25 classic Q-cars | Classic & Sports Car (2024)

  • Quick cars with subtle looks

    Fast cars come in many forms and one of the most pleasurable is the Q-car. This is a vehicle that can slip by unnoticed by all but the most informed onlooker.

    From saloons to coupés, estates to luxury limos, Q-cars come in a variety of forms, but all share the same discreet ability to surprise with their turn of speed.

    Here’s our list of some of the best classic Q-cars, presented in chronological order.

  • 1. Chrysler 300 (1955)

    When it was launched in 1955, the Chrysler 300 was the most powerfulproduction car in the world. Not that you would guess from its restrained Virgil Exner-penned looks that made only the smallest of nods to the trend for ever-bigger fins.

    What marked out the 300 was the 295bhp 331cu in (5.4-litre) V8 that meant it could scoot from rest to 60mph in just 9secs and on to 125mph. Impressive stuff for a car tipping the scales at almost two tonnes.

    This sort of pace meant Chrysler was soon dominating NASCAR racing, and it was also credited with being the very first muscle car.

  • 2. Jaguar Mk2 3.8 (1959)

    A big engine in a compact car is a classic recipe for the ideal Q-car and Jaguar got it spot on with its Mk2 3.8.

    With 220bhp on offer from the largest-capacity XK engine to that point, the Mk2 in manual gearbox form was good for 0-60mph in 8.5 secs, or about a third of what most family saloons needed at the time to cover the same dash. A top speed of 125mph was the icing on the performance cake.

    What made this Mk2 such a wolf in sheepskin jacket was it looked just the same as a 2.4-litre model. Little wonder it became the darling of saloon racers and bank robbers, though the police preferred the later S-type with its larger boot and independent rear suspension.

  • 3. Daimler Majestic Major (1960)

    This most upright of establishment pillars hid a potent secret that made it the ideal opulent Q-car.

    Under the bonnet of the Majestic Major lay Daimler’s all-alloy 4561cc V8 engine designed by Edward Turner. With 214bhp to its name, it could shift the stately Daimler to a 120mph top speed.

    Just as impressive as the all-out speed of this mansion on wheels was it could also cover 0-60mph in 10.3 secs.

    Only 1180 Majestic Majors were built, and many later gave up their engines to builders in the burgeoning drag and custom car scene that followed.

  • 4. Lotus Cortina (1963)

    Lotus was barely a decade old as a company when Ford teamed up with the small outfit to create the first Lotus Cortina.

    With a Lotus-designed twin-cam head on the Ford engine, itfizzed with revvy energy to make this the small saloon to beat on the road and track.

    Only those in the know understood what the green flash down the side of the otherwise all-white Lotus Cortina meant, so it could easily pass for a more humble family car.

    Open the taps, however, and this Cortina could reach 108mph as well as out-handle almost anything else on the road.

  • 5. Vanden Plas 4-Litre R (1964)

    British car makers have a knack when it comes to regal hot rods and the Vanden Plas 4-Litre R is a prime example.

    On the surface, here is an upright, almost staid four-door saloon designed for luxury transport, yet under the bonnet lies a 3909cc straight-six from none other than Rolls-Royce.

    The standard three-speed automatic transmission slowed performance, so 0-60mph took 12.7 secs, but the 4-Litre R was ideal for rapid and effortless long distance jaunts.

    The all-alloy engine meant it handled well and buyers could specify electrically adjustable dampers for improved handling.

  • 6. Bristol 411 (1969)

    The last of the more rounded style of Bristol cars appeared every inch the country club on wheels. However, looks were very deceptive in the case of the 411, becauseit harboured a 6.3-litre Chrysler V8 engine under the bonnet, that later grew to 6.6 litres in 1973.

    Put your foot to the floor and the 411 could cover 0-60mph in 7secs and head on to 140mph, making it one of the swiftest cars on the roads in the late 1960s.

    The 411 was praised in period for being superior to a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow in every aspect of luxury while also offering sporty handling.

