The Best Sleepers Sold in America in the Past 25 Years

Many people like to own cars that are beautiful and naturally garner attention. They drive cars like Aston Martins and Jaguars. There are also a lot of people who can’t afford cars like those, but still want their cars to grab attention, so they drive cars like Subaru WRX STI’s and Ford Mustangs. Those cars are loud and proud of it. They grab attention through their noise. It just comes down to a matter of personal choice, and that’s fine.

Many people really like having a car that has great performance, but doesn’t attract throngs of people and law enforcement. Their cars of choice are seemingly Plain Jane cars on the outside, but that doesn’t mean that their performance capabilities are any less than something like an STI.

Here, in no particular order, are the absolute best sleepers that have been sold here in the past 25 years.

  • GMC Syclone/Typhoon: Some of my readers grew up in the 1990s. It was a technological revolution, and also a time of rebellion and shattering societal norms. GMC’s decision to build the Typhoon and Syclone was probably one of their best. 280 horsepower isn’t very much horsepower for a truck, but all the way back in 1991, it meant 60 mph in five seconds. That’s right on pace with a modern Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang. Thank the 350 lb-ft of torque and the AWD system for that. Most people won’t know what they are looking at. They will see an old truck or SUV that is pretty darn small. That punk in the Honda Civic next to them will have no idea that it will blow his doors off at the stoplight. Trust me, you’ll have to have a bona-fide performance car to beat a Syclone or Typhoon in a drag race. Plus, they are very reliable – Jay Leno daily drove one for years without any problems.

    One of the most legendary trucks, let alone sleepers, of all time. It looks so innocent!
  • Mercedes-Benz S600: Even people who know nothing about cars know about the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. They know it’s expensive and luxurious, but nothing past that, really. Most people probably wouldn’t even notice the W220 (chassis generation, just like people know generations of the Ford Mustang as the Foxbody, the SN 95, the S197 and S550) anymore. It still looks dapper, but at this point, it’s generic enough that it flies under the radar with ease. Only us car people will know what they are looking at. Any S600 is going to be quick, but the 2003 update made it something fearsome. The 5.5-liter twin-turbo V12 snarled out 493 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque. It’s the banker’s hot rod, just like the Hudson Hornet was in the 1950s. Oh, and if you put a straight piped exhaust on the S600, it sounds like a Formula 1 car.

    While it still looks nice, the average person would brush it off as just another Mercedes-Benz. However, any Mercedes with these wheels will blow the doors off of just about anything.
  • Mercury Marauder: Ford’s Panther platform always had potential for performance, but Ford was always interested in selling Crown Victorias, Grand Marquis and Town Cars to retirees, limo companies, law enforcement agencies and taxi companies that they left most of the performance potential untapped to enterprising tuners. That all changed in 2003. The Mercury Marauder was a souped-up Grand Marquis that had a lot of parts borrowed from the Crown Victoria P71 (Police Interceptor Package). It also borrowed some go-fast goodies from the Mustang. Very few people could tell the difference between a Grand Marquis and a Marauder, but under the generic sheetmetal, the Marauder was something to be feared. It had a 302 horsepower V8 and a heavily improved suspension. It didn’t drive like a Grand Marquis or a Crown Victoria. The entire point of the car was to show the world “Why not?”

    Doesn’t look like much, does it?
  • Volvo V70 R: Station wagons haven’t been the preferred method of kid schlepping in many years, which is a true shame. Even when they were popular, they weren’t cool. Any station wagon that has a Volvo badge on it is going to be recognized as safe, but nobody ever drives a Volvo aggressively. Now, chuck all of what I have just said out of the window. Never think or speak of it again. The Volvo V70 R had an inline five cylinder engine that cranked out 296 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque that went to the wheels via a Haldex AWD system. It hit 60 mph in under six seconds, which made it ideal for the dad who wanted a Mazda Miata with room for his wife and their kids and dog.
  • Saab 9-2X Aero: While the Subaru WRX is a great car in it’s own right, it’s the exact opposite of a sleeper. It’s loud and it attracts more attention than the cute girl in high school. If you liked how the WRX drove, but wanted something more toned down, look no further than the Saab 9-2X Aero. It used to be that there was no option like the Saab 9-2X Aero. Then some brilliant mind at GM decided that they needed to dive into the compact luxury car market. The result was the Saab 9-2X Aero. It was based off of the WRX, but the interior was much more premium, the car wasn’t nearly as loud, the looks were toned down, but at heart, it’s still a Subaru WRX.

