“Race cars are neither beautiful or ugly. They become beautiful when they win.” – Enzo Ferrari
The world of car racing is constantly changing, the technology evolves, the rules change and drivers ebb and flow. But every so often, a team or manufacturer has the perfect storm of a fast car, great driver and solid teamwork to create a race car that dominates the field.
Domination in auto racing requires near super-human levels of work. Rules are designed to equalize performance among competitors, and teams are constantly changing, updating and developing their car to be able to win.
Here are 40 of the most successful cars to ever turn a wheel in anger on the race track.
Chevrolet Corvette C5-R
The mighty Corvette C5-R, built by Pratt & Miller and Chevrolet, is one of the most successful endurance racing sports cars of all time. In total, the C5-R won 31 times from 55 races and collected 24 pole positions and an astonishing 50 podiums.
The Corvette Racing team cars would also win their class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times, win the 24 Hours of Daytona race overall and win their class in the 12 Hours of Sebring. Some of the best drivers in the business raced the C5-R including the legendary Dale Earnhardt and his son Dale Jr.
The Fabulous Hudson Hornet
Back when stock car racing actually meant racing with stock, from the dealer lot, cars, Hudson Motor Car Company had a car that owned the early stock car racing scene. In fact, they were the first “factory team” in early NASCAR.
Hudson had always been fans of motor racing and used that to their advantage in marketing and developing models. Despite not having a V8 like the other cars, the Hornet was lighter, lower and handled better than the competition, making it faster around the race track. In 1951 the Fabulous Hudson Hornet won 13 races, in 1952 it won 49 and in 1953 it won 46 races.
Nissan Skyline GT-R R32
The R32 model Nissan Skyline GT-R is one of the greatest touring car racers of all time and is single-handedly responsible for earning the nickname “Godzilla” and building the legend around Nissan’s world-beater.
From 1989 to 1993, the GT-R competed in 29 Japanese Touring Car Championship (JTCC) races, it won every single one, and won the JGTC Championship four years in a row. The R32 generation has more race wins and championships than there is space in this article, but the bottom line is this… It was almost pointless to turn up at a Touring Car race with anything other than a GT-R between 1989 and 1993.
Audi R8 LMP
The Audi R8 LMP (Le Mans Prototype) was the dominant force at the Le Mans 24 Hour race and in endurance sport car racing between 2000 and 2005.
During that five year span, the sleek and aggressive looking prototype entered 79 races and won 63 of them. That’s just shy of an 80% win rate. The R8 LMP also racked-up 47 pole positions and 5 overall Le Mans wins in the six years that it competed there. The only year it didn’t win at the Circuit de la Sarthe, 2003, was the year that an Audi powered Bentley LMP race car won.
BMW E30 M3
Shortly before the Nissan Skyline came to power, the dominate force in Touring Car racing was the BMW M3. I’ll just let the championships and race wins speak for themselves:
It claimed 1 World Touring Car Championship, 2 European Touring Car Championships, 2 British Touring Car Championships, 4 Italia Supertourismo Championships, 2 Deutsche Tourenwagen Meistershaft Championships, 1 Australian Touring Car Championship, 1 Australian 2.0-Liter Touring Car Championship, 2 Australian Manufacturers’ Championships, 2 AMSCAR Series Championships, 1 Irish Tarmac Rally Championship. 5x 24 Hours of the Nurburghring Wins and 4x 24 Hours of Spa Wins. That’s how you become a legend!
From 1982 to 1994, the Porsche 956/962 was THE prototype to beat in endurance sports car racing. 7 overall Le Mans victories, 24 championships and possibly the longest competition career of any race car.
The Porsche 956 debuted in 1982 with the 962 coming in 1984. The 962 was a slightly longer wheelbase version of the 956 to accommodate the rules of the IMSA GTP Series. Otherwise, the cars shared nearly everything else. The final Le Mans victory in 1994, won by Dauer Racing, used a Porsche 962 that had been converted to a street car and then back to a race car for the race.
Lancia Delta Group A
Rally racing combines dirt, gravel, tarmac, snow, ice, a stopwatch, and cars with technology that are usually banned in other series like Formula 1. In the rally world, one race car stands head and shoulders above the rest… the formidable Lancia Delta Group A car.
