These Are the Best Factory Hot Rods of All Time

These Are the Best Factory Hot Rods of All Time

From American icons to European sleepers, these are your picks for the best factory hot rods of all time.

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A photo of a white Mercedes C63 AMG Black Series coupe.
Is this Black Series Mercedes the best factory hot rod?
Photo: Mercedes-Benz

At the base level, a Hot Rod is a car that takes a humble-looking body and packs it with more power than you can shake a stick at. And, while this is a formula we’re used to seeing tuners and wrenchers perfect, some automakers have got it dialed down to a T.

So we wondered what some of the best hot rods to roll off the factory floor might be. And, obviously, this meant turning to you to uncover some of your picks. And from American icons to European sleepers, we received some great responses.

Click through the following slides to uncover some of the best factory hot rods of all time.

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Dodge Neon SRT-4

Dodge Neon SRT-4

A photo of a white Dodge Neon SRT-4 with black stripes on the hood.
Photo: RTShadow via Wikimedia Commons

“When I hear Hot Rod I think of cars that people didn’t expect to be fast because they were based on something that was pathetic. Best car that pops into mind for that is the Neon SRT-4.

“That car just came out of nowhere. Suddenly here was this factory stock FWD economy car with a big turbo and no muffler that ran door to door with the same year Mustang GT in the 1/4 mile.. and if that wasn’t good enough the dealer would sell you stage kits that allowed you to flip a switch to remap for race fuel (and run mid 12's with just this kit, race fuel, and drag radials).”

Humble stylings, check. More power than any car this size should have, check. We’re off to a strong start already.

Suggested by: Joel Mashack (Facebook)

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Volvo V60 Polestar

Volvo V60 Polestar

A photo of a blue Polestar V60 sedan.
Photo: Volvo

“What makes the Volvo V60 Polestar a hot rod?

“They took a normal car, added a bigger snailyboi, front and rear spoilers, rear diffuser, and exhaust bypass with fully custom stainless steel piping.

“Then, they shoved 20" wheels where they clearly don’t fit.

“It went from a small Euro lux wagon to a shouty blue race-wagon. Stated MPG will never be achieved, for after you hear that glorious straight-six turbo , you will forever drive the streets in sport mode, for there you have been and there you long to remain.”

That’s a compelling case in favor of the V60 Polestar, which was launched in 2013 in a beautiful blaze of blue.

Suggested by: zippiot

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Chevrolet Camaro

Chevrolet Camaro

A photo of a red Chevrolet from the 1990s.
Photo: Chevrolet

“I don’t think there will ever be a better factory hot rod than the ‘93-’02 Camaro Z28s and SSes (and their sister Pontiac Formulas, Trans Ams, and Firehawks).

“They were large enough for three adults and had a huge hatchback opening so you didn’t have to have a second car. They were reliable and fuel efficient enough that you could daily drive them. They were loud from the factory (‘93-’97) so you didn’t need to get an aftermarket exhaust to wake them up. They were available as new cars with factory warrantied optional go-fast equipment, including optional SLP exhausts to wake up the comparatively quiet LS1 years (‘98-’02 SSes). The aftermarket was (and is) huge for go-fast parts.

“They might not compare horsepower-wise to the late model Camaros (and other cars like Hellcat Challengers), but they were affordable, fun, and good daily drivers. You have to be wealthy and/or older (40s-50s) to have a late model factory hot rod these days, especially if you want more than just a base model without any options, and most options today can’t handle a Home Depot or Sam’s Club trip (except the Challenger, but that’s because that’s not a car, that’s a CAR).

“‘Back in the day’ if you could afford a Toyota Camry, you could afford a Camaro Z28, and that really can’t be said today. For comparison... ‘97 Camry base price $24,018, ‘97 Camaro Z28 base price $20,115... ‘22 Camry LE base price $26,870 or ‘22 Camry XLE base price $31,620, ‘22 Camaro LT1 base price $35,195 or ‘22 Camaro 1SS base price $38,695.

“I understand there’s inflation involved and it’s like comparing apples to oranges, but you won’t find a current hot rod on most 20-somethings or 30-somethings’ shopping lists because most of the options still available are only priced for empty nesters in their 50s and most of the options available today don’t particularly make good daily drivers. You sacrifice a lot of storage.

“Some of you guys may not consider storage or ‘good daily driver’ important for a hot rod, but in my mind, the ‘best hot rod’ can be driven every single day.”

Suggested by: Brandon Blaise Brown (Facebook)

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Chrysler Prowler

Chrysler Prowler

A photo of a purple Chrysler Prowler convertible.
Photo: Chrysler

“The Chrysler Prowler. I really hate this car, being a false flashy pseudo retro Rod. I am glad it did not last long.”