    It’s just a luxurious Subaru WRX. It’s really compact, which is great if you live in a city.
  • Mazdaspeed 6: In the midsize sedan segment, many cars will put you straight to sleep. The Mazda 6 has never been one of those cars, and as such, is always my first suggestion for a family sedan. Even though it’s fun to drive, it’s still nothing special at the end of the day. However, Mazda decided to throw practicality and sensibility out the window. They handed a Mazda 6 over to the brilliant minds over at Mazdaspeed, and let them work their magic. The result was a 270 horsepower, turbocharged, AWD sedan with a six speed manual. Pure brilliance. It could hit 60 mph in under 5.5 seconds, yet looked like an average Mazda 6 to the untrained eye. And yes mom, it still has all the practicality of a family sedan. It just happens to be far faster than any other family sedan.

    It looks like just another family sedan. However, anybody who has read this post knows what’s up with this car.
  • Chevrolet Cobalt SS: The Chevrolet Cavalier was a truly terrible car. While it’s replacement, the Cobalt, was a vast improvement, it wasn’t a good car by any stretch of the imagination. It was an inexpensive car that catered to those who needed a brand-new economy car despite the fact that a three-year-old Toyota Corolla was a much better car. It sold well. Chevrolet somehow managed to redeem the Cobalt. The Cobalt SS was probably one of the greatest pocket rockets to ever race around. It was unexpectedly fast, and incredibly adept on any race course or autocross course. A 205 horsepower version came out first, but the real gem was the 260 horsepower turbocharged version. Even with a gigantic rear wing, nobody expects a Chevrolet Cobalt to be that fast. One way to make it even more of a sleeper is to remove the wing and put on non-SS Cobalt wheels. Talk about a sleeper of epic proportions!

    It looks like just another Chevrolet Cobalt, but with big wheels. Acceleration is best achieved by flat-footing it (where you keep the gas pedal planted, and shift without lifting).
  • Ford Taurus SHO: While the original Ford Taurus was a great car, the original Taurus SHO (Super High ) is a legend in the performance sedan world. The current generation does not look at all like a performance car. It’s a comfortable cruiser and a good police car, but it looks like nothing special. Part of what makes the current SHO such a sleeper is that the automotive press basically wrote it off when it was introduced. Even in the SHO trim, it’s meant for being an effortless cruiser, not a canyon carver. This doesn’t mean that you should try and do a stoplight drag race with one. An SHO can hit 60 mph in just over five seconds to 60 mph.

    If you’re a fan of fullsize sedans and the word stonking fast, look into getting a Ford Taurus SHO.
  • Chevrolet SS: Even though this is a list of sleepers sold in America over the past 25 years, the Chevrolet SS truly deserves to be on the list of all-time sleepers. How many cars can claim the accomplishment of having basically nobody know they exist? While some reviewers would consider it a flaw that the SS blends in with all of the boring cars, it’s actually a good thing. 99% of the people you pass in the SS will think it’s a Malibu, if they even notice it at all. They are wrong because it has a 415-horsepower Corvette engine, a six-speed manual and a magnetic suspension sourced from the Corvette. It’s the car that’s so anonymous that no cop will pull you over.

    Really looks like nothing, doesn’t it? Here’s to hoping that the FBI has good taste in cars and starts using these!

What to Look for in Used Police Cars!

When you think of police cars, the Ford Crown Victoria comes to mind.  For those of you older than that 30-year span of the Ford Crown Vic, you might remember the Chevy Caprice 9C1, the legendary AMC Javelin Alabama State Patrol cars, the Dodge Monaco, and countless others.  Most used police cars these days consist of the Ford Crown Victoria, the occasional Ford Expedition or Explorer, maybe a Dodge Charger, or the Chevrolet Impala.  Here’s what to look for in these powerful bare-bones cars.