The Delta is a four-wheel drive, turbocharged, dirt-slinging weapon that won the World Rally Championship’s (WRC) Constructor’s Championship six years in a row, from 1987 to 1992 and the Driver’s Championship five years in a row from 1987 to 1991. In that time span, the Delta won 46 WRC events across the globe.
The Porsche 911 doesn’t require much in that way of introductions, it’s one of the most iconic and long-lived sports cars ever. For over 50 years, the rear-engine wonder has been the standard by which other sports cars and race cars are measured.
In an almost impossible to believe statistic, the Porsche 911, in all its generations, has won its class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans over 80 times! No other car can even come close to that figure. The most surprising fact about the 911 is its longevity. Originally debuting in 1963, it has remained competitive in racing for over 50 years.
Bugatti Type 35
When you mention the name Bugatti, most think of impossibly expensive, stupendously fast, hyper-luxury cars like the Veyron and Chiron. These ultra-exclusive cars are each made for a specific owner and offer world-beating performance.
However, those in the know will remember that Bugatti was equally adept at making world-beating race cars back in the 1920s and 1930s. Their most successful car, the Type 35 was powered by a straight-eight cylinder engine making about 130-horsepower and giving it a top speed of 125 mph. That sounds pretty woeful for a racing car, but it was good enough between 1924 and 1930 to win 2,000 races!
In 1988, the McLaren Formula 1 Team paired a lightweight carbon-fiber chassis with a 1.5-liter, turbocharged Honda V6 and created an open-wheel racing car that would be revered and idolized even to this day.
Part of that mystique was due to the drivers, the stunning Ayrton Senna and the legendary Alain Prost, and the other part was due to the sheer superiority of the car. 15 wins out of 16 races for the season, 15 pole positions and 10 fastest laps of the race. The MP4/4 was so fast, that at the San Marino Grand Prix, it out-qualified the next non-McLaren car by a massive 3.2 seconds, an eternity in Formula 1.
The pace at which Formula 1 technology develops and evolves is, to put it mildly, rapid. Cars are redesigned each year and continuously developed over the course of the season, all to keep pace with the competition.
Not so with the Lotus 72. Introduced in 1970, the Lotus 72 competed in F1 for five seasons, largely unchanged. In that time, the Lotus competed in 75 Grand Prix, won 20 of those races, sat on the podium 39 times, took pole position 17 times and won five championships (three constructor’s and two driver’s championships). How good does your car have to be for the competition to take five years to catch up?
What does a 3.0-liter, 865-horsepower, 19,000-RPM Ferrari V10 F1 car sound like? Domination, that’s what. In 2004, the most successful driver in Formula 1, Michael Schumacher, won his 7th world championship with the F2004. He and his teammate would combine for 15 wins out of 18 races, 12 pole positions and finish 1-2 in 8 races.
The F2004 epitomized the dominance of Ferrari during the early 2000s, as the team had won the Constructor’s Championship six years in a row and the Driver’s Championship five years in a row. The F2004 will go down in history as one of the most formidable F1 cars of all time.
The Ford GT40’s origin story is as dramatic as a soap opera and involves Enzo Ferrari, Henry Ford II, British race car technology and close to $500 million.
The only thing more spectacular than the story of the GT40 is its success at the track. The fast Fords won at Le Mans four years in a row between 1966 and 1969. Impressive in its own right, but the GT40 also went on to win four International racing championships during the same time period. Bruce McLaren, founder of the McLaren Formula 1 Team and builder of McLaren race and road cars, drove the Le Mans winning GT40 in 1966 with F1 ace Chris Amon.
One of the most recognizable race cars ever created, the Porsche 917 came to embody Le Mans prototype racing and is memorialized in the Steve McQueen film, Le Mans.
After working through some teething issues, the 917 had a break-out year in 1970, winning the 24 Hour of Le Mans race, giving Porsche its very first overall victory. It would repeat the feat in 1971 and go on to win six more races that season and collect the “World Championship for Makes” title. The car was banned by the FIA in 1972, and Porsche moved the 917, now evolved to the 917-30, to the Can-Am Series where it won all but two races in 1973.
