Sleepers don’t have a tangible definition that can classify each and every one. Some sleepers feature shiny paint, smooth body panels and polish up rather nicely with a good wash and coat of wax while others wouldn’t be saved by all the wax in the world. Some sleepers are mild-mannered road warriors that are a bit faster than you’d expect from their appearance while others are just downright, jaw-droopingly quick no matter what your reference for fast is. Whether the horsepower numbers are a few dozen above their perceived value or a few hundred, the reasons why sleepers are so cool vary tremendously between examples. That’s part of the reason they are so cool too; they can be any car, anywhere.
The sleeper world is a world where Volkswagen Beetles and C-10 longbeds can beat Ferraris and Lamborghinis; 500-plus cubic inch big blocks are stuffed into the least likely of places. While one builder has finally made the Toyota Prius into something respectable (hard to believe, I know), another has squeezed 1,300hp out of a second generation Camaro and yet another builder has resurrected a 40 year old electric car and made is as quick as a Tesla Roadster. The possibilities are limited only by the limits of the mind – money, time and technical aptitude permitting. Perhaps the coolest part of a sleeper theme is the surprise; you never know what to expect. Seeing a Ferrari pull up to the line, you can assume it’s going to be fast, you expect it actually. When a 40 year old 40hp no-name two-seater pulls up, you have no idea what you’re about to witness.
20 Type 2 Blues
What are the type 2 blues you ask? It’s a song you’ll sing after beating dug out by the baddest bus you’ve ever seen in your life. Nevermind the rad-roddy, rattle-can flat black exterior; the true beauty of this machine is the unique design that is concealed by the back doors, for you’ll find the source of power to be not at the rear, but occupying the entirety of the area aft of the driver’s seat. That power comes from a 468cid, sprayed big block that sings to the tune of 730hp and highly concealed despite the racket it makes rolling down the street. Features like the cargo rack conspicuously point to something a lot slower than this bus actually is.
19 64 Fleetside Sleeper
This truck earned every bit of its wear from the small dings and dents to the rotting sheet metal at the bottom of the body where years of snow service and truck duty has taken its toll; it’s a proud truck and well used for exactly what you use trucks for – hard ass work. The snow didn’t do much for its condition and after decades of hard work the GMC’s age began to show. Rather than park it once and for all, a custom-build was done with home-built, four-link rear suspension sitting on a 12-bolt rear from a 2006 Silverado. The TH400 transmission is sourced from the donor truck while an iron, 5.3L V-8 and a Borg Warner S475 turbo make around 700hp to the wheels.
18 Twin Turbo LS7 Camaro
Today is the day of cheap thrills and…chrome grilles? Although chrome is phasing itself thankfully out of style, the sentiment remains that shiny things are better than old, raggedy looking ones, and this thing looks pretty raggedy.
The miss-matched panels in various states of paint and primer sport blemishes and dings to nicely complement the oxidized trim and faded hood. One might see this as an easy target; bad move.
For what you won’t see coming will shred you up like a samurai; the wide tires in the rear are not just for show, and they aren’t nearly wide enough because underneath the hood lies a pair of twin, 76mm Precision turbos just waiting to feed the greedy LS7 with enough oxygen to pump 1,400hp out the rear axle quicker than you can pick your jaw up off your floorboard.
17 Turbo Wagon
Volvos are known for master-crafting cars with the skill and precision known to nail safety on the nose with almost perfect aim. Another thing they’re known for is being about as cool as your mom sitting next to you in class. Although the company is working to break this mold, perhaps one of the better examples is doing a better job of it a few decades and tens of thousands of miles from the assembly line. This 240 wagon is no mamma’s boy, not with the 32 valve, quad-cam V-8 Toyota 1UZ engine quietly purring beneath the hood. The intercooler isn’t visible from the outside, so little would you know twin Garretts are feeding the 4.0L 16lbs of boost. This 240 is taking sleeper to the extreme with 500hp and 11-second quarter miles.
16 Super Sleeper Nova
Dents, scratches, and oxidation on some ugly green paint, (I’m a fan of many shades of green; but this is just ugly). I’m also a Nova guy even though mine currently embodies the Spanish definition – not running.
The third generation Nova isn’t the prettiest car on the road in the first place, so wrap it up in a broke-back exterior and you have what the essence of a beater is; and a perfect platform for a low-key racecar to hide just beneath the surface.
By low key we’re talking 1,160hp at 7,500rmp and over 800ft/lbs of torque. The LS2 longblock is fed by twin, belt-driven superchargers making this one of the most dangerous ’72 Novas you’ll have the misfortune to try to line up with.
