By default, race cars are purposely-built competition machines they design to extract every bit of performance and speed. That is why they build most modern race cars from scratch, so they just resemble the regular production models. In fact, they custom make all the body panels, spoilers, air dams and more. Most race cars sit low, have a wide track and enormous spoilers on the trunk.
Gone are the days when you can buy a production model, take it out on the race track and win the checkered flag. And although form follows function, most race cars are aesthetically beautiful and exciting machines. In fact, some of them even enhanced the lines of those boring regular models, turning them into insanely cool vehicles. But some engineers have presented strange-looking, weird race cars.
Almost all of the championship series have at least one “black sheep,” or car that looks funny and sometimes even downright ugly. The reason is due to the quest for the most aerodynamically efficient shape or to add the latest technology. Other times, they built the car from scratch and it looks like it. So keep reading to learn more about the 20 most unusual and strange race cars from the colorful world of motorsports.
Cadillac “Le Monstre”
In the early ‘50s, Cadillac entered the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans race with two cars. One was almost completely a stock Coupe De Ville, while other was a strange roadster with a body they built from scratch. The French called it the “Le Monstre” due to its weird design and appearance. The body should’ve been lighter and more aerodynamically efficient than the regular Cadillac shape, but the “Le Monstre” wasn’t successful on the racetrack.
One of the latest and bravest attempts to introduce new construction concepts in the world of race cars is the Nissan DeltaWing. Nissan has been experimenting with triangular-shaped race cars for some time, entering the Le Mans in 2012. The DeltaWing has some advantages over conventional cars in terms of handling and aerodynamics, but the project was plagued with numerous mishaps and problems. So, after several years of trying, Nissan decided to retire the DeltaWing.
Ferrari 250 “Breadvan”
In the early ‘60s, the best GT car in the world was the legendary Ferrari 250 GTO. However, despite being brutally fast, the car didn’t have especially good aerodynamics. That is why they created the 250 Breadvan. Giotto Bizzarinni, who was one of the people behind the 250 GTO project decided to extend the roof and lower the front end. And the end result was a unique-looking Ferrari that was even faster than the original 250 GTO.
Several decades ago, many manufacturers experimented with turbine engines. And one of them was the British company, Rover. They even produced a quite capable race car they called the Rover-BRM. The secret was the engine, which featured a gas generator with a compressor-driving turbine. It produced a lot of power and unique driving characteristics. The design, sound and driving dynamics were completely different from the rest of the racing cars of the period.
They unveiled the P34 in 1976, and it featured four small wheels in the front and two in the back. The front wheels were in charge of the steering and much of the braking. The basic idea was if the car has more grip on the front, it could break more efficiently and turn at higher speeds. When the car debuted, it was competitive and caused the other competitors to consider implementing that solution to their Formula One cars.
Unfortunately, the P34 was too complicated and suffered from problems with reliability, often causing it to retire before the race ended. However, when everything worked properly, the Tyrrell P34 was fast. Also, it out-cornered and out-braked the competition with ease. The car was active for just two seasons, 1976 and 1977. However, it managed to win one race in 1976, which was the Swedish Grand Prix.
Smokey Yunick’s Chevelle
What is so strange about the 1967 Chevrolet Chevelle Smokey Yunick’s team built? After all, this car looks perfectly fine and close to a regular production Chevelle. Smokey Yunick was one of the most memorable characters in American racing history, as well as a highly-interesting engineer and racecar builder.
However, Smokey was a grand cheater when it came to racing propositions. And his attempt to trick the NASCAR officials is the stuff of legends. One of the best moments was when he presented this specially prepared Chevelle for the 1967 season. At first look, it seemed like they built the car according to NASCAR specifications since everything looked correct. But then somebody parked a stock 1967 Chevelle next to Smokey’s car.
It was then that the officials noticed Yunick’s racing car was considerably smaller. In fact, Smokey built a 7/8 scale replica of a standard car. Although it looked exactly the same, it was narrower, shorter and much lighter. So that would give him an unfair advantage on the track. Needless to say, NASCAR banned his car, but the legend survived.
Nardi 750 Bisiluro
In the early ‘50s, the racing rules were much looser than today. Many car manufacturers introduced some innovative concepts and designs to build the fastest cars on the grid. But one of the craziest attempts was the Nardi 750 Bisiluro, which entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1955. The idea behind the Bisiluro was to have a perfectly-balanced car with an engine and tank on one side and a driver on the other.
The result was a strange-looking roadster that looked like two torpedoes they welded together. Despite its slippery shape and decent power, the Nardi was too difficult to drive, so it was unsuccessful.
The Chaparral Race Team was active in the ‘60s, introducing various advanced and strange-looking race cars. But the 2J was by far the weirdest. This car featured two fans and rubber skirts all around. It got its power from an additional two-stroke engine.
They designed the fans to suck air from under the vehicle, while the plastic skirts kept the vacuum to hold the car sucked to the ground. That was an insane combination, but it worked. Years later, most Formula One cars used the same principle. And that just shows how good Jim Hall`s vision was, after all.
Mercedes 300 SEL 6.3 “Rote Sau”
Back in the late ‘60s, Mercedes took a big leap forward by introducing the 300 SEL 6.3 version of their luxury sedan W109. This was arguably the first power sedan for the company since the mighty 6.3-liter V8 engine with 250 HP and 434 lb-ft of torque sat under the hood. However, in early 1971, the AMG team started preparing their version of the 300 SEL 6.3 with the intention of racing.