  • 7. Rover P6 3500S (1971)

    Marrying the lightweight V8 engine to the P6 saloon was one of Rover’s masterstrokes. However, it took until the S model of 1971 for it to the reach its Q-car zenith with a manual gearbox.

    Attaching the four-speed manual transmission improved acceleration over the auto model, so the S dealt with 0-60mph in 9.1 secs.

    The S also had a top speed of 122mph that made it very appealing to police forces already keen on the P6’s comfort, space and handling.

    With few details other wheel trims and badges to give the game away, the S was an ideal motorway stalking horse.

  • 8. Daimler Double Six (1972)

    The Daimler Double Six was the ideal home for parent company Jaguar’s new 5.3-litre V12 engine. Refinement was the prime motivation for this unit, but a welcome side benefit was the speed it offered.

    From rest, the Double Six could spring to 60mph in 7.4 secs and head on to 145mph, which put it firmly in the super-saloon category of the time.

    Yet the only clue to the Daimler’s pacewasits small boot badge, which meant you could see off all but the best sports cars, so long as you could cope with 12mpg fuel economy.

  • 9. Ford Consul GT (1972)

    While the Granada name was preserved for the top-of-the-line models at the 1972 launch of Ford’s large saloon, the Consul GT was a slightly pared-back version.

    If it looked a little sparse at first, it was easily forgiven for offering firmer suspension and more direct non-assisted steering.

    Up front was Ford’s 138bhp 3.0-litre Cologne V6 engine coupled to a four-speed manual gearbox instead of the three-speed auto of higher-spec Granadas.

    This equated to 0-60mph in 9.0 secs and 114mph for £350 less than a Granada GXL. The GT also came with wider 6in wheels to further improve roadholding, so little wonder it soon found favour with the police and fame as the chosen wheels in TV series The Sweeney.

  • 10. MGB GT V8 (1973)

    What held back sales of the MGB GT V8 is it looked too much like the standard four-cylinder coupé model, yet this is also why it’s a perfect Q-car.

    Few would notice the Dunlop alloy wheels that were standard, so the V8 could surge past slower traffic largely unnoticed.

    Squeezing the 137bhp Rover V8 under the bonnet was not the work of a moment, but it did deliver 0-60mph in 7.7 secs and a 127mph top speed.

    With plenty of torque, the MG was an effortless cruiser as well as swift, so it’s a shame only 2591 of this impressive and under-the-radar coupé were ever made.

  • 11. Triumph Dolomite Sprint (1973)

    Maybe it was the four-door body or the wooden dash that kept the Triumph Dolomite Sprint out of mind for many seeking a quick saloon in the 1970s.

    While the Ford Escort and Opel Manta offered more obvious two-door thrills, the Sprint was just as quick thanks to its technically sophisticated 16-valve 1998cc engine.

    The motor developed 127bhp and was happy to rev hard, which helped the Dolomite Sprint from a standing start to 60mph in a nifty 8.7 secs. It was good for 115mph, too, making it faster outright than an Escort RS 2000.

    However, success in Touring Car racing wasn’t enough to wake up more buyers to the Sprint’s charms, which meant it became an ideal and subtle way to get about in a hurry.

  • 12. Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 (1975)

    The ultimate Q-car? Quite possibly and certainly of its period. The 116-series Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 took the formula applied to the previous 300SEL 6.3 and made it more extreme.

    Under the bonnet lurked a whopping V8 engine with 282bhp, which offered 0-60mph in a sports car-beating 7.5 secs and a 140mph top speed.

    What made all of this so delightfully absurd was the 450SEL 6.9 handled superbly while delivering luxury and refinement on a par with a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow.

    Few would recognise it as anything other than a Mercedes S-Class – and those who did wouldn’t have long until the 6.9 disappeared in a waft of acceleration.

  • 13. BMW 745i (1979)

    The 745i was a left-hand-drive-only model from BMW to cast a halo over its E23 7 Series range.

