The world of racing is based on innovation, and (aside from IROC and recently NASCAR), teams can come up with their own ideas (within the "formula" the sanctioning body prescribes for the season, that is). Money, fame, and the glory of victory lane is on the line each weekend.
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To achieve greatness some teams think outside of the box, while others are very careful to stick close to the rules and established designs... and then there are some teams that go all out and break the mold entirely. These are the ones that really set themselves apart. Below are ten of the coolest cars that broke the mold with their innovations.
10. Audi Quattro
Today all-wheel-drive is standard on a number of passenger cars, but in the 1980s it was a rare sight. German automobile manufacturer Audi created an all-wheel-drive system that was so effective the competition was blown away. In 1988 Audi’s all-wheel-drive 200 Quattro dominated the Trans-Am series, easily winning the title that year. Trans-Am banned both all-wheel-drive and non-American engines the following year. Getting the point that Audi's Quatros were unwanted among the slower American machines, they moved over to IMSA’s GTO class in 1989. Designing a tube-frame Audi 90 Quattro and building it within IMSA regulations, Audi dominated the field again, and like Trans Am, IMSA banned the use of all-wheel-drive cars the following season.
9. Ferrari "Breadvan"
The 'Breadvan" is a special Ferrari built in 1962 based on a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT. It was built to compete against the new 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO at Le Mans and other FIA GT races. After a number of Ferrari team members were forced to leave the company due to a dispute with Enzo’s wife, they set up their own company to take on their former employer. The "Breadvan" that they created turned out to be faster, aerodynamically superior, and better balanced than Ferrari’s 250 GTO. Being 100 kg lighter than the standard GTO helped the Breadvan stay ahead of Ferrari's GTOs at Le Mans. It retired after four hours of racing due to a broken driveshaft, but later that season the car scored two GT class victories and a class track record.
8. Tyrrell P34
The idea behind the Tyrrell P34’s quadruple front wheels was to maintain the same contact patch and achieve better grip than two wider front tires. The four smaller tires would also reduce drag in the straights to achieve a higher top speed. The car won the 1976 Swedish Grand Prix, however, its driver (Scheckter) referred to it as 'a piece of junk'. 1977 saw a redesign that added close to 200 pounds to the car, opening the door for brake and tire problems. The six-wheeled project was finally dropped, but prototypes of other six wheel machines were also considered by teams like Ferrari and Williams.
7. Chaparral 2J Sucker Car
The 2J only raced the 1970 season in the Canadian American series (Can-Am). It received its nickname the 'sucker car' due to vertical fans in the back of the vehicle; drawing air from underneath and creating suction to the ground. The suction allowed the 2J to produce up to two G's of downforce at all speeds, providing the car with traction upon acceleration and cornering. After the 1970 season the Sports Car Club of America and the FIA outlawed the 2J due to other team complaints about the car's potentially unfair advantage. There were also reports of its fans throwing stones at racers behind the 2J.
6. Herb Adams VSE “Pontoon Car”
In 1983, Herb Adams created a racecar with a giant venturi tunnel down the middle. Adams did this by placing the car’s largest and heaviest components on each side of the chassis (the driver on the left and a 5.0 Chevy 550hp engine with a 4-speed transmission on the right). The vehicle produced so much downforce it was tearing itself apart, even collapsing at one point in testing! The team dealt with this by reinforcing the chassis, but the insane amount of downforce continued to tear the car apart, leaving pieces on the track. Along with unpredictable handling, and a lack of visibility due to the driver's position, it's no wonder the car was retired.
5. Smokey Yunick “Capsule Car”
Legendary race car designer and builder Smokey Yunick came up with the concept behind the "Capsule Car". The idea was to balance the three heaviest components; the car engine, the driver, and the fuel. Properly balanced between front and rear with the engine and fuel, and with the driver positioned on the inside to improve the car's grip, the idea looked great on paper. But this car had brake issues and problems getting up the necessary speed. In the final attempt to qualify, a brake locked - resulting in a spin and a hard hit to the wall that damaged the car. New regulations were made the next year on fuel amounts that resulted in an uneven distribution of weight, making the car's design flawed for the new rules.
4. Bill Thomas Cheetah
Bill Thomas only completed 10 or 11 Cheetahs in 1963 and '64. The Cheetah weighed less than a Mazda Miata, thanks to Corvette suspension, a small-block engine, and a lightweight fiberglass body with a single-piece flip nose and a chrome-moly tube chassis. Generating more than 500 horsepower with its 377 V8, Cheetahs clocked in at 215 mph on the high banks of Daytona. Thompson originally planned to build 100 and enter production racing against the Ford Powered Cobras of Carroll Shelby but never achieved that goal. After the first few were completed, the designer left and Chevy pulled its support from the project in 1964.
3. “TV” Tommy Ivo “Showboat”
With his outgoing personality, "TV" Tommy Ivo built and set a number of records in a two-engined dragster. Surprisingly, the outgoing Ivo felt that two engines were not enough, and in 1961, Ivo created a drag racing beast that was powered by four Buick V8 engines. The four engines provided power to all four wheels. With all four V8's sucking in fuel, the all-wheel-drive dragster generated around 2000 horsepower. Nicknamed the “Showboat” the NHRA regulated the dragster to an exhibition class and limited the Top Fuel cars to one engine.
This project began as a possible new design for the IndyCar Series for the 2012 season. The DeltaWing was designed to reduce drag, while allowing for marginally faster straight and corner speeds. With half as much weight, engine power, and fuel consumption as the current Indy designs, the narrow 0.6 meter front track and a more traditional 1.7 meter rear track sets the car apart. As the name suggests, the car is shaped a little like a delta wing, and lacking any front or rear wings, downforce comes from the underbody. The DeltaWing competed in a number of series American Lemans Series. After the 2016 season, it was not possible to race with the DeltaWing, due to changed regulations.
1. 1950 Cadillac Series 61 “Le Monstre”
Early Le Mans rules permitted rebodying a standard automobile in an attempt to reduce both weight and wind resistance. Briggs Cunningham chose to streamline his Cadi to become more competitive. The French referred his car as “Le Monstre”. Le Mans officials spent hours in examination to assure themselves that the chassis was a standard Cadillac. The engine was standard too...except for a five carburetor induction system and some fine tuning. A Long Island engineer contributed to the body design and designed a scale model that was tested in a wind tunnel normally used for evaluating crop dusters. Cunningham's Cadillac "Le Monstre" had a top speed of 130 and finished 10 at Le Mans that year.