15 Furious Fairmont
Not only are the ‘80s a regretful time for automobile manufacturing, it was a ground-breaking decade of environmentally friendly leaps and bounds for emissions control. Good for mother earth, bad for the mac daddy of speed – horsepower. So when you come across this homely four-door ’82 Ford Fairmont in a parking lot, it barely begs for a second glance, but a close inspection of the front end will quickly tell the keen observer this is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Beefy engine peripherals can be seen hanging out of the engine bay that no Fairmont had ever seen from the factory, maybe even in history. The 5.3L truck motor is turbocharged to send a blast of horsepower down the driveshaft with a little help from a shot of nitrous oxide that’ll push the brown beater into the nines at 140mph; this is before and after a 140 mile round trip to and from the racetrack.
14 Bayou Beast
So if an ‘80s era four-door sedan running in the nines doesn’t impress you, I doubt many things will; you probably won’t care much for the Bayou Bomb either. Also in the nines, this Fairmont, like its equally ugly brother from above, is built on the Fox platform; Fox as in the legendary Foxbody Mustang.
So not only are they so hideous as to be dirt cheap with relatively little demand, they are very interchangeable with the Mustang components that made the car so legendary.
A Borg Warner S480 turbo is tucked away deep within the engine bay providing enough boost to make the 127lb injectors work for their keep although it is soon to be swapped out for a Garrett GT55; this car is headed for the eight-second threshold and there’s no turning back.
It’s just about as laughable pulling up to the line as a minivan and so boxy you can tell that it was never designed to go faster than a school zone. The designers never saw the need to incorporate aerodynamic efficiency into the development. They did however see the need to pioneer alternate fuels; the Enfield 8000 was originally an electric car with a range of 45 miles on a charge and a 40mph top speed. Sticking with the electric powertrain but slightly upgrading the performance specs, Johnny Smith installed a 1,003hp electric drivetrain into the 1,945lb car that can now keep pace with a Tesla Roadster.
Like a Rock. The iconic Chevy motto has branded their pickup line since as long as I can remember. The only problem is, I’ve never seen an eight-second rock fly down the quarter mile with 1,000hp and a 155mph trap speed.
Neither have you most likely, but if you ever do run into a humble little blue S-10 roaming the surface streets with rear tires fatter than any S-10 would ever need, better take a second look because it won’t be there long.
S-10s are no stranger to high performance, and in fact, a high-performance limited-edition version has been produced in very sparse numbers that roll off the assembly line ready to smoke whatever you put it next to.
11 Shiny Sleeper
This one requires some explanation, because a flashy, new and loudly painted 2017 Charger is hardly a sleeper in any sense of the word. The splitter struts and black hood only attest to its ferocious road manners and thinking this car is one bad mother is probably a wise choice.
However there’s no way you have of actually knowing how bad, bad really is. In the absence of Hellcat badging, you’d never suspect that the deep rumble from within the engine bay is coming from 840hp of 6.4L Mopar muscle that was built up like a tank. Balanced, ported, polished and boosted with a Whipple supercharger equate to power potential that is already scratching the 850hp limit of the fuel delivery system.
10 Egg Beater
Rather than flashy paint and sexy body lines, this beater only has a set of rims and tint to outwardly display pride of ownership; everything else is unimpressively stock albeit well cared for.
The lowered stance and aftermarket wheels are not enough to be indicative of the 600 ponies lying in wait of an unsuspecting fool that thinks this thing is as slow as it is ugly.
The FG engine is beefed up but a strong platform to begin with and the car that’s dubbed ‘world’s fastest Cressida’ makes good on that nickname putting nine-second quarter miles in the bag like a fat kid in a rich neighborhood on Halloween.
9 LS3 Rally Commodore
Braeden Kendrick has a predisposition for driving dumb, and he knows it. Having been a bold-spirited young driver, he found himself in all the trouble you’d imagine a drifter would get into. After planting his car into a semi-trailer one day, he decided it was time to get his jollies off at the track and built a Skyline to drive the piss out of until the SR20 could take no more of a pounding. His next project is a bit more modest, on the outside anyway. Theming his Commodore like a rally car, he poured his investment into modifications while not bothering to patch up rear quarter panel damage, but how else was he going to acquire the LS3 powerplant? Despite the laughable appearance, the LS powered machine is a formidable opponent and regularly races in sanctioned amateur events in his area where the car maintains a certain level of notoriety amongst fellow racers.
8 Holden Commodore
So those unfamiliar with the Holden Commodore are not alone, the Australian car maker only produced this model for two years and it was to be the last of the mid-sized Commodores (this is mid-sized in some places, apparently).