For the dollar-per-dollar factor, it’s hard to beat a used police car.  If you don’t drive that much, or if you carpool with a few buddies, a used police car is well worth the money.  However, you shouldn’t EVER go to a police auction and bid on the first police car that goes on the block.  This is a bad, bad, bad idea!  You have to do a lot of homework to find a good one among the thrashed and abused ones.

Most city auctions don’t allow private buyers that aren’t dealers or salvage pickers.  This way, they don’t have to deal with the major hassle of the fact that “as is” means “you bought the car.  It’s your problem that it won’t start now.”

So, how does one figure out what a good used police car is when the description says something like, “should start with a boost, minor body damage, minor interior damage on seats, exposed wires on interior and holes on the exterior.”

Start with realistic expectations.  Don’t expect a brand-new car.  The chance of that happening are slim to none.  Some of these cars may have been sitting on a back lot for weeks, months, even years after they were after on the road.  Some could have a bad engine or transmission, and you, the unlucky buyer, will be saddled with a car that has terrible rod knock or a hole in the headers.  It’s practically guaranteed that you will have to replace the battery.  Bring a jump box to get the car running, if you go to check the car out in person, which I strongly advise you do.

There’s a pecking order when it comes to Police Interceptors.  Cars that are used in the line of duty often have crummy cloth seats and vinyl rear seats that often have rips or holes in them.  You WILL see wires and holes where police equipment was – don’t be alarmed!  Most used Police Interceptors will have this.

In terms of paint, these cars are exceptionally well-kept.  This allows for scratches to be fixed easily, and for decals and logos to show better.  Black and white cars will often sell for less money than a single-color car, like a black, silver, or white car.  Single colors are often easier to retail, so my advice is get a black and white car and take it to a paint shop and paint it a single color.  A step above both of those is the Police Interceptor that has an all-cloth interior and no hanging wires or gaping holes like the active duty cars.  These cars tend to be abused far less, as they are usually used by government employees or police officials who don’t engage in high-speed chases (like lieutenants or captains).  These cars will go for more money, thanks to their lower mechanical wear and retail-ready interiors.  Another thing that adds retail value is police equipment.  Push bumpers, radios, spotlights, and the like will add a few hundred or so to the value of the car.

Always focus on no more than two vehicles, as it will allow you to put a lot more effort into looking at those cars.  Always, always, always inspect the car(s) with a professional mechanic or knowledgeable person before bidding.  Try to find out as much about how well the vehicle in question was maintained as you can.  Take a picture of the VIN so you can do a CarFax search when you get home.  Online descriptions are laughable, but sometimes you’ll luck out and get a real gem.

Not everything you’ll buy from a police auction is going to run like a top the moment you buy it.  The Ford Crown Victoria in particular has become well-known among car dealers for being the “almost car” because a full-sized car that people “kinda sorta” want with rear-wheel-drive, fuel economy that is worse than dismal, and more cheap plastic bits than your local LEGO store isn’t something that people exactly flock to in hordes.

Throw in exposed sometimes-live wires from the police-only parts that were removed, heavily worn seats, and you can sometimes buy a car for about 10% of it’s original retail price after 7 years.

If you want a cop car so that a cop will wave you by when you’re speeding to get to work, or that you can do burnouts, drifts, and cruise all day long in comfort while scaring the general public half to death when you zoom up in their rear-view mirror, take your time getting one.  Nobody’s going to laugh at you when you get a gem and they have to fork over a couple of thousand for a new engine because they bid on the first car they saw.  You’ll be the one laughing.  But, PLEASE, don’t lock yourself in the backseat.  You’ll get to listen to the entire 9-1-1 dispatch center, then the fire dispatch center, and then the tow truck driver and the fire crew laugh at you.  The worst will be if you lock your friends in the backseat while you go into the gas station to use the bathroom.

If you own or have owned a previous police car, tell us what to look for in the comment section.  We’d love to hear what you have to say about these cars.  They are surprisingly fun to drive, despite a transmission best suited for intergalactic travel and an engine that’s better on the bottom of the ocean.  If you want really good reliability and power, suck it up and buy a 5.0-liter V8 crate motor from Ford Racing.  Oh, and get a new transmission while you’re at it.  Also, tell us your funny stories involving police cars.  I’m sure that all of us have plenty.