    It used a turbocharged 3.2-litre engine to give 248bhp and 0-60mph in 7.4 secs. On the autobahn, it looked just like a 735i, but this turbo model could top out at 137mph.

    There was also a South African-specific 745i model that used a 3.5-litre, naturally aspirated engine with 282bhp. It was built between 1983 and 1987, and only 207 of this model were produced in total, but it was quicker than its European counterpart with a top speed of 144mph.

  • 14. Bentley Mulsanne Turbo (1982)

    Other than its dual exhaust pipes and tiny badge, you wouldn’t know the new Turbo model was anything other than a Bentley Mulsanne in 1982.

    However, the addition of a Garrett T04 turbocharger turned the sedate Mulsanne into a true Bentley performance saloon capable of 0-60mph in 7 secs. In a car weighing 2.3 tonnes, this was nothing short of shocking at the time.

    So much of the Mulsanne Turbo’s appeal was in knowing that sort of power and acceleration was there to be used while you enjoyed all the luxury on offer.

    This model also started to rebootthe Bentley name from being little more than badge-engineered Rolls-Royce models.

  • 15. Saab 9000 turbo (1985)

    The Saab 900 turbo was very much the thinking driver’s performance car, while the 9000 turbo was the choice of the thinking Saab driver.

    Several 9000 models came with turbocharged engines, but the one to have was the 173bhp Turbo that gave 0-60mph in a brisk 7.2 secs and 141mph all out. Quick stuff for a practical five-door executive car of the time.

    The sober-suited Saab was a very discreet way to make rapid progress, though the later and quicker Carlsson version – known as Talladega in other markets including the US – was too obvious in its styling to pass as a Q-car.

  • 16. Alfa Romeo 75 3.0 V6 (1987)

    The Alfa Romeo 75 had a sporty look even in basic 1.8-litre form, so when the 3.0-litre V6 version arrived in 1987, nobody batted an eyelid.

    That was until they drove it and found this 189bhp compact saloon could muster 0-60mph in 7.5 secs and hit 137mph given free rein.

    Alfa also gave the 75 V6 near-perfect front-rear weight balance by using a rear transaxle. As a result, not only could this car scare BMWs and Mercedes in a straight line, it could see them off on twisty roads, too, as an ideal surprise package.

  • 17. Peugeot 405 Mi16 (1987)

    It’s a measure of how restrained Peugeot was with its additional bodykit for the 405 Mi16 that few clocked this fast saloon.

    Modest side skirtsplus front and rear spoilers were the only giveaways that under the bonnet was a twin-cam development of the 205 GTI’s 1.9-litre engine with 161bhp. This allowed for 0-60mph in 8.2 secs and 138mph.

    As well as being quick off the mark, the Mi16 was great to drive, and there was the option of four-wheel drive. Whether you preferred front- or all-wheel drive, the Mi16 was a subtle way to enjoy a fast saloon.

  • 18. Vauxhall Senator 3.0 24v (1987)

    The only time most drivers would pay any attention to the Vauxhall Senator 3.0 24v was when one appeared in the rear-view mirror with blue lights flashing.

    A favourite of many police forces, the Senator came with a healthy 201bhp to offer 0-60mph in 7.5 secs and 149mph. Perfect for patrolling motorways.

    The Senator also handled very well thanks its innate front-engine, rear-drive balance. In civvy spec, the 24v could easily pass for a lesser version, and the Vauxhall badge lulled many unsuspecting BMW and Jaguar drivers into mistaking it for something much slower.

    The Lotus Carlton that followed used an enlarged version of the 24v engine, but it was a much more obvious performance saloon than the understated Senator.

  • 19. Lancia Thema 8.32 (1988)

    You sensed Lancia built its Ferrari-engined Thema 8.32 simply because it could. The result was a very rapid four-door thanks to the front-mounted 2.9-litre V8.

    Off the line, the 8.32 could manage 0-60mph in 6.8 secs and top out at 149mph.

    As impressive as the pace and low-key looks was the way the 8.32 dealt with all of the power through the front wheels without any torque steer.