First, AMG stroked the engine to 6.8 liters of displacement and got over 420 HP out of it. Second, they made room for some big rear tires, and put a roll cage inside. They even left the rear seats in the car. But the biggest success that opened the door for AMG was the 24 Hours of Spa in 1972. The “Red Pig” finished second overall and they considered that a fantastic success, as well as the biggest surprise of the racing season.
Rolls Royce Corniche
One of the companies that were never part of the racing scene is Rolls Royce. That is because they designed those super luxury British cars to offer effortless cruising and comfort, rather than brutal performance. However, in the early days of the famous Paris-Dakar rally, one French driver entered the competition with the special Rolls Royce Corniche Coupe.
Truth be told, this Rolls was practically a silhouette car since it had a custom chassis, a 5.7-liter Chevrolet engine and a Toyota transmission. However, it still retained its body and grille from the production car, as well as some interior parts.
This car was a state-of-the-art racing machine when it first appeared in 1917. Some of the biggest names on the American racing scene in the early 20th century produced it. They included Barney Oldfield, Fred Offenhauser and Harry A. Miller. The idea was to make a fast, capable race car that was aerodynamic and protect the driver in case of an accident.
But in those days, almost all cars on the road were open top vehicles so this concept was advanced. The Golden Submarine got its nickname due to its shape and color. Also, thanks to the 4.7-liter engine, it was fast by the standards of the day. They entered it in 54 races and it won 20, which are fantastic results.
Volvo 850 Wagon BTCC
As everybody knows, race cars have always been coupes, roadsters and sometimes sedans, but never station wagons, right? Well, Volvo had different idea with the 850 Wagon they designed to compete in the British Touring Car Championship or BTCC in 1994.
The BTCC is where the race teams used regular production sedans. When Volvo realized that the aerodynamics of their 850 Wagon were just marginally worse than the sedan, they thought it would be a great idea to use it as a race car. And in fact, it was, since the 850 Wagon was not only a crowd favorite but also successful, as well.
Tommy Ivo “Showboat”
Ever since the first purposely-built dragster hit the drag strips of America, people were puzzled by their looks, big rear tires, exposed engines, and strange bodies. However, one of the most unusual ones was the 1961 “Showboat” by TV actor and personality, Tommy Ivo.
Ivo was an avid drag racing enthusiast who designed and raced several of his own creations. But, his “Showboat” was something else. It had four Buick V8 engines they mounted up front, producing approximately 2,000 HP. Interestingly, the left bank powered the left rear wheel through a separate driveshaft and the right bank powered the rear right wheel.
Hurst Hairy Olds
The ‘60s brought a large number of interesting and fast drag cars. But few of them could match the uniqueness of the Hurst Hairy Olds they introduced in 1966. Oldsmobile and Hurst designed this exhibition racer driven by Joe Schubeck. From a distance, this Olds looked like a regular 442 they painted in signature Hurst colors.
However, it had two 425 V8 engines, one in the front and one in the back. The engines came from an Oldsmobile Toronado, along with the transaxle gearbox and front wheel drive setup. This means the front engine powered the front wheels while the back engine powered the rear. But the best part of all was seeing billows of smoke coming from all four tires.
Duesenberg Cummins Diesel Special
Even though Audi won the 24 Hours of Le Mans several times with diesel-powered race cars, this wasn’t the first oil-burner racer the world of motorsports ever saw. The 1931 Cummins Diesel Special was the first diesel racing car that caused much attention and showed its potential. The car was a cooperative effort between Duesenberg, a luxury car brand and Cummins, an engine company that specialized in the production of oil burners.
The Cummins Diesel Special had a 360 CID four-cylinder engine producing 86 HP. Of course, the power was not substantial by any means, but the car could achieve high top speeds due to a ton of torque. And it could run for 500 miles without a fuel stop.
Pat Clancy Special
The idea of more than four wheels on a race car was appealing to many constructors. Even before the legendary Tyrell P34 featured earlier on this list, one Indy car constructor introduced a six-wheel racing car.
They called it the Pat Clancy Special when it entered the 1948 Indy 500 race. They connected the two rear axles with a universal joint to give the car something similar to four-wheel drive. Also, it handled well and had strong traction, making it was successful, finishing 12th.
STP Paxton Turbocar
This car caused quite a sensation when they entered it in the Indy 500 race in 1967. It was different from anything else on the grid with its special design and technology. The main feature was the turbine engine they mounted on the left side. And the driver sat on the right for a perfect weight balance.
The Turbocar delivered a great performance and handled neutrally, which driver Parnelli Jones used to lead most of the race. Then, only three laps before the finish, a failed bearing caused the Turbocar to lose the leading position and finish sixth.
Eagle Aircraft Flyer Special
This unusual Indy racer is a rolling exercise in aerodynamic efficiency penned by aircraft engineer and designer, Dean Wilson. Introduced in 1982, the Eagle Aircraft Flyer Special was a great idea with all the right ingredients, but it failed to prove itself on the race track. However, other car makers have used many of its design features on later race cars.
Oldsmobile Baja 442
Most muscle car enthusiasts will tell you that muscle cars raced on drag strips, NASCAR ovals or Trans Am championships, and that is it. However, this legendary muscle model was also a successful rally car, even entering the gruesome Baja 1000 rally in the late ‘60s.
Toyota Prius GT
The hybrid-powered Toyota Prius is the least likely race car in the world since it has ordinary mechanics and drivetrain. In fact, they designed it to be economical, not fast. However, for the use in the Japanese GT Championship, Toyota made the Prius GT. It is a full-blown racing beast with a hybrid V8 engine and a different body that delivers a brutal performance.
These are the 20 most unusual and strange race cars from the world of motorsports. Do you recognize any of them? While some left little than a mark in automotive history, others won races and changed the way they build race cars today.