Ever since I could identify what the cars were that flew around superspeedways on ESPN, I could tell you two things about NASCAR:
- The cars all look the same.
- The amount of manufacturers seems to be shrinking.
It’s true. I started watching races sometime around 1988, which means I got to see a few relic G-body GM cars taking on the new whiz-bang W-body cars and the Aero Birds. It didn’t take long for me to switch the channel. But that wasn’t always the case. It used to be that racers grabbed whatever car fit into the wheelbase rule, built it enough to satisfy tech inspection, and with VIN tag in place, went out and ran that sucker until the wheels fell off. Some of the older choices, like Dodge Chargers and Ford Torinos, make sense. The selection we dug up…not so much. But we’d take just about any of them now!
11. 1980-82 Ford Thunderbird
Ford’s Thunderbird and NASCAR go back a ways. Most people fondly remember the “Aero Birds”, the re-shaped Fox-body Thunderbird best known for holding the speed record at Talladega at the hands of Bill Elliot. But before the Aero Birds, there was the Barn Door. The first Fox Thunderbird wasn’t a winner in the looks department, sales department, or on the circuit. In fact, the only way this isn’t an outright fail is because there’s hope for the ones that remain on the street…here’s one way you can make a Box Bird look badass.
10. 1975 Plymouth Road Runner
Much like the Thunderbird, Plymouth’s Road Runner and roundy-round racing have a great history. Unfortunately, in 1975, Chrysler had to face the music that the 1971-74 B-body had a shelf life and would have to be replaced. It was natural that the Road Runner, which had been reskinned for 1975, would make the jump, but as far as how it did? Not many chose the RR/Fury/Monaco/Coronet/Charger Sport shell…
9. 1982 Pontiac Grand Am
In response to NASCAR shrinking the wheelbase of their race cars, racers hurriedly sought replacements for their midsize-by-1970s standards cars. Most GM guys jumped to G-bodies, Ford guys went to the Fox Thunderbird and Cougar, and Mopar guys got left out in the cold to play with whatever they could make from nothing. But the A/G Pontiac Grand Am had the chops, the wheelbase, and a slight aero edge over the notchback G-body cars.
8. 1980-81 Dodge Diplomat
Yeah, that’s a Dodge Diplomat stock car. The Chrysler M-body has been my specialty for nearly two decades, yet this is the first stocker version I’ve ever seen. I’m still hunting down information on this one. They were built as coupes for two years before they became sedan-only, and wheelbase-wise would’ve qualified to run. A glimpse at what could have been if Chrysler hadn’t just walked away?
7. 1981 Chevrolet Caprice
Prior to the NASCAR downsizing, the Chevrolet Caprice coupe was the perfect size for a NASCAR stocker. In fact, Rusty Wallace’s stunning debut can be traced to a Caprice that had been built by Penske, and Richard Petty ran one for a bit before he moved on to the Buick Regal.
6. 1982 Chrysler Imperial
After the disastrous testing of a Dodge Mirada by Petty, Chrysler pretty much gave up on NASCAR and most Mopars disappeared from the track, save one: Buddy Arrington, who ran a Dodge Mirada on short-tracks and a Chrysler Imperial on superspeedways until 1986, when the bodies aged out.
5. 1978 Chrysler Cordoba
More mid-1970s Mopar floundering. The Dodge Magnum was the car most racers gravitated to…and learned to hate…but this 1978 Chrysler Cordoba made laps as well. Do you think the announcers had a “Corinthian Leather” joke spooled up and ready to go?
4. 1993 Mercury Cougar XR-7
With the introduction of the MN-12 Ford Thunderbird, Mercury Cougar and Lincoln Mark series, Ford stepped in and made sure that the Thunderbird was the only star of the show on tracks across the country. Cale Yarborough had other ideas, and this 1993 Mercury Cougar raised eyebrows…and tempers in Detroit.
3. 1972 American Motors Matador
Prior to the truly funky mid-1970s Matador Coupe, AMC’s previous generation Matador was the stock car of choice. Driver: Mark Donohue, Trans-Am legend and overall speed freak.
2. 1996 Lincoln Mark VIII
Another flouting of the rules within Ford, this Lincoln was tested before someone at HQ nearly blew a vein in anger. NASCAR even approved use of the body!
1. 1958 Citroen ID-19
Front wheel drive, two-digit horsepower and looks that reminds us of a landed fish…we don’t know if the Citroens were that good, or the other cars that bad. But we can’t argue with the news of the day there…