Motorsport has been around for more than a century now, and there have been a lot of great cars. It was hard to whittle this list down to ten, but we feel the cars on this list have a certain qualities that make them our favourite. Whether they were groundbreaking at the time, dominant in their field or just plain good looking, the cars in this list were an important part of shaping motorsport today.
While the last few Formula One seasons haven’t been kind to McLaren, there was a time when the British manufacturer was about as dominant as could be. The duo of Aryton Senna and Alain Prost combined with the McLaren MP4/4 in 1988 completely smashed the opposition. McLaren took pole position and won in 15 out of the 16 races of the season, making it one of the most dominate F1 cars in history. The racing teams success continued for a number of years after 1988, but it was the Marlboro liveried MP4/4 that is most loved.
McLaren and Honda teamed up for the MP4/4, with Honda supplying the 1.5L V6 turbo engines that were some of the most powerful in F1 at the time. The car itself was designed by American engineer Steve Nichols and Technical Director Gordon Murray. Murray and Nichols based the design off the Brabham BT55 and an evolution of the car was used for the 1989 season.
The Group B era was certainly short lived, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t produce some of the greatest rally cars ever produced. Audi’s Quattro is one of the most iconic cars to grace the sport and was the first four-wheel drive rally car.
Launched in 1980 the first Quattro appeared at the 1980 Janner Rally in Austria and first ran as a pace car in 1981. The engine produced approximately 300 hp and in 1981, Michele Mouton become the first female driver to win a world rally event with the Quattro.
In response to the new Group B rules Audi introduced the A1 and A2 evolutions of the Quattro. It won its first title for the German manufacturer in 1982 and in 1983, Hannu Mikkola was the best driver with the car. In 1984 Audi took both the drivers and constructors trophies with Stig Blomqvist at the wheel. From the A1 and A2, Audi developed the Sport Quattro S1 and S2, with the most powerful making a staggering 591 hp.
Ford’s infamous GT40 racing car of the 1960’s came to life after a deal between Ford and Ferrari went sour. On July 4 1963 Ford was meant to be signing a $10 million dollar deal with Mr. Enzo Ferrari himself, but the legend behind Ferrari walked out after not liking their terms apparently. Henry Ford II then authorized the development of the Ford GT40 to compete with Ferrari and beat them at their own game.
It took until 1966 before the GT40 finally achieved what it was created to do. The GT40 team finished 1-2-3 at the the 24 Hours of Le Mans and won the event a further three years in a row.
All up, four different versions of the GT40 were developed, the Mark I, II, III, and IV. The earlier Mark I used a 4.9-litre V* engine from Ford, while the later models used a larger 7.0-litre V8 engine. Ford’s GT40 is one of the most recognizable race cars of all time, and the company developed a road going reincarnation of the car in the mid 2000’s.
Following the ban of Group B after the 1986 season, Lancia showed that it was in the best position to capitalize on the rule changes. Utilizing the Delta HF and Delta Integrale, Lancia dominated with their 2.o-litre rally car that had the best balance of all round power, weight and 4WD system. Impressively, the Lancia Delta won four driver and six manufacturer championships between 1987 and 1992, making it the rally car with the most number of titles.
The first version was the Delta HF 4WD, then the Delta Integrale 8v and Integrale 16v followed later. Lancia’s final version was the Delta HF Integrale Evoluzione in 1992, with the fading away from the rally scene by the mid 90’s. With so many titles under its, the Delta is certainly one of the most successful racing cars of all time.
Most race cars struggle to find success in even one racing series let alone two, but the Porsche 917 was a different breed. The car managed to compete in not only endurance racing, but the Can-Am racing series as well. It was originally designed for races like the 24 hours of Le Mans, where it won the 1970 and 71 seasons. 1972 brought about rule changes for Le Mans and instead of retiring the car, Porsche turned its focus to Can-Am racing. It won both 1972 and 73 championships, dominating most of the field.
There were at least eleven variants of the infamous 917, however it was the Can-Am models that were truly bonkers. For the 1972 season, Porsche fitted a turbocharger to the mighty V12 engine which produced around 850 hp. Even today, 850 raging horses is a lot of power, but the 73 variant was even more insane. The car now produced upwards of 1,500 hp and was capable of 0-62 mph in 2.3 seconds and a test track top speed of 240 mph.
