Roll up to a traffic light in the right car and you know that nobody will mess with you. Driving the Dodge Challenger Hellcat for the new Netflix series Abstract: The Art of Design, Fiat Chrysler head of design Ralph Gilles dismisses an engine rev from a lesser Challenger as a "friendly" rev. "He knows I'd kick his ass," he said.
Or maybe not. Some people get a thrill from driving something that is faster than it looks. These are the cars that inspired gearhead George Lucas to create the Millennium Falcon. "She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts," Han Solo assures a skeptical Luke Skywalker.
Our friends at Hagerty Insurance surveyed its classic car fans to see which cars they think are the speediest stealth rides, which got us to thinking of Maxim's top five. In case you're cruising in a car that is prone to attracting challengers, here are five machines that should be regarded with extreme caution, even if their sheetmetal isn't exotic.
1. Buick Grand National/GNX
When you build only dull, boxy sedans, the opportunity to spice things up might seem out of reach. But the boys at Buick in the mid-'80s wouldn't be denied. They started by spray-painting a Buick Regal solid black.
Then, they reached into the brand's parts bin for power. Decades ahead of its time, Buick cast its lot with turbocharged V6 engines in place of V8 powerplants. This presented the possibility of turning up the boost on those engines' turbos, creating the Grand National.
And if a little bit is good, more is better, so they introduced the GNX, which turned the wick up even further. The result was a car that during the depths of '80s performance doldrums, the GNX blasted to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 12.6 seconds.
Yeah, a Hellcat might smoke it today, but at the time the GNX was quicker than the Ferrari F40.
2. Mercury Marauder
In the early 2000s Mercury was in a similar situation as Buick had been, with a dull product line in need of some excitement. Remember all those Florida retirees in their Mercury Grand Marquis barges?
So here comes the black Krylon spray paint. And lurking the Ford corporate parts bin were all the go-fast parts used on the Crown Victoria police cars. Plus the 4.6-liter double overhead cam V8 engine borrowed from the Mustang Mach I.
The result was the 2003-'04 Mercury Marauder, a hot cruiser with such a low profile that buyers never really noticed it.
3. GMC Syclone
In the early '90s, the GMC pickup truck folks looked at their corporate sibling Buick and liked what they saw in the Grand National. So they applied the black paint/turbo V6 treatment to the GMC Sonoma compact pickup.
But in an added twist, they upgraded the trick truck with an all-wheel drive system to help put the turbo power to the pavement, producing 5.3-second 0-60 acceleration and a 14.1 second quarter mile time, which was quicker than the Ferrari 348GTS of the same time.
4. Chrysler 300 SRT
These older cars were a little light on performance compared to contemporary rides, but the very recent Chrysler 300 SRT packed a 470-horsepower 6.4-liter Hemi V8 and all the suspension and brake upgrades needed to use it.
Yes, it looks like that V6 300 with the fake Bentley grille bolted on, but the 300 SRT is faster than all but a few very quick new cars. Tread carefully.
5. Pontiac GTO
When General Motors' performance division, Pontiac, found itself with no true, V8, rear-drive performance cars in 2003, they had the ability to place a call to Holden, the company's Australian subsidiary, which did have such cars.
With a few tweaks, the Holden Commodore became the 2004 Pontiac GTO. Yes, applying that famous name was borderline sacralige, but the GTO made all the right sounds. For 2005 and 2006, Pontiac also snatched the 400-horsepower 6.0-liter LS2 V8 from the Corvette. So watch out, the GTO only looks like a four-cylinder Grand Am. It will eat your lunch.
h/t: Hagerty Insurance