Looking for supercar performance without the need for a super-sized bank account or equally bloated ego? Then you need to get acquainted with the Crawley Down Group’s guide to the UK’s best old-school Q cars…
So what is exactly is a Q car?
Q cars take their name from Q ships used in the First World War when the crafty allies took harmless-looking ships and packed them with a huge arsenal of missiles and guns to hunt down and obliterate unsuspecting German U-boats. Q cars are a similar concept, with huge performance wrapped in a subtle economy class skin – ready to destroy unsuspecting German and Italian supercars at the traffic lights. Q cars are also referred to as ‘sleepers’.
We’ll be visiting a selection of the best retro Q cars here, so if you’re looking to capture a snarling monster for your weekend wheels – these sleeping meanies could be the place to start your search…
Audi RS2 Avant
It’s no beauty, but it’s certainly a beast beneath its unassuming family-car facade. Based on the Audi 80, it was a limited-edition model produced between 1994 and 1995, so don’t expect to find a raft of them clogging up the classifieds. However, if you can track down this holy grail of Q cars, you’ll be in for the white-knuckled ride of a lifetime. Beneath the bland, functional estate-car exterior lurks a snarling 2.2-litre five-cylinder turbocharged engine that’s waiting to inflict 311bhp of humiliation on a wide range of unsuspecting ‘supercars’. The fact that Porsche engineers carried out development work on the engine might help explain why it’s capable of blasting from 0-62mph in just 4.8 seconds and on to an electronically limited top speed of 163mph. It comes with Quattro all-wheel-drive – so it’s more than capable of making it round the corners, too.
How much: from £15,000
Supercar-scaring rating: You’ll be bothering Porsche drivers in one of these – 4/5
Volvo V70 R
As far as Q cars go, the Volvo V70 R is the epitome of well-disguised talent. Beneath its staid, practical exterior lies a dormant monster that’s ready to snap at the wheels of many an unwary performance car. Launched in 2002, the V70 R had a 300bhp powerplant, all-wheel-drive transmission and a ground-breaking adjustable suspension system that allowed drivers to fine-tune the ride while on the move. Despite its hefty – and rather sensible – appearance, the V70 R could blast from 0-60mph in 5.7 seconds and accelerate to an electronically limited top speed of 155mph.All this providing an eclectic cocktail of high-performance sports car and practical load-lugger.
How much: from £6,000
Supercar-scaring rating: Just look for open-mouthed BMW drivers – in your rear-view mirror – 4/5
Subaru Legacy GT Estate
As sleepers go, the Subaru Legacy GT Estate looks positively comatose, yet with lashings of familial DNA from the Impreza Turbo, it’s anything but a slouch. Hiding beneath that banal-looking exterior, the GT version of this farmers’ wives favourite packs an extremely large punch courtesy of an extra turbocharger. It also came with all-wheel-drive and a 2.0-litre boxer engine that offered outputs of between 240-280bhp. All this resulted in a mighty 0-60mph time of just 6.5seconds and a top speed of more than 140mph.
How much: from £6,000+
Supercar-scaring rating: Hot hatch drivers will be left in abject shock as they splutter in your smoke-filled wake – 4/5
Fiat launched the ‘Coupe’ in 1993, with both naturally aspirated and turbo variants available. Hunt down a 20V turbo version and you’ll have a car that offers understated styling combined with a serious case of monstrous pace that’s just waiting to devour many a gullible sports car. Grab a decent 2.0-litre 20V turbo version and its 220bhp will be smashing the 60mph mark in around 6.3seconds before topping out at 155mph. Don’t worry about grip – the turbo versions were fitted with a limited-slip differential to deliver all that power to where it matters. Supercar-slaying performance for less than £2,000… what’s not to like?
How much: from £1,800
Supercar-scaring rating: Show performance car drivers a rear-end view of a modern-day classic – 3/5
Volkswagen Golf 2.8 V6 4MOTION
To the untrained eye the V6 4MOTION appears to be just like any other efficient but unremarkable German workhorse. However, look closely and you’ll find the V6 badges and wider tyres provide a nod to the high-octane mayhem hiding beneath its bonnet. The 4MOTION name reflects its four-wheel-drive transmission that’s sitting on the business end of the 2.8-litre V6’s 204bhp. Combine this with a kerb weight of just 1401kg and you’re rewarded with a 0-62mph time of 6.9seconds and 146mph top end. A seriously rapid ride that’s perfect for everyday use.
How much: from £2,500
Supercar-scaring rating: Not the fastest of Germans on the road, but has potential to shock – 3/5
The real cost of owning a supercar
Not convinced by the idea of owning a Q car? Well don’t order that Ferrari just yet… Prestige car hire firm Premiere Velocity has used data from its high-octane fleet of Aston Martins, Ferraris, and Porsches etc, to come up with a list of just how much it’ll cost to run the average supercar for a year…
Yearly costs for supercar ownership
Prices shown do not reflect those of the Mercedes SLS AMG GT Roadster pictured, but are an average collected from Premiere Velocity’s supercar fleet data.
Supercars for less than £10,000
Still got your heart set on a supercar – but your bank balance says ‘no’? The let someone else take the depreciation hit and check out these two supercar classics available for less than £10,000
Maserati 3200 GT
If you fancy a slice of Italian exotica, but want a dash of subtlety to go with it, then a 2001 Maserati 3200GT could be just the car for you. Its 3.2-litre twin-turbo V8 generates 370bhp, and should still be able to propel you from 0-62mph in a very respectable 5.1 seconds. Just make sure you have a couple of grand on hand to keep it on the road each year.
How Much: £9,995
The Lotus Esprit, for many, is the definitive supercar. The lean, low-slung cabin gives it the feel of an F1 racer, while a blast from its 350bhp engine will provide the ultimate thrill as it flings you from 0-60mph in 4.8 seconds and on to jaw-dropping 175mph (in its younger days, at least). Owners say the gearbox is horrible and the clutch knee-jarringly heavy, but once up to speed – it’s a seriously delectable drive. Expect the odd breakdown or 10, though…
How Much: £9,995