Call it a Plymouth, call it a Chrysler. Either way, the Prowler sparked a lot of love and hate in the responses today. A

Suggested by: minardi

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Ford Fusion Sport

Ford Fusion Sport

A photo of a blue Ford Fusion Sport sedan.
Photo: Ford

“I’m driving one of the most overlooked factory hot rods of all time. I think the Fusion Sport is roughly equivalent to the ‘67 390 Fairlanes.

“Not the biggest engine, not the fastest top speed, and not the quickest on a drag strip, but for a well-rounded ‘sleeper’ that isn’t a ‘ticket magnet’ or an embarrassment on track at Road America, this strikes me as nearly perfect.”

The 2.7-liter V6 that Ford installed in the Fusion Sport kicked out 325 HP that could cahrge this family-sized sedan up to 165mph.

Suggested by: C.R. Krieger (Facebook)

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Holden HSV GTS-R

Holden HSV GTS-R

A photo of a trio of HSV GTS-R cars.
Photo: Holden

“Holden’s VF Commodore-based HSV GTS-R W1 must be in with a shout. A car that often saw use as a taxi or family sedan, fitted with mechanicals from the ZR1 Corvette of the same vintage (same LS9 engine and gearbox), suspension built by the company that builds the control suspension components for the Supercars series, AP Racing brakes and a bunch of composite panels. And it comes in green.”

Now, for an Australian hot rod. The standard Holden HSV GTS was an impressive sedan with sports car handling, and the R dialed that up a notch.

Suggested by: ratmr2

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Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Black

Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Black

A photo of a silver Mercedes AMG Black Series coupe.
Photo: Mercedes-Benz

“Black series c63 with the 6.2 v8. The C63 was badass but not aggro enough to be a serious track weapon, this made it a legit contender.

“Any factory V8 with flares and a big wing is a hot rod in my book.”

If the Australians can make hot rods, so too can the Germans, so here’s a Mercedes AMG Black Series. This chunk of German engineering from 2012 was the ultimate definition of “more power than you can shake a stick at.”

Suggested by: John Cole (Facebook)

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Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

A photo of a red eep driving on a track.
Photo: Jeep

“The origination of the term hot-rod was to take a relatively benign, small and hopefully light vehicle and shove as much engine in it as you possibly could. The essence of this movement was to start with something that was neither a muscle car or performance car. This was an after market craze. And no small part was how ridiculous you could make it. The more benign the original donor car, and the more obscene power you put in, the better your execution.

“For a factory car, the example of the GTO is a good one, as it started with a relatively benign mid-size platform and shoved a massive V8 in it. After the first generation these became purpose built, and in truth lost the essence of the idea. They built from scratch as a performance car, and really lost the them. I would apply this logic to any Mustang, Camaro/Firebird and the Charger’s of the day. These were built to be performance cars, ratcheting up the performance made them icons, but not truly hot-rods.

“Much better examples are the GLH cars, the Civic Si, etc. These cars were economy commuters to begin with. Making them fast was simply ludicrous. Cars like the STI and Evo or Focus STI are just on the edge. Although these examples are small commuter cars, they really were bred for rally and therefore had some performance aspirations. I feel like some of the best example are the Grand Cherokee hellcat. 707 hp in a mid-size SUV, that is the hot rod spirit. The mid-size benzes they dropped big engines in are perfect examples. The Ram SRT-10 is perhaps the ultimate of the theory – Viper V-10 in a pickup.”

What happens if you take the big power, small car philosophy and apply it to a mid-size SUV? The slightly bonkers Jeep Cherokee Trackhawk, that’s what.

Suggested by: jeeplj8

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Cadillac CTS-V

Cadillac CTS-V

A photo of a silver Cadillac CTS-V sedan.
Photo: Cadillac

“The first gen CTS-V is an amazing car stock. A buddy with an ‘05 Vette bought an ‘05 V for his wife. We used to joke that the Caddy was funner to drive. It was pretty close, actually.”

The first generation CTS-V was a hot rod in the more traditional sense of the phrase, in that it looked cool as heck but also had the bite to match its bark.

Suggested by: David McDermott (Facebook)

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Lotus Carlton

Lotus Carlton

A photo of a black Lotus Carlton.
Photo: Lotus

“The Lotus Carlton.... Started out as a lowly Vauxhall Carlton or Opal Omega. A car that can do 280 Km/h, 377 hp, 419 lb-ft, from 3.6 L I6... all in 1990.”

I first discovered this car an hour ago and am now in love.