The original Mini Cooper is a true giant-killer. Despite its size, the Mini punched way above its weight class and proved itself a worthy contender in Rally Racing and Touring Car Racing. Between 1960 and 1972, Mini Coopers won 32 World Rally Championship races. Mini also won the British Saloon Car Championship five times, and the European Touring Car Championship twice.
The Mini’s competition history is epic and made even more impressive when you consider that they are still being raced today! Its success on the race track can be traced to its unique design and go-kart-like handling.
Penske’s PC-23 open-wheel race car, competing in the CART series, is one of the most dominant open-wheel race cars ever built. Using a turbocharged Mercedes-Benz racing engine, reportedly making over 1000-horsepower, the PC-23 would win 12 races in the 1994 season, collect 10 pole positions, win the 1994 Indy 500 and lock-out the first three positions in the Driver’s Championship.
During the 1994 season, the PC-23, in the hands of Team Penske’s three drivers would win or finish on the podium in every single race except one. Now that’s how you dominate a championship!
In 1969, Bruce McLaren, founder of McLaren Cars, built the perfect race car. The orange monster had a 7.1-liter Chevrolet big block V8 with 680-horsepower and was destined for the Can-Am Series, Canadian American Challenge Cup, and cemented the legacy of Bruce McLaren and McLaren Cars.
The M8B won 11 out of 11 races in 1969, a perfect record, and scored 10 pole positions. Bruce McLaren would win 6 races and the championship, with teammate Denny Hulme winning the other 5. It’s hard to improve on perfection, and the McLaren M8B was unstoppable that year.
Citroen C4 WRC
The Citroen C4 WRC Rally Car is the ultimate hot-hatchback. Powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and mated to a sophisticated four-wheel-drive system the C4 was a force to be reckoned with in the World Rally Championship.
The C4 WRC raced between 2007 and 2010. In those years, it won the Driver’s Championship every year and the Constructor’s Championship three times. In total, it claimed 36 rally wins and 87 podiums, and in the hands of rally great Sebastian Loeb, never lost on a tarmac rally. Winners gonna win, as they say.
NASCAR Ford Thunderbird
Between 1987 and 1988, the NASCAR Ford Thunderbird, driven by Bill Elliot, won an incredible 11 races. That may not seem particularly impressive considering a NASCAR season has close to 30 races, but the way in which stock car racing is structured, the rules and sheer difficulty of winning races that are between 200 and 500 miles, means that it’s exceptionally hard to win consistently.
The Ford Thunderbird was the exception that proved the rule. Winning the Daytona 500, Winston 500, World 600 and Southern 500 races in a single year gave Bill Elliot and the Thunderbird a $1 million bonus for winning the “Big Four.”
Ferrari 250 GTO
The Ferrari 250 GTO is, at present, one of the most valuable cars in the world. They typically have a value in excess of $50 million, with the cars that have successful racing histories being worth even more. It’s also one of the most beautiful race cars ever built, and is in fact, officially listed as a “work of art” in Italy.
Built between 1962 and 1964, the V12 powered 250 GTO would take the International Championship for GT Manufacturers title three years in a row (1962, 1963 and 1964). 250 GTOs would also win the Tour de France Automobile in 1963 and 1964.
The Subaru Impreza was one of the most impressive cars at Subaru’s World Rally Championship from the mid-’90s to the early aughts. Used by legendary Rally drivers including Colin McRae, Richard Burns, Petter Solberg, and more, the Subaru Impreza earned Subaru three consecutive WRC constructors’ titles and three driver’s championships.
Unfortunately, by 2008, Subaru announced its withdrawal from the World Rally Championship due to economic hardship. Even though they’ve backed out of the race, the Impreza has the honor of holding the record for most WRC event wins next to the Lancia Delta.
The Citroen Xsara was one of the most successful race cars in World Rally Championship history and considered the best car in the class. It was actually the road-based Xsara hatchback that inspired the Xsara kit car, which is a naturally aspirated two-wheel drive.