    However, the 8.32 was hugely expensive and little quicker than the Thema Turbo, which covered 0-60mph in 7.2 secs and cost less than half of its V8-powered sibling.

  • 20. Mercedes-Benz 500E (1990)

    You would have to look closely to spot the 500E’s gently flared wheelarches, wider wheelsand four-piston brake calipers clamping huge discs.

    This was intentionally a discreet car, as befits a super saloon built jointly between Mercedes and Porsche.

    If few would notice the 500E when parked, you’d certainly realise what it was from the driver’s seat as Mercedes fitted its 322bhp, 32-valve 5.0-litre V8.

    This translated to 0-60mph in 5.5 secs and a 155mph top speed, making it the ideal inconspicuous continent crusher.

  • 21. Subaru Legacy Turbo (1991)

    It would be easy to walk past the Subaru Legacy Turbo and dismiss it as another anonymous saloon or estate from the period.

    Yet, under the bonnet, is the same turbocharged 2.0-litre flat-four motor that would go on to make such a splash in the Impreza. Here it meant 0-60mph in 6.9 secs and a 136mph top speed.

    If the Legacy Turbo was outwardly nondescript, underneath it was very advanced with all-wheel drive to make the most of the engine’s power and deliver superb handling.

  • 22. Volvo 850 T5 (1993)

    Large estate, practical family car, safe, comfortable, solidly built: the Volvo 850 covered all the important bases.

    Oh, and the 223bhp T5 could hit 150mph. Not what anyone expected of a Volvo in estate or saloon forms, yet the T5 became an overnight hit with those who recognised an inconspicuous performance car when they saw one.

    That number included many police forces who loved the 850 T5’s all-round abilities, even if it did have an appetite for front tyres.

    There was little to give away the T5 aside from its handsome five-spoke alloy wheels and warbly exhaust note. Make the most of it, though, and 0-60mph came up in 7.3 secs, while the more powerful T5-R and 850R models that followed were even quicker.

  • 23. Audi RS2 Avant (1994)

    If you weren’t in the know, the RS2 would seem like just another Audi 80 Avant estate. For those who clocked the deeper front bumper, five-spoke alloy wheels, and huge disc brakes, the RS2 became the stuff of legend.

    Built in collaboration with Porsche, which fettled the turbocharged 2.2-litre five-cylinder engine to make 311bhp, the RS was every bit as special as it was understated.

    Permanent four-wheel drive made full use of the motor’s power, so 0-60mph came up in 4.8 secs and top speed was 158mph.

    It drove brilliantly, humbled supercars and established Audi’s RS line, and yet the RS2 could easily slip through traffic unnoticed.

  • 24. Audi S8 (1996)

    A starring role in the film Ronin made the original Audi S8 a pin-up for those who love low-key performance cars.

    With little to differentiate it from the standard A8 models, the S8 could easily pass for just another luxury saloon. Flex your right foot, however, and the 4.2-litre V8 would wake up and do 0-60mph in 6.7 secs and 159mph.

    Four-wheel drive was standard for the S8 and, helped by its aluminium construction to keep weight down, it handled as well as it went.

    Later in its life, the engine gained five valves per cylinder for even more power, yet the S8 remained as under-the-radar as before.

  • 25. Honda Accord Type R (1999)

    If you ordered a Honda Accord Type R without a rear wing, there was almost nothing to give the game away with this rapid saloon from the outside.

    Inside, it had sports front seats, and the rear bulkhead was strengthened to make the whole body stiffer. This was to cope with the high-revving 209bhp 2.0-litre engine that redlined at 7500rpm.

    The Type R could easily be driven just like any other Accord saloon, yet above 5500rpm, its variable valve timing turned it from Dr Jekyll into Mr Hyde.

    Its 0-60mph in 7.2 secs and 142mph was quick enough to see off all but the best hot hatches of the period, yet the Honda had none of their lairy connotations.

25 classic Q-cars | Classic & Sports Car (2024)
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