At over 150,000 units produced, there’s no shortage of the little cars roaming around; it was only so long before someone came along with the ambition to beef up the car with more power than anyone ever thought it would see.
The stock appearance does well to hide the fury beneath the surface; you’d never expect to see the Garrett-powered torque engulf those wheels in a shroud of smoke, but it does. It also does quarters in 10 seconds.
7 GMC Syclone
If you want to take factory sleepers to the extreme of the definition, you’ll end up with something similar to everything the Syclone was built to be. The ‘80s era mini truck has finally been given something respectable to boast about, and although in the most limited of numbers, the spec sheet with drop your jaw. The 280hp 4.3L V-6 is turbocharged with 14lbs of liquid-intercooled boost and an all-wheel drive setup that begs you to let it dig into the pavement. The unimpressive appearance of the Syclone is highly misleading as it looks barely worthy of a coat of wax but will smoke your Ferrari 348 in a quarter mile.
6 Beater Bug
Volkswagens were never meant to be fast; in fact, you tend to change lanes automatically when you see one in preparation of the inevitable pass.
It’s just something we’re conditioned to do. Some bug owners use this to their advantage and can pull the curtain over unsuspecting Mustangs and Camaros with the right motor setup, but Beater Bug doesn’t stop there.
ASN’s Beetle was built to break supercars, and break supercars it does. This bug is so bad it’s not even embarrassing to be beat out by it; it’s the same car that’s sacked Lamborghinis, 911 Porsches and Nissan GT-Rs.
5 Grand National
If there was one era we wish we could forget in terms of automobile history, it would undoubtedly be the ‘80s. The clean air restrictions and horrid styling bring chills to my spine and make me cringe just thinking about it however, one can view this in a positive light and see it as an evolutionary stepping stone.
The Grand National was ahead of its time in many ways as it was one of the first turbocharged V-6s in a dying age of big V-8 power.
The 300hp GNX with its performance-inspired design runs 0-60 in 5.4 seconds stock and the quarter mile is eaten up in just under 13.5 seconds at 104mph. Not bad for a Buick from the ‘80s, right?
Before now, if one were to ask what a respectable Prius looked like, I’d tell them the one that was never built. It turns out, there is one out there. Whether it’s a middle finger to the Prius, a salute to horsepower or just a weirdo being weird, the super Prius shares just about nothing save for the exterior with your standard Toyota. As bold as the outer artwork is, one would never suspect that stuffed somewhere deep inside is the heart of a Hellcat – no literally. The 700hp Prius sports a Hellcat Hemi that uses every bit of grip the drag radials can offer and can even get away with using the HOV lane. Who’s really catching this guy anyway?
3 Triple-Turbo Duramax
The Chevy Silverado is known more for its rock-like attributes than its drag capabilities; the commercials have taught us well. So despite the visually rich paint and black on black theme, it’s still hard to picture a Silverado flying down the track at break-neck speeds as it is still a pickup truck, after all. Matt Minser decided to redefine what break-neck really meant with his 2500HD Duramax. Carrillo rods capped with Diamond Racing pistons operate in tandem with the keyed SoCal Diesel camshaft to squeeze 15:1 compression and 100lbs of boost from the engine to pump 1,300hp into the driveline. It’s a solid nine-second pickup
The ultimate sleeper is a highly subjective topic, and likely will never be resolved. One solid contestant is an old C-10 pickup that is living out its prime in a twilight heyday that only a small percentage of cars are lucky enough to experience after they’ve lived a full life.
In just a notch or two above a wrecked state of repair, the Farmtruck is the sleeper that puts the word beat into a beater.
Pumped up with nitrous oxide for the greedy big block Chevy, 632 cubic inches await a fresh charge of air and fuel 29 times per second to convert the fossil fuel into a cloud of smoke and embarrassment that you can’t even be mad at. There’s no shame in getting beaten by a beater truck that can hook so hard the front end goes skyward.
1 Slippery Willy
No, that’s not an innuendo but rather, a fitting phrase for something faster than just about anything brave enough to step up. This twin-turbo LSX powered historic relic is one of the baddest little Jeeps you’re ever going to see if you even see it at all. Chances are your view will be obstructed by a billowing cloud of burnt tire smoke.
Once that clears and you’ve gathered your wits back, even if your reaction time is on point, there’s not much you can do but watch the tailgate slip further away down the strip despite your best efforts.
Insane power is only the half of the equation; this Jeep, driver included, weighs only 1,600lbs. The list of defeated challengers is about as impressive as the list of things that has beaten the Willys (which isn’t long I promise you).
Sources: speedsociety.com, pressreader.com, speedhunters.com, dragzine.com, bangshift.com, chevytv.com, hotrod.com, roadandtack.com.