The Xsara was driven by the late Philippe Bugalski, who placed seventh and won the Kit Car F2 class. Though the Xsara had trouble competing from 2001 to 2003, it managed to win the manufacturers’ title and went on to snag a championship in 2004 thanks to Sebastien Loeb.
The Toyota Celica has competed in World Rally Championships and circuit races. The Celica competed as early as 1977 in the DRM but it wasn’t until the ’80s that it started capturing class wins. In 1987, it also won the GTO Championship.
Aside from its success in circuit racing, the Celica is more known for its rallying prowess, having competed in its first World Rally Championship in 1972. As a rally car, the Celica has won two manufacturers’ titles and four driver’s titles.
Audi Quattro A1 (Group B)
The Audi Quattro debuted as a competition car in 1980 at the Janner Rally in Austria. The following year, Michele Mouton piloted the Audi Quattro and won a World Championship Rally, becoming the first female driver to do so. It wasn’t until the mid-’80s that Audi came up with the A1 and A2 versions of the Quattro in response to Group B rules.
As a result, the Quattro was updated with a turbocharged inline 5-cylinder engine. It would go on to win the Swedish Rally and the Rally Portugal, thanks to Hannu Mikkola.
Dodge Charger Daytona
Dodge made three separate vehicles with the name Dodge Charger Daytona, which were modified versions of the Charger that were meant to compete in NASCAR races. It was made in response to the losing Dodge Charger 500 car that caused Richard Petty to leave Dodge for Ford.
When the Charger Daytona came out, it won the first Talladega 500 thanks to driver Buddy Baker, who was the first driver in NASCAR history to break the 200 mph mark. Overall, the Charger Daytona won a total of six races.
The Plymouth Superbird debuted in 1970 as a followup to the Dodge Charger Daytona. The Superbird was developed specifically to compete in NASCAR as a modified Road Runner.
Made with engineering changes and modifications from the Daytona, car enthusiasts also suspect that the Superbird was made to lure Richard Petty away from Ford. It worked, and Petty went on to win eight races and placed quite high in many others against strong Ford competition. In later years, the car inspired the character Strip “the King” Weathers in Pixar’s Cars, which was voiced by Petty himself.
Ford Torino Talladega
Ford wanted in on the NASCAR competition, which is why they came up with the Ford Torino Talladega in 1969. Named for the Talladega Superspeedway, the Torino Talladega was designed as an aerodynamic version of the Torino/Fairlane Cobra.
Luckily for Ford, the Torino Talladega performed as expected, bagging 29 wins within the 1969 and 1970 NASCAR seasons. The Torino Talladega was so impressive, in fact, that it also won the Manufacturer’s Championship for both NASCAR and ARCA in 1969.
Chevrolet Monte Carlo
From 1972 to 1988, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo competed in NASCAR racing. The body style of models from 1973 to 1977 were used until 1980 when NASCAR required that the car move to a shorter 110-inch wheelbase.
With a front-wheel drive and a V6, the car’s shape closely matches that of the Ford Thunderbird and has been Chevrolet’s best car for NASCAR racing that they ever came up with. From 1995 to 1999, the Monte Carlo was known as the car driven by Jeff Gordon.
McLaren F1 GTR
The McLaren F1 GTR is a superb race car that is best known for its overall victory at the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans, where it beat out faster purpose-built prototypes. A variant of the McLaren F1 sports car that was first produced in 1995, the F1 GTR would go on to bag 38 wins out of more than 120 races it competed in internationally.
This sleek car also won three Constructor’s Championships since its debut and continued to race internationally until 2005.
The Ford Sierra was produced by Ford Europe from 1982 to 1993. It made its debut at the British International Motor Show in Birmingham and was considered ahead of its time in those days. When it came to racing, the Sierra was successful throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s.
The Sierra won the manufacturer’s title in the 1987 Wold Touring Car Championship but it was in 1987 that Ford was also forced out of the competition when Group B formulas were banned. Despite everything, Didier Auriol helped the Sierra win its first World Championship Rally in Corsica in 1988.
The Williams FW14 was one of the most popular Formula One cars of the early ’90s. It was designed by Adrian Newey and used by the Williams team for the 1991 and the 1992 Formula One seasons.
