Full Throttle: Famous Racing Cars and their Impact on Motorsport

These iconic racing cars are the apex predators of the automotive world. From the poise and precision of Formula 1 to the brutal horsepower of rally cars, the world’s most famous racing cars are the pinnacle of power and performance, but what is the world’s most famous race car? Read on to find out.

Automotive History
26 August 2023

The electrifying world of motorsports has, since its inception, been home to a complex dance between human and machine. We know the drivers, but do we know the cars? From famous F1 cars to the most iconic rally cars of all time, buckle up for a high-octane thrill-a-second journey through the tracks of history, right into the pit lanes of mechanical innovation.

Let’s put the pedal to the metal and explore the remarkable impact of the world’s most famous racing cars on the ever-evolving world of motorsport.

McLaren MP4/4

Ayrton Senna in the McLaren MP4/4, 1988 British Grand Prix (Credit: Pascal Rondea/Allsport/Getty Images)

One of the most famous F1 cars of all time, indeed the most famous racing cars of all time, the 1988 McLaren MP4/4 was all-conquering. Teammates and rivals Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost drove the Steve Nichols-designed 1.5-litre V6 Honda-powered masterpiece to fifteen pole positions and fifteen race wins in the sixteen race season. Only Gerhard Berger in a Ferrari at the Italian Grand Prix stood in the way of a clean sweep. The MP4/4 may well be the world’s most famous race car.

Audi Quattro Group B Rally Car

Audi Quattro S1 (Credit: Gerd Schifferl/SEPA.Media via Getty Images)

The Audi Quattro was such an astonishingly good car, it revolutionised rally car racing and became a benchmark for production car technology. One of the most iconic rally cars of all time, the Quattro was a transformative force in the world of rally racing thanks to its innovative all-wheel-drive system. It dominated the epic Group B rally scene in the 1980s, winning twenty-three rallies, two constructors’ titles and two drivers’ championships.

Ford GT40

Ford GT40 (Credit: James Moy Photography/Getty Images)

Another contender for the title of world’s most famous race car is the remarkable Ford GT40. The muscular mechanical masterpiece was born out of revenge when a deal for Ford to buy Ferrari went sour. What became one of the most famous racing cars in history, it was designed to beat the playboy Italians at their own game, and achieved this in spectacular style. The GT40 won Le Mans for four straight years from 1966 to 1969, and included a famous one-two-three in ‘66 in the Mk. II 7.0-litre V8.

Maserati 250F

1954 Maserati 250F (Credit: Michael Cole - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

The dawn of F1 was graced with some truly incredible cars, none more so than the Maserati 250F. Not only was it one of the most famous F1 cars but also one of the prettiest. Between 1954 and 1960, the 250F competed in 48 Grands Prix with eight poles, eight wins and ten fastest laps. Juan Manuel Fangio claimed the 1957 F1 World Championship in the magnificent Maserati, and Stirlng Moss is believed to have said it was the best front-engined car he ever drove.

BMW E30 M3

1980s BMW M3 E30 (Credit: Michael Cole/Corbis via Getty Images)

The iconic M3 rightly cements its place in automotive history as one of the most successful and iconic racing cars of all time. The M3 clocked up hundreds of race wins in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft (DTM), British Touring Car Championship, Australian Touring Car Championship (now known as Supercars Championship), Italia Supertourismo, and the World Touring Car Championship. Described as a boxy rocket, the E30 M3 remains one of the most famous racing cars to have ever committed rubber to tarmac.

Porsche 956

Porsche 956 (Credit: Hoch Zwei/Corbis via Getty Images)

After it debuted in 1982 taking one-two-three at Le Mans – and winning it for the next three years – the iconic blue-and-white liveried prototype Porsche 956 went on to dominate the racing landscape for over a decade. The astonishing race car – one of the most famous racing cars in history – won every one of the world’s great endurance races, many consecutively, including the Daytona 24 Hours, Sebring 12 Hours and fifty-five International Motor Sports Association events. The 956 is a genuine motorsports legend, called ‘perfect’ by 1982 Le Mans driver Derek Bell. It even held the Nürburgring lap record – six minutes 11.13 seconds driven by Stefan Bellof – for over 35 years.

Subaru Impreza

Subaru Impreza WRC, Colin McRae 1988 (Credit: Mark Thompson /Allsport via Getty Images)

There are precious few iconic duos in the world of motorsport. Ayrton Senna and the 1988 McLaren MP4/4 is one, and Colin McRae and the Subaru Impreza is another. McRae won the World Rally Championship in 1995, and in the Impreza he helped Subaru to the manufacturer’s title for three consecutive years from 1995 to 1997. The final year of the triple saw an epic battle between McRae in the two-litre, 310 hp Impreza and Tommi Mäkinen in the Mitsubishi Evo IV. While both are undoubtedly iconic rally cars, the Impreza, with six WRC titles in eight years, has been hailed in some circles as the best rally car ever.

Take the Flag

Official waving checkered flags at car crossing finish line. (Credit: David Madison via Getty Images)

The power and prowess of these iconic racing cars have etched indelible marks on the racing world, forever changing our perception of speed and performance.

Not only have they shaped the heart and soul of motorsport, but these speedway superstars have also served as a vital testing ground for breakthrough technologies that have gone on to define the future of everyday road cars. From advancements in aerodynamics, powertrain technology, safety systems, and more, the world’s racetracks are the ultimate proving grounds, ensuring cars are safer, more efficient, and continually more connected.

The legacy of these famous racing cars is far from over. The future beckons with promises of electric power in the shape of Formula E, autonomous technologies, and more, ready to redefine the contours of racing. As we stand on the precipice of this new era, it’s clear that the thrill of motorsport will continue to evolve, ever seeking to push the envelope of possibility.


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