Top Gear’s Top 9: some of the finest road-legal racing cars
Have your cake and eat it… while strapped into an uncomfortable carbon bucket seat
McLaren F1 LM
McLaren won the 1995 Le Mans 24-hour race in something called an ‘F1 GTR’; a racing version of a relatively obscure, low-volume car that few have heard of. Five so-called-GTRs finished that gruelling 24hr race, and so McLaren built five homages to this unfamiliar car – essentially road-legal versions of the race-winning F1.
And they appear to be unfathomably excellent. All five factory LMs got the ‘high downforce package’ – fixed rear wing, a new front air dam and additional vents over the ‘standard’ F1 – and let slip the full fury of that BMW 6.1-litre V12 to 680bhp.Advertisement - Page continues below
BMW M1 Procar
The coolest one-make racing series ever conceived by human minds? Perhaps second only to the might that is Piaggo Ape racing, the BMW M1 Procars lived short, shined bright, and died far too young.
Except this one. This one’s proper, though it’s journey to ‘road-legal-race-car’ status is a little twisty, so bear with us. It’s number 31 of just 40 M1 Procars BMW built back in 1979 (a support series to F1 back in the day that ran for two years), but never raced, and was apparently rebuilt as a road-going M1 and sold to its first owner in Germany.
When it arrived in America, it was returned to M1 Procar spec – new suspension uprights and new coilovers, hubs, control arms, tie rods, etc – but made fully road legal. And given a new wider bodykit.
Looks like it should be built in Britain: skeletal bodywork, race-honed chassis, a bit wild – but isn’t. The wonderful X-Bow was Austria’s attempt at a proper track-car, with a chassis set up by Loris Binnochi (of Pagani fame). There’s an Audi-sourced 2.0-litre turbo underneath – good for 0-60mph in 3.9s – though maybe wear appropriate clothing. Yes, you can drive this racing car on the road. No, there’s no luggage space. Or windscreen. You won’t care.
Campaigned in the Race of Champions, though - weirdly - the one raced in GT4 wears a proper body and is thus less extreme than the road car. Go figure.Advertisement - Page continues below
Technically yes, this is a road-legal racing car. Only the racing series it hails from isn’t what you’d expect. Step forward the good folks over at Bowler, who decided that a Range Rover Sport needed 285mm of suspension travel and a 550bhp 5.0-litre V8 to go running around in.
It’s derived from the brilliantly named Bowler Nemesis, a proper off-road racer designed for stuff like the Dakar. So, yeah, it’s pretty serious. This road-going version gets a full roll-cage, big brakes, big suspension, and the ability to cover in 0-62mph over any terrain in just 4.2s.
Look, it’s wearing number plates. And a rear wing that could double as a load-bearing member for a warehouse. As a machine, ridiculously good. When we drove it years back, we found that on smooth tarmac, it was “absolute dynamite”. As a car, ridiculous, but crucially still a car. The SR3, despite its advanced years, is still campaigned in Radical’s ‘Challenge Championship’.
Mercedes-Benz AMG CLK GTR
True, this GTR wouldn’t see which way a brand new Audi RS3 went, but then the new Audi RS3 – as fine as we’re sure it will be – isn’t a barely-contained racing car with number plates. In 1997, Mercedes and AMG took just 128 days to build a car for the FIA GT Championship, and in doing so had to construct 25 road-going cars. The result is one of the wildest, fattest and most desirable AMGs ever built, with one of the wildest, fattest AMG V12s ever – a 6.9-litre with 600 horses.
Praga’s been going for years, and the R1R was the company’s first road-going car since 1947. They decided that rather than giving a road-car racing car tricks, they’d just give a racing car a few more creature comforts. Which is why the thing looks like an LMP2 prototype. It’s light (670kg), mid-engined (a 2.0-litre turbo four from a Renault Clio 200), and is based on the R1, itself championed in the Britcar Endurance Championship.
Interesting application of a numberplate, you’ll agree.Advertisement - Page continues below
Continuing the fine tradition of naming incredible motors after washing machines comes the Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus 003S; a road-going version of the car SCG campaigned at the Nürburgring 24hrs. It shares much with that racer – carbon fibre monocoque chassis, carbon uprights, LMP2 downforce levels and the engine from a BMW M6. Here it sends over 750bhp to the rear wheels.
SCG reckons on a ‘Ring lap time of somewhere in the region of 6m 30s. That's very not slow.
Much like the answer to most car questions is ‘just get a VW Golf’, when it comes to road-going-racing cars, the very simple, cheap and fun answer is ‘just get a Mazda MX-5’. The MX-5 has been campaigned in grass roots racing series across the globe, is one of the cheapest ways to get into motorsport, and can be driven to and from the track with no trouble. Also partial to a V8 swap if you’re feeling punchy…Advertisement - Page continues below