The FW14 debuted at the 1991 United States Grand Prix and was driven by Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese, who between the two of them scored seven victories. Within its 32 total races, the Williams FW14 recorded 17 total wins, including a Constructors’ Championship and a Drivers’ Championship.
Lancia Stratos HF
The HF stands for “High Fidelity,” which is definitely what this car has to offer. Throughout the mid-’70s, the Statos was the winner of the World Rally Championship thanks to drivers Sandro Munari and Bjorn Waldergard.
The Stratos was a serious competitor as long as it was handled by an experienced private team with an extremely talented driver, which is how it went on to bag its final victory in 1981 at the Tour de Course Automobile with the help of Bernard Darniche.
The Lotus 72 may have been impressive at the start of the ’70s but it was 1977’s Lotus 79 that really upped the ante in terms of Formula One cars. The 79 was the first to take full advantage of ground effects aerodynamics which couldn’t have been possible without its predecessor, the 78.
Redesigned venturi tunnels underneath the car allowed low pressure to be evenly spaced throughout the car’s entire underside. The car was driven by the likes of drivers such as Mario Andretti and has a total of six wins within its history.
Mazda created its 787B to compete in the Worlds Sportscar Championship, All Japan Sports Prototype Championship, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the early ’90s. The Japanese car maker has an affinity for a rotary engine, which is why they decided to utilize one for their race cars.
Despite the fact that it was slower than the competition, the Mazda 787B was impressively reliable and in 1991 became the only Japanese car and the only one outfitted with a rotary engine to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The Tyrrell P34 is a peculiar race car, primarily for the fact that it is outfitted with six wheels! Designed by Tyrrell chief designer Derek Gardner, the car needs specially manufactured 10-inch wheels and tires at the front but has two regular-sized wheels in the back. The idea behind this was to reduce drag and improve breaking. It worked at first.
But in the long run, Tyrrell couldn’t keep up with development to stay competitive and ended up winning only one race, the 1976 Swedish Grand Prix. It retired after the 1977 season.
The DeltaWing was another race car that wasn’t incredibly successful on the track but still proved how innovative design could affect aero drag with less weight. This shapely car was designed by Ben Bowlby and was outfitted with an engine from Nissan’s NISMO division when it debuted at the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The DeltaWing was driven by Marino Franchitti, Michael Krumm, Katherine Legge, Gunnar Jeanette, and others but of the 29 races it has been entered in, it has won none of them.
Peugeot 205 T16
The Peugeot 205 may have been built as a supermini street car throughout the ’80s and ’90s but it has proven itself in the heat of the competition. In 1990, CAR Magazine dubbed the 205 as the “car of the decade” and won What Car?‘s Car of the Year in 1984.
It was the 205 T16 that qualified as a Group B rally car to compete in World Rally Championships, with an all-wheel-drive and a specially developed 16-valve head. The Peugeot 205 has a total of 16 WRC wins to its name.
The Maserati 250F was one of the best Formula One racing cars from 1954 to 1960. Outfitted with an A6 straight-six engine, rubbed 13.4″ drum brakes, and a wishbone independent front suspension, it went on to compete in 46 races within its lifetime.
The 250F was first raced in the 1954 Argentine Grand Prix and driven by Juan Manuel Fangio, who went on to win his first two races. It has won a total of eight wins in Formula One history but has also won many non-championship races around the world.
The Mercedes 190E is related to the DTM cars of the early 1990s but built with a 2.5-liter engine. Like other car manufacturers, the Mercedes 190E was available as a street car but could be modified for racing.
Also sold as the W201, it was originally made as the first compact executive car made by Mercedes-Benz. It made its debut in 1982 with a rear 5-link suspension, front and rear anti-roll bars, and ABS brakes.
Kurtis Kraft Midget
They may not be well remembered today but the Kurtis Kraft midget cars were some of the finest and earliest race cars of their time. Built by designer Kurtis Kraft in the late ’30s, these cars were typically low fiberglass bodied, two-seater sports cars.
A Kurtis midget car was actually entered into the 1959 Formula One United States Grand Prix. It was driven by Rodger Ward but wasn’t designed for international-style road racing since its undersized engine would cause it to retire with clutch problems within 20 laps.