We all love a good Q or “sleeper” car. Something that is very much “all go and no show” can unearth much more primal satisfaction from winning a traffic light Grand Prix than it’s quad-exhausted counterparts. Too often in today’s market are cars given styling that belies what is under the bonnet. You can walk away from a showroom owning a car that aesthetically screams 400 bhp potential, but in reality it’s an oil burner or a small CC engine, or both. Back in the days (jeez I sound old!) when body kits were only available from dedicated tuning houses, and 17″ wheels were considered humongous, the Q car ruled the roost. Visually, all bets were off as to what the car next to you was packing in the horsepower stakes, sure,it looks the same car as yours, but does it have your engine or the big one the factory shoe-horned in? You could never tell until you showed your hand.
Here we’ll take a look at the some of the Kings of Q and give an incite into what the term means for those unfamiliar with the sleeper car….
The terminology “Q car” or “sleeper”, refers to a car that looks mundane, but has serious performance credentials. “Q car” is a British term for such vehicles and is generally believed to be derived from the Royal Navy “Q” signed ships of WW1 and WW2, were merchant ships that were normal in appearance, were used to lure German U boats into attacking them and then use the Q ships concealed and often potent weaponry to give them a drubbing. Another theory suggests the Q car was born from the Police using highly tuned, unmarked “Quiet cars” to catch unwary criminals. The tag of “sleeper” is from the USA and refers to a “sleeper agent”, were opposing sides in the Cold War would install spies in each other’s homelands that would live there peacefully and look and act like normal people.
So which cars are the Kings of Q? Well it’s all subjective of course but we’ve compiled a list of a few we think worthy of the Q tag, but feel free to add your own in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
1. Volvo 850R
This car and a stint in the BTCC worked wonders in Volvo’s strategy to shake off the antiques dealer image. Despite the bigger wheels and brighter colour’s, the 850R looked very much like it’s wallowy sofa lugging siblings and fooled many into a false sense of security. 250 bhp saw the manual version reach 60 in under 6 seconds and reach 158mph, all in a body that could take all your crap to the tip in one go and wouldn’t look out of place parked outside an octogenarian club.
2. Rover 620ti
Not as cool as the 850R, but this makes it even more of a Q car. This Rover/Honda collaboration saw an “only a Mother could love it” body contain the 197 bhp T series engine which propelled the blandmobile to 60 in under seven seconds and on to 143mph. Only the small “ti” badge and slightly different alloy wheels gave it away.
3. Saab 9000 Carlsson
Or if you bought one in the States, the Saab 9000 Talladega, was a limited run to honour Saab rally legend Erik Carlsson and despite it’s mildly tarted up exterior, not many people would have it down as an 185bhp hatch. Which was a lot back then by the way.
4. Rover 75 V8
Unlike it’s quad exhaust wearing, body kit shod sister, the MG ZT 260, the 75 V8 was a luxury barge for gentleman but with the same 4.6 litre Mustang V8 under the bonnet. Power was a modest 260bhp but this propelled the 75 to 60 in just over 6 seconds and on to 155 mph. Think along the lines of Clive Dunn strapped to a rocket. If you’re young enough to have to google who Clive Dunn was, I hate you.
5. Lancia Thema 8.32
If you can work out the numbers, the Thema gives away it’s little surprise in that it’s running a mildly de-tuned Ferrari 308 engine. “8” being the number of cylinders, “32” being the number of valves, the Thema didn’t worry about it’s boxy looks and just got in with hitting 60mph in 6.8 seconds (non cat version) and cracked on until it hit 146 mph.
This is just my personal top 5 so if you have a Q car candidate you’d like to see featured in a later article, comment on the article or tweet us.