There are usually two extremes in the car enthusiast community when it comes to fast vehicle design. One side prefers flamboyantly flashy styling and enough noise to wake up the next province. The other end of that spectrum is full of very subtle vehicles that can slip past almost anyone without being noticed. They are called sleepers and many brands have built excellent ones. However, which of those factory sleepers is the best in history?
In general, the concept of a sleeper is quite simple. It is a fast vehicle that does not look fast. For example, my Ford Flex Limited and its brother, the Ford Taurus SHO, both look like milk toast that has been warmed up, but they’re all pretty fast thanks to a twin-turbo V6 that puts out more than 350 horsepower (261 kW).
Neither deserves attention here, though, as we’re looking for the very best factory sleeper ever. This task may also require some deep diving, as sleepers have been around for a long time. One of the most famous is the 1987 Buick GNX, which was styled with a ruler and had a V6, not a large V8.
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Of course, that V6 engine was turbocharged, and as a unit it produced 276 hp (205 kW) and 360 lb-ft (487 Nm) of torque. Nor is it the only one related to American-built factory sleepers. The Mercury Marauder has a few more turns and a V8 that puts out 302 horsepower (225 kW) and is notoriously hard to kill.
Another American car brand, Chevrolet, sold the SS for a short time. The sedan was actually built by the Australian brand Holden before being shipped here. While not particularly eye-catching, it did feature a large 6.2-litre Corvette V8 producing 415 hp (309 kW) and could be supplied with a manual transmission.
There are countless others we could mention. However, the Lotus Carlton could be our pick. In fact, anyone but the most observant would probably notice a Carlton in traffic and even then they probably wouldn’t realize that for a short time it was the fastest sedan on Earth with a top speed of 284 km/h thanks to its 377 horsepower ( 281 kW) 3.6-litre twin-turbo inline-six.
So what do you think? Which was the best sleeper to ever roll off an automaker’s production line?