Although the 850 wagon had better aerodynamics than the sedan, the extra weight in the roof raised the wagon’s center of gravity. As a result, the Volvo 850 wagons are fondly remembered as bouncing over every curb on two wheels. When people think of race cars, station wagons don’t usually come to mind, but Volvo proved everyone wrong with the 850 Touring.
8 of the Weirdest Race Cars You’ve Never Seen
These Rare Race Cars Stretch the Limits of What a Race Car Can be
Updated September 26, 2018
After a few decades of design evolution, we’ve recently re-entered an area of unusual race cars – designs we’ve never seen before or concepts that haven’t been in use for decades. Take for example the Delta Wing, its jet fighter body matched to a narrow front track, combining light weight with low aerodynamic drag. While it hasn’t delivered on its promise, well, at least it’s different. And of course the recently announced, mind-bending Nissan GT-R LM Nismo. So much for that, let’s take a look at some earlier attempts to break on through.
“TV” Tommy Ivo “Showboat”
In the late 1950s and 1960s Tommy Ivo acted in series of television shows, some for a few episodes, others for a season or two, all pretty much long forgotten. While Ivo was no James Dean he was a great self-promoter and drag racing fanatic. He build a two-engined dragster that set a number of records. But that wasn’t enough. In 1961, Ivo (now nicknamed TV Tommy) created a beast that drag racing has never again seen the likes of. With four (yes four) Buick “nailhead” V8 engines, Ivo’s all-wheel drive dragster was a monster that he named the “Showboat”. The engines on the left side drove the front wheels, while the engines on the right powered the rear wheels. The net total was1,856 cubic inches of displacement generating about 2,000 horsepower. Concerned that four-engined cars might become the norm, the NHRA relegated the “Showboat” to an exhibition class and limited Top Fuel cars to one engine.
There is no doubt that Supermodifieds are the wildest cars ever to circulate a short oval race track. In order to counter the steep banking, the car’s chassis is offset by 18 inches, with the engine and driveline components mounted outside the left side frame rails. Between the chassis offset and the extreme engine location, 70% of the weight of the car is on the inside wheels.Giant wings provide aerodynamic downforce in the quest for speed.
Supermodifieds are powered by fuel-injected V8 engines that run on methanol and can produce 800 plus horsepower, and circulate a 1/2 mile oval at 120 miles per hour, which works out to about to about a 15-second lap. These unconventional race cars may look funny, but they mean serious business.
Established in the 1930s as true road roads in Argentina, the Turismo Carreta would race from city to city in pre-war American cars on a mix of paved and gravel roads and is where a young Juan-Manuel Fangio cut his teeth. Now run on paved circuits, the Turismo Carretera has an enormous following in its native Argentina. The heavily-modified race cars are based, believe it or not, on 1960s and 70s Chevy Nova, Dodge Dart, Rambler American, and Ford Falcon (above), all running race-prepped straight six-cylinder engines from the respective manufacturer.
Volvo 850 Touring Car (BTCC)
Just over 20 years ago two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans-winning Tom Walkinshaw Racing teamed up with Volvo in compete against BMW, Alfa Romeo, Renault, Ford and others in the British Touring Car Championship. Between TWR and Volvo personnel the decision was made to use the 850 wagon body, as it offered better aerodynamics than the Volvo sedan. The selection was a tightly kept secret; not even drivers Rickard Rydell and Jan Lammers knew of the decision. The Volvo wagon turned out to be competitive, with Rydell taking third overall in the BTCC Championship in both 1995 and 1996.
Herb Adams VSE “Pontoon Car”
Soon after ground effects had been harnessed by Lotus in F1, designers in other classes were searching for ways to channel airflow for additional downforce. One such design, Herb Adam’s Escort-sponsored Can-Am car is a perfect example. By moving the driver and the engine on either side of the car, a large venturi tunnel could run down the middle. There were two problems, though. One was the inability of the team to balance the downforce front to rear and the second is the drivers just couldn’t adjust to being so far off the centerline of the car. The appeared at a few races and disappeared.
Smokey Yunick “Capsule Car”
Designed and built by racing legend Smokey Yunick, the concept behind the capsule car was to balance the three heaviest components of the car (engine, driver, and fuel)so that the vehicle’s weight distribution was properly balanced between front and rear and a bias to the left to improve grip in Indy’s corners. The qualifying attempt for 1964 ended in a crash and the car was no longer eligible from 1965 on. Visitors can see the car on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.
AVS Shadow Mk. I
Trevor Harris, who would later go on to design Indy Cars and Le Mans Prototypes, was hired by Don Nichols, owner of Advanced Vehicle Systems to develop a breakthrough car for the 1970 Can-Am series. As the photo above shows, the car was absolutely tiny, with the big block Chevy V-8 dominating the design. The intent was to create as little aerodynamic drag as possible through a vastly reduced frontal area. Its dimensions weren’t much larger than a go-kart and used special 10-inch diameter wheels up front and 12 diameter wheels in the rear. Despite an estimated top speed of 250 mph, the Mk. I was unable to deliver on its promise. AVS returned to the Can-Am series the following year with a more conventional design, although Mk. It remains a fan favorite at vintage races.
OK, let’s say it’s 1971 and you’re the marketing manager for Ford trucks in the UK. You’re selling this commercial van to small businesses like plumbers, electricians, florists shops, etc. but no one is getting very excited about your van (yawn). So to wake everyone up, you acquire a genuine Ford race motor with Gurney-Weslake three valve per cylinder heads, Hewland gearbox, and open headers. Now you pop the normal engine out from under the hood and install the race engine in the cargo area. And you take it around the track, give journalists rides, and all the other thing you do to promote a product. Ford liked the concept so much that every few years they build another one. Check out the short video Ford produced about the original Supervan.