Lancia Stratos HF
Not only is the Stratos one of the best looking cars ever, it was also a extremely successful rally car. The HF stands for High Fidelity and it won the World Rally Championship in 1974, 75 and 76.
While Bertone designed a concept Lanica Stratos in 1970, the car that appeared on the rally courses a few years later shared little resemblance to the concept. Lancia opted to mount the Dino Ferrari V6 in the middle of the car to create a more balanced car. The road going version had 190 hp while weighing under 1000kg, and some engines in the Stratos were tuned to produce well over 500 hp for track racers.
Nissan Skyline GT-R (R32)
There’s not many cars that have to be banned from competition because they humiliate their rivals, but the Nissan Skyline GT-R (R32) was one of them. The R32 went undefeated in four seasons of the All Japan Touring Car Championship, won the 1991 24 Hours of Spa, and utterly dominated the competition in Australian Touring Cars (Getting itself banned in the process and receiving the nickname ‘Godzilla’ by the Australian press).
Compared to its competition, the R32 was a technological masterpiece. It featured a six cylinder, twin turbo engine, all-wheel drive with computer-controlled torque split and all-wheel steering. During the 1993 season of the All Japan Touring Car Championship sixteen R32’s slugged it out amongst themselves, with 95,000 fans coming to watch the final race at Fuji in October 1993.
Suzuki Escudo Dirt Trial (Pikes Peak)
The Suzuki Escudo Dirt Trial was always the car I longed for while playing Gran Turismo and has been a longtime inclusion in the racing game franchise. Suzuki, along with driver Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima dominated the Pikes Peak hillclimb from 1992 until 2011, and the Suzuki Escudo was part of it. Pikes Peak is an event where manufacturers and drivers are given almost complete free reign to create the most wild driving machines in the world.
Tajima won the event a total of nine times, including a impressive six straight wins from 2004 until 2011. While he drove the Suzuki XL-7 (an equally impressive car) during that winning steak, the Escudo is really what holds the hearts and minds of motorsport enthusiasts.
The Escudo Dirt Trial shared little parts with its road going variant. At the heart of the mighty beast was a 2.5-litre Twin turbocharged V6 engine that pushed out an impressive 981 hp. This combined with a low weight of only 800kg meant that the Dirt Trial was blisteringly fast and probably terrifying for us mere mortals.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans has produced some wonderful racing machines over the years (like the Porsche 917 above) and while the 787B won it only once, it was certainly one of the most spectacular Le Mans wins in history. With the 787B, Mazda accomplished what no other Japanese car manufacturer had ever done or has ever done since, winning the great race.
Not only is the 787B the only Japanese car to win Le Mans, but it is the only rotary-powered car to ever win the event. While it was certainly not the fastest car on the track, it beat the competition due to its superior fuel economy and reliability. Apparently the only fault with the car was a blown headlamp bulb during the race.
The 787B didn’t have it easy though. Following a grueling 21 hour fight with competitors Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz, and with only three hours left on the clock, Johnny Herbert took the lead in the 787B and never surrendered it. This meant that 250,000 spectators got to witness the rotary powered beast cross the finish line first. It didn’t have a half bad sound as well.
So ahead of its time, the Lotus 72 was so good that the same car with some minor updates was used for five years. It took until mid-70’s until another F1 car surpassed it, but not before Lotus could show how fast it really was. Sporting the black and gold John Player Spacial livery, the Lotus 72 went down as one of the most iconic racing vehicles ever.
The 72 was a Cosworth-engined 3.0-litre V8 car designed by Maurice Phillippe and Colin Chapman. It debuted at the Spanish Gran Prix on April 19, 1970 and went on to win 20 Grand Prix’s, 2 Drivers Championships and 3 Constructors Championship titles. Much of its performance was thanks to improved aerodynamics, the reduction of unsprung weight, and that mighty 440 hp V8 Cosworth engine.
The car was finally retired in 1976 after one of the most successful racing careers in Formula One.