In the car scene, most are concerned with standing out from the crowd. Their cars certainly reflect this, slammed to the ground on huge wheels, both fake and actual aero devices sprouting from almost every surface, and crazy paintwork and wraps on top of it all.
The scene kids who have the money will always be easy to pick out of a group. But another smaller population in the car scene has moved beyond the need to be seen, and have embraced the ability to disappear into traffic. These are certainly not show-cars and not scene kids, but racers that have been around the block once or twice.
In most cases, people who build sleepers want to blow the doors off unsuspecting competition for fun, though in other cases making a fast car that looks slow is used as a con in street races where money is on the line.
That said, an overriding factor for those looking to build a sleeper machine is often not just the ability to be unnoticed by potential competition, but by potential police trouble. If a car looks like a racecar, it is going to get a lot more police attention than something that looks like a beater. So those who build sleepers often do so with old hardware that can be build up for cheap, or for even more undetectability, something relatively new that is a common grocery-getter. Below are some of the beaters and grocery-getters that make excellent sleeper platforms.
24 Mitsubishi Galant VR-4
This car looks boring. But this car is a racecar. Fashioned by the gifted hands of 90s Mitsubishi to win international rally races, the Galant VR-4 is basically a more boring looking and slightly heavier version of the later Lancer Evolution that was to replace it, according to Speedhunters.
Those who know about these cars utterly adore them, but very few people actually know about them. One thing is for certain though, they are Evos in disguise. And that, along with being easy to modify makes them excellent sleepers.
23 Turbo Volvo 240DL
No one expects a Volvo 240 to be fast, even though a small yet dedicated community has been doing so for years. The stock engine makes practically zero horsepower stock but responds very well to boost, according to Speedhunters.
This means one can throw together a turbo kit for very cheap, almost as cheap as the often sub 1,000$ prices of the cars themselves, and with some tuning immediately make significant horsepower. All in a day’s work for a popular but still under the radar fast sleeper car.
22 Modified Dodge Neon SRT-4
It’s hard to see a car with a huge hoop wing as a sleeper. Heaven knows that even from the factory the SRT-4 is as fast as it looks, capable of a 167 miles an hour and spinning the tires up into third, according to Jalopnik.
But with very simple modifications the affectionately named “Skittle” is a downright insane roll racing car. Insane as in being a silly Dodge with a hoop wing that will stay door to door with a modern BMW M5. Or leave a late model Ferrari for dead on the freeway until deep into the triple digits.
21 Turbo V6 Ford Mustang
The late model V6 Mustangs are a laughing stock in the car community, generally seen as a poser car driven only by those without the money or common sense to get the proper V8- the “real” Mustang.
This reputation is earned but can be exploited, according to Hot Rod. Forced induction systems are available for the slower V6 Mustangs that put them above the standard V8 Mustangs, and when the exterior of the car is still very base-model looking, it’s easy to see why many would be fooled into getting blown away by a V6 Mustang.
20 Turbo Honda S2000
The S2K is a car of exceptional balance and handling, a vehicle it takes skill to drive correctly. When someone is worthy of it, it proves itself worthy of them, according to Motor Trend. But compared to most domestic stuff, the ride is pretty slow.
To fix that, utilizing the stock forged internals of the engine, many will bolt a turbo onto the finely tuned F20C. Throwing all that fine tuning very far out of the window for the sake of monstrous raw power, the likes of which sends Honda engineers scurrying away into hiding.
19 Twin Turbo Lexus IS300
Somehow, many don’t know that the same engine that powers the legendary and Fast and the Furious certified MK4 JZA80 Supra is the same one that powers the far more sedate IS300 luxury sedan, according to Hot Version. Soft, pretty, and comfortable, the IS300 is far from being a screamer. But why not have both?
Bolting up a single turbo system or even putting in the Supra’s twin-turbo system is not rocket science, and produces enough power that pretty much anyone would be surprised the blur that just passed them was a 15-year-old Lexus.
18 Chevy Chevelle Concours Wagon SS Clone
Back in the good old days of domestic muscle, almost every car was available with an incredible set of engines and options to choose from. Factories would perform engine swaps even if the car you ordered was being built, if you had the right connections with the right dealer, that is, according to Hot Rod.
