored in a lithium-ion pack to zap the front wheels.
Porsche built the 919 out of lightweight materials such as carbon fiber and aluminum in order to offset the weight added by the bulky battery pack. The tremendous effort that the Stuttgart-based firm put into building a cutting-edge race car paid off last April when the 919 beat Toyota and Audi in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Developed only for racing, the Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport is a turn-key racer that ships ready to hit the track with a welded-in roll cage, racing seats with six-point harnesses, and forged wheels wrapped by Michelin slick tires.
While the Cayman is going turbo next year, the GT4 carries on with a naturally-aspirated 3.8-liter flat-six engine that spins the rear wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch transmission controlled by shift paddles. Suspension components borrowed from the bigger 911 GT3 help pilots make the most of the six’s power.
Volvo has turned to downsizing and electrification to slash its fleet’s CO2 emissions. While the car maker’s policy is good for the environment, it means we likely won’t be able to buy a new Volvo powered by a V8 engine ever again.
The exception to the downsizing rule is the heavily-modified S60 that competes in Australia’s V8 Supercars series. It’s fitted with a heavily-modified naturally-aspirated V8 that generates 650 horsepower, enough to send the S60 from zero to 62 mph in 3.2 seconds – about on par with a Porsche 911 GT3 RS – and on to a top speed of nearly 190 mph.