You don’t need a red Ferrari to win races—you just need to cross the line first. History is full of oddball racing cars, teams, and drivers who’ve managed to find success, but the vehicles here weren’t really thought of as competitive machines until they started taking home trophies.
Turning luxury sedans, wagons, and Jet Age American cars into racing machines may not sound like a recipe for success, but thankfully for us, these machines were unexpectedly well-suited to race—and win. What’s your favorite unexpectedly fast racing car?
Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.8 by AMG in endurance racing
This wasn’t really supposed to be a purpose-built racing car. But when the boffins at AMG turned their attention to making Mercedes-Benz V8 engines as powerful as possible, a funny thing happened once they stuffed one into the 300 SEL: the luxury sedan started running at the front of the pack. A huge, thirsty sedan isn’t the most practical car for endurance racing, but an estimated 428 horsepower is a great way to equalize things.
Despite having a rear bench seat, wood trim, and its air suspension still fitted, on its debut at the 1971 24 Hours of Spa the car finished first in class and second overall. Decades on, AMG is a household name.