Sometimes there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing. At least, if there is, then automakers haven’t heard of it. For many of them, the urge for more speed, more horsepower, and better handling is just insatiable, and it gets to the point where small considerations like speed limits, pedestrian safety, and emissions regulations start to get in the way. Once that happens, what’s an automaker to do?
Well, the answer is simple: duke it out on the track. Starting with some plenty capable road cars, automakers from Chevy to Aston Martin offer track-focused versions of their street cars that are so powerful that they often bear little resemblance to their road-going cousins. While some of these race cars are (thankfully) legal enough to drive to and from the track, some have sacrificed roadability in the mad pursuit of speed, and have become entirely different beasts in the process.
From affordable road cars to impossibly fast track weapons, here are 7 track versions of some very well-known road cars.
1. Porsche 911 GT3 RS
There are plenty of track day cars out there, but the GT3 is the daddy of them all. And while most automakers would be happy with a 193 mile per hour, zero-to-60 in 3.3 seconds track toy, well, Porsche isn’t one of them.
Making its return for 2016, the GT3 RS (or “Racing Sport”) is an even more hardcore version of the legendary GT3. Costing twice as much as a 911 Carrera, the GT3 RS is equipped with a roll cage, a six-point safety harness, and little else – distractions like sound insulation and rear seats are gone (though air conditioning and a stereo are available as no-charge options). The massive rear wing and added vents keep the car planted to the ground, and along with a host weight saving measures, the RS is an impressive 0.2 seconds quicker to 60 than the regular GT3, an eternity on the track.
2. Chevrolet Camaro Z/28
The fifth-generation Camaro’s days may be numbered, but the outgoing Z/28 still has the power to amaze. The thought of parting with $72,000 for a Camaro may seem ridiculous to some – you can buy three base-model Camaros for that price and still have some change left over – but the Z/28 is more world-class racer than mere muscle car. Chevy found a way to remove 300 pounds from the already speed-focused ZL1, then crammed a 7.0 liter 505 horsepower V8 under the hood, gave it massive brakes, revised aerodynamics, and a racing suspension before calling it a day.
The result is an American muscle car that actually likes cornering. So much so, in fact, that it lapped the Nürburgring in 7 minutes and 37 seconds in the wet. That’s Porsche 911 territory. In a Camaro.
Chevy sums up its barely road-legal racer by saying “Put simply, the Z/28 is designed to dominate the track, lap after lap.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
3. Shelby GT350R
The Shelby GT350R hasn’t hit the streets yet, but it has so much potential that we couldn’t keep it off this list. Chevy threw down the gauntlet with the Z/28 back in 2014, and with the upcoming GT350R, Ford is launching it back. The new GT350 is impressive enough, with its active suspension and aerodynamics, and a specially-developed 500-plus horsepower 5.2 liter V8 that took its inspiration from flat-crank racing engines used by Ferrari. While the new V8 is already being positioned at the most powerful naturally-aspirated engine ever built, and the R will take the track-focused insanity to a whole other level.
For the R, Ford shed 130 pounds by removing distractions like the infotainment system, air conditioning, back seat, trunk liner and spare tire (who needs things like that on the track?) and replaced them with an even more aggressive aero kit, a suspension designed specifically for track use, and exclusive carbon fiber wheels – the first ever offered by a major automaker. By the time the R hits the track for 2016, Chevy should have responded with its next-generation Z/28, proving once and for all that there are no real losers in the modern horsepower war.
4. Mazda Miata Club
In 2003, Mazda issued the American-only Club Sport, a limited-run track car built to Sports Car Club of America specifications. Despite its rarity (only 50 were built), its spirit looms large over the all-new 2016 Miata Club. While the new Miata could shape up to be the best car to ever wear the iconic nameplate, the performance-focused Club could easily become the next weapon of choice for weekend racers all over the world.
A revised aero kit, fatter tires, bigger breaks, and a limited-slip differential for the standard manual transmission make the Club the ultimate track-day Miata right from the factory. At $28,600, its base price thankfully proves that brand new track cars aren’t just toys for the wealthy.
5. Aston Martin Vanquish GT12
Aston Martin has long had the reputation as the builder GT cars for the true gentlemen, but its recent successes on the track prove that the company has more than a little Mr. Hyde lurking just beneath its Dr. Jekyll facade. With the Vanquish GT12 (formerly known as the Vanquish GT3), Aston has transformed its fantastic Vanquish into a snarling track-day beast.
Limited to just 100 cars, the GT12 is over 220 pounds lighter than the production Vanquish. It’s been widened, lowered, and its 6.0 liter V12 has been massaged to produce nearly 600 horsepower. The GT12’s performance may be sheer lunacy, but its muscular lines and timeless good looks ensure that it’s lunacy wrapped in a tuxedo.
6. Mercedes-AMG GT3
If you thought Mercedes toned down their AMG GT supercar by ditching the outgoing model’s gull-wing doors, you’d be sadly wrong. While the looks may have been toned down for the road car, the madness has made its way over to the GT3 version, with its imposing piranha-mouth grille and massive rear wing.
Like the other cars included on this list, the AMG GT3 has been put on a crash diet in hopes of breaking the Porsche 911 GT3’s stranglehold on the FIA GT3 class. Power comes from the late-model AMG GT’s 600 horsepower 6.2 liter V8, which should be more than enough to make Porsche drivers feel very nervous.
7. Nissan GT-R Nismo
The Nissan GT-R is an anomaly in the automotive world. Despite being in its eighth year of production, it just seems to get better with each passing year. For 2015, the GT-R got the full-on track treatment from Nismo, which raised the price by nearly 50%, but turns the already world-beating GT-R into a true force to be reckoned with on the track.
When Nismo gets its hands on the car, horsepower from the twin-turbo 3.8 liter V6 jumps from 545 to an even 600, it gets bigger brakes, a new suspension, and an aggressive new carbon fiber aero kit. All this adds up to a car that sticks to the road at speed, and can rocket from zero to 60 in under three seconds. The GT-R was already one of the best cars in the world. After the Nismo upgrades, there isn’t much it can’t outrun.
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