But those days are largely forgotten now, and while the muscle car greats are revered, their sedan and wagon siblings, even of the same model range, are never expected to be fast. Which is why when someone bolts up the same hopped-up engine from an SS into a wagon, along with the other parts, it makes a proper sleeper.
17 Buick Roadmaster Wagon
The Roadmaster is a fixture of many childhoods, but its sedate looks may make it surprising that the wagons are also fixtures at drag strips. Utilizing the classic muscle car layout of a big V8 up front and rear wheel drive, the GM parts bin works wonders with the Roadmaster, as more than a hundred extra horses can be gained from simple bolt-on parts and a cam upgrade, , according to Hot Rod.
While some in will understand what you might be bringing to the party, quite a few will be very surprised you just left them behind.
16 First Generation Ford Taurus SHO
The original Super High Output Taurus was never supposed to happen. Ford was originally planning to build a high-performance mid-engine supercar, and contracted engine development out to Yamaha, according to Motor Trend.
But when that program was scrapped because Ford can’t let us have nice things, their contract with Yamaha still stood, and they had to put the engine in something. So they put it in what is perhaps the most boring car of the 90s, the Taurus. Famously capable of outrunning a Corvette of the same era, the Taurus SHO was a serious machine from the factory.
15 Ecoboost Ford Flex
A sleeper Ford Flex is perhaps one of the greatest current sleeper build possibilities. Stock four-wheel drive and medium displacement turbocharged V6 means that the Flex can do some boogie right off the showroom floor, according to Motortrend.
With surprisingly minimal modifications like cranking up the boost, it can transform the big wagon-truck from a surprisingly fast traffic car into a serious drag and roll racing machine. With drivetrain strengthening the Flex is even more capable, and will not just outrun Crown Victoria and Charger cop cars with ease, but even purpose-built speed machines like the Viper ACR in a straight line.
14 Saturn SL
Some might expect a Volvo 240 to be fast. Some might even know that your roadmaster is packing more than standard power. But no one will ever suspect that a Saturn SL will run low 12s in the quarter with minimal modification. But with weight reduction and bolt-ons, a manual-equipped SL will approach just that, or even faster, according to Jalopnik.
And because of its low weight, even though it's front wheel drive, it can be made to take a corner without much extra expense either. A sleeper as stealthy as a Flex, but far cheaper.
13 2013 Chrysler Town and Country
What if I told you that minivans were fast? Compared to many 90s entry-level sports cars, actually very fast. They are, according to Motor Trend. With Pentastar V6 power these late model vans will outrun a Miata or 240sx outright and put a 2.5RS behind it in a roll race, on its way to maxing out its speedometer before it even hits the powerband in 6th gear.
As long as they aren’t limited, the Town and Country is likely capable of a 140 miles per hour, stock.
12 Turbo Honda Civic Hatch (EK)
Sometimes sleepers aren’t about fooling everyone, but just a large subset of your local racers. When a large percentage of domestic muscle car drivers still don’t have much knowledge of Civics, this can be used to a racer’s advantage.
Most Honda guys don’t have much money, and the Civic is a great car to have if you don’t have much to spend. That said, they aren’t exactly fast, by any definition. But with a widely available bolt-on turbo kit, that can change rapidly, according to Speedhunters. It helps to have just a little bit of cash if you want to go fast.
11 VW Golf GTi (MK1)
Something many don’t see is that lightweight cars are much easier to make fast, at least when it comes to adding horsepower. While MK1 GTi prices are on the rise, it is still occasionally possible to get one without entirely destroying the bank, with a little left over for mods, according to Speedhunters.
Many would be surprised what an old Volkswagen can do, but modified is where they really shine. Any kind of power adder or engine swap would make an MK1 Golf into a proper race-stealing sleeper.
10 Turbo Toyota Tercel
Fast cars are normally pretty. The Tercel is not. Fast cars are normally expensive. The Tercel is not. Fast cars are normally impractical, at least to some degree. The Tercel seats four, kind of, and is tough as nails. It also gets wonderful gas mileage, according to Motor Trend.
But if you can do without that last one, you can make a Tercel into a very fast car. Because of their lightweight, putting a reasonably tuned turbo on a Tercel makes it a match or better than a Ferrari Testarossa on the drag strip.
9 First Generation Dodge Neon ACR
The vaunted three letters of ACR are normally reserved for Vipers capable of embarrassing fighter jets on the dragstrip and destroying Ferrari cars on the track. But back in the 90s, they were affixed to the little econobox you see above, according to Motor Trend.