Suggested by: SennaMP4

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Dodge Lil Red Express

Dodge Lil Red Express

A photo of a red Dodge pickup truck.
Photo: Dodge

“1978 Lil’ Red Express

“CARB and EPA regulations were a whole lot less stringent for pickups in the malaise-era, and while the big-block dynasty was in its farewell years; the Dodge boys were still doing Dodge boys things.

“Stuffing a ‘Cop Motor’ 360 and heavy duty shocks into their lightest regular cab pickup, and a pair of chrome-clad exhaust stacks - the Lil’ Red Express was a proudly-raised middle finger to the establishment.

“60mph in a measured 6.7 seconds, 100mph in 19.9 seconds. It was the quickest American “car” available at the time.

“For contrast, a US-spec Ferrari 308 of the same year took 7.4 seconds to reach 60mph (as tested by C&D Aug 1983).”

With a zero to 60 time of 6.7 seconds, this 1978 pickup truck remains faster than the current Civic Touring Sedan and even a 1990s Aston martin.

Suggested by: Scott Pro (Facebook)

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Audi Wagons

Audi Wagons

A photo of a yellow Audi RS wagon on a track.
Photo: Audi

“Audi RS Wagons.

“Fast yet Practical and mostly discreet, they make the perfect factory Hot Rod.”

Too many options, too little time! Let’s just say most Audi RS wagons fit the bill, otherwise this would end up being 50 slides long, and you don’t want that.

Suggested by: thedriveress-

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Dodge Viper

Dodge Viper

A photo of a red Dodge Viper.
Photo: Dodge

“The OG Viper RT10. Here’s a ton of power, no roof, no windows, no nannies, 3 pedals.

“Try not to die, bye!”

I’m curious what makes the original Viper a hot rod, but not the current one? As that was a belief shared by many commenters today.

Suggested by: Jevin Bond (Facebook)

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Buick GNX

Buick GNX

A photo of a black Buick GNX
Photo: Buick

“This really depends on generation and how old you are.

“There are remarkable cars today that qualify (Hellcats of course, but I’d also point at the BMW M5 CS), but do they exist if there weren’t crazy dudes in the past that thought ‘how cool would it be if we could make a Regal beat a Corvette?’ (Among others from further in the past)

“So yeah, I’ll suggest the Buick GNX. Not just the Buick Grand National, I want the GNX that took a car already turned up to 11 and decided it needed to go to 12. How many cars in this thread will have so much legend attached to them that they have multiple documentaries about them? This is certainly something we’d never see now – the time where GM’s divisions compete with each other is long gone.”

With a turbo-charged and inter-cooled 3.8-liter V6 engine, the Buick GNX could hit 60 in 4.7 seconds.

Suggested by: dolsh

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Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

A photo of a green Dodge Charger Hellcat.
Photo: Dodge

“(Looks around forum...) Ok, I’ll say it.

“797hp SRT Hell Cat.”

Finally, someone suggested it!

Suggested by: 900turbo

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Chevrolet SS

Chevrolet SS

A photo of a blue Chevvy SS
Photo: Chevrolet

“Not saying it was the best by a long shot but the Chevy SS was amazing for the short period that it was here in the states. Tons of aftermarket support thanks to its Australian roots. Just a great platform for a family sedan that can scoot the kids around in a hurry.”

It might be tame in comparison to its Aussie sibling from Holden, but the Chevy SS was still a neat little sedan for the few years it graced our shores.

Suggested by: Joseph Murphy (Facebook)

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Dodge Charger Daytona

Dodge Charger Daytona

A photo of an orange Dodge Charger Daytona.
Photo: Dodge

“Keeping with my theme, the ‘69 Charger Daytona.

“Back in the day when NASCAR stock car racing had to have ‘stock cars’—they came off the assembly line and had to be also sold to the public—Dodge REALLY bent the rules. Right off the bat: Boom! 200mph on the oval tracks with the aero Daytona—wind tunnel tested and it showed.

“The ‘69 Chargers, slightly over 500 of them to fulfill the ‘stock car’ rule, were handed over to a hotrod shop which turned the Chargers into the most rad aero machine the car world had ever seen. Until the next year, when Plymouth got into the rule-bending business with the Superbird—the Dynamic Duo—which won so many races, both cars were banned. So cool.”

Big unnecessary wing and a big unnecessary engine, that’s the hot rod formula down to a T.

Suggested by: the1969dodgechargerguy

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Renault R5 Turbo

Renault R5 Turbo

A photo of a blue Renault R5 Turbo hatchback.
Photo: Renault

“The Renault R5 turbo. Take a cheap economy front wheel drive. Remove drivetrain add a turbo rear engine and have fun.”

And now, for something completely different. But enough of you think this wonderful little hatch counts as a hot rod, so it’s got a spot on the lineup.

Suggested by: Greg Reschke (Facebook)

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