A sedan, at that. So why on earth was this? Because under the skin this was a racecar, build to dominate autocross, which is certainly what the little Neons did back in the day. A full roll cage, custom suspension, much lighter weight than the already featherweight stock vehicle, and other choice mods contributed to the ACR being sought after by a select few hardcore racers who knew it had more than meets the eye.
8 Turbo Scion TC
If you want to go fast, for as cheap as you can, and you’re too scared to plumb up a nitrous system, then you bolt up a turbo kit. The Scion TC is a fashionable car, but not a fast one. That said, if one has the cash, a turbo system can really wake the vehicle up, taking the stock engine and turning it into a little beast of a thing.
If the outside remains stock, you could surprise quite a few people, as you can easily double the stock power of a TC via a turbo, according to Speedhunters.
7 K20 Swapped Honda CRX
Honda rides are built like legos, and most parts and engines of the same era can be swapped from one to the other. But the good stuff is a little newer, especially the glorious K20 engine,, according to Motor Trend.
Very lightweight, high revving, powerful, yet still relatively cheap, the swap kits available to drop a K20 into a CRX make the vehicle into an actual front wheel drive sports car, something which normally can’t even exist. But this does, and not only will it rip up a dragstrip without even a turbo, but the corners as well.
6 Turbo LS Chevy C10
There are a lot of trucks in the US. Depending on the area, even a lot of older classic trucks, in various states of disrepair. It’s not hard to fit in with this automotive demographic, and since trucks have tough drive-lines, big engines, and bigger engine bays from the factory, they make for awesome sleepers, according to Hot Rod.
Not only can they be powerful and fast, but utterly cool to look at as well. A commonly used method is swapping in an LS, and then dropping turbos on top of that, creating far more power than anyone will likely need.
5 LS Swapped Chevy Colorado
Power is what the Colorado almost always lacked. The engines offered for it were puny excuses for truck power plants, and some of them weren’t even that reliable, according to Hot Rod. So it makes a lot of sense to grab an incredibly cheap yet reliable and powerful LS, and bolt the thing in.
Now the next time one pulls up to a stoplight against a bigger truck, it’ll be the other guy who gets left behind, quite to his surprise. The Colorado has a rep for being slow, but that can be used to one’s advantage.
4 LS Swapped 2000 Chevy S10
Dropping an LS into almost anything is something of an internet meme at this point, but the underlying reasons for the LS Swap phenomenon are still very valid, according to Speedhunters. High power, serious reliability, easy and cheap maintenance, low cost, and easy to find.
Where the magic happens is not really at the top of the spectrum with turbo LS builds, though, but when one puts the LS into smaller and smaller vehicles, creating awesome little hot rods like this lightweight S10. Still looks slow, but goes quite fast.
3 650+ Hp Turbo/NO2 Chevy Express Cargo Van
That said, turbos and Chevy V8s go awesome together, according to Hot Rod. Their incredible power can be used to offset the weight of heavier vehicles, meaning that instead of that weight just slowing something down, it can be used to provide extra grip.
That goes doubly so when somebody tacks on nitrous oxide on top of the turbo boost, for a very cheap and incredibly powerful forward force. Case in point with cargo vans, vehicles that no one will ever expect to be fast, yet can be built into extreme machines for very little cost.
2 Turbo Diesel Chevy 2500
The torque possible with very little modification on turbo diesel engines is simply astonishing. The torque produced by them is so vast that full size, full weight lifted pickups can be built to run with specially built drag cars, door to door, according to Hot Rod.
Thousands of foot-pounds of power is possible, and when everyone just thinks you’re a bro truck, everyone will be very surprised to see your ride leave a Dodge Demon in the dust. The kind of acceleration possible with an upgraded turbo diesel is akin to a sportbike going full on.
1 LS Swapped Crown Victoria
LS swaps are so popular because they offer so many advantages, according to Jalopnik. In most cases, it’s actually cheaper to swap in an LS and build that than upgrading the engine in the car. That’s just how cheap and powerful the LS is.
That’s the case with the Crown Victoria, a car which has the 4.6 Modular V8 engine from the factory. It is a good engine, being incredibly reliable and easy to make good power on for cheap, but still not as cheap as the LS. A sleeper can be built out of the old Vic either way.
Sources: Motor Trend & Speed Hunters