Charging Forward: What’s the Real Meaning of a Sleeper?

SLEEPERSED-4When GM EFI Magazine first launched back in October of 2014, we ran a story highlighting our Top Five late-model GM EFI sleepers, as well as a project car that we lovingly refer to as Sleeper Status, our 2000 Regal GS. While pretty much everybody agreed that a W-body Regal with a factory supercharged V6 was certainly a sleeper, we did receive some commentary on our Top Five list.

Before we mention which cars made that story and why, first, we need to understand the true meaning of what a sleeper is. In today’s world, many enthusiasts simply believe that any car with stock cosmetics and a much higher-than-normal power output can be considered a sleeper. For example, not too long ago we ran an article on a stock-appearing Trans Am WS6 that put down over 1,000 horsepower to the tires – today’s generation would consider this car a sleeper. However, this isn’t the true definition.

Back in the ’60s, car manufacturers were happy to sell you a plain Jane Chevy Biscayne or a Pontiac Catalina 2-door post sedan featuring a big-inch, high-horsepower mill with limited luxury amenities and dog dish hubcaps. When parked next to each other, they looked identical to their base-model, entry-level 6-cylinder or bottom-feeder V8 counterparts. It’s just the way car companies operated at a time when they owned the majority of U.S. automotive market share; the Japanese and European import makes were barely blips on the radar and Korean manufactures were still some 20-30 years away from even existing.


Since then, however, the automotive buying public has changed and we even went through a period during the late-’70s of “sticker car” performance; when manufacturers tacked on body-cladding, decals, emblems and iconic nameplates to otherwise horrid creations with anemic engines and performance. As time went on and performance improved, the manufactures wanted to ensure that their new performance cars were marketed to the right person – the enthusiast.

After the early ’80s, every car produced with so much as a hint of performance was strapped with scoops, spoilers and plenty of identifying markings that made the buyer absolutely confident they were purchasing a performance machine. With the overseas competition breathing down their necks, the manufacturers could no longer gamble on stuffing high-output engines in cars that looked too much liked the version your grandma drove – if they were going to build it, they had to ensure that it would sell.

Things only progressed from there, and by the mid-’80s, those buyers who wanted a fast car without imposing or suggesting looks had few options. Ford did offer the LX 5.0 notchback and hatchback Fox Body, mechanically a Mustang GT, but without the sporty aesthetics. Over at Dodge, you could score a turbocharged 4-cylinder front-driver during the Great V8 Drought of ’80s-era Chrysler – if that was your style.



General Motors took a few stabs at this; first and foremost, were the Buick Regal T-Types of ’84-86 along with the Turbo-T and “T-package Regal”of ’87 – which featured the exact same powertrain as the Grand National, but looked just like the Regal Mrs.Robinson drove to church on Sunday. There was also the Firebird Formula sharing the same mechanical attributes as their more expensive and coveted Trans Am siblings, but minus the flair. For the most part, however, a Firebird is a car that can be spotted from a mile away so you can’t really file them under the “sleeper” category.

Which brings us back to our old list from October. Going through it, you can start to see why we’ve picked the vehicles that we did. The only car where we could see us leaving some scratching their heads was the ’04 GTO. We get that the Neo-GTO was a musclecar with an iconic name and heritage surrounding it, though if you’ve ever owned one or have spoken to the owner of one, you know that they’ve been confused with everything from a Cavalier to a Grand Prix. Buy one in Quicksilver and you can pretty much do whatever you want without being spotted by anybody.

Realistically, factory sleepers don’t exist anymore – at least not in America. The last one produced that can be considered closest as such, by definition, and in our opinion, was the 2010 Cobalt SS turbo sedan.  Yeah, it had factory 18s and subtle ground effects, but combined with the stodgy body styling and the fact that a lot of enthusiasts don’t even realize these cars exist make them all that much better. With 260 hp and the ability to easily crank up the power, you can have a stealthy pocket rocket that would make you the dragstrip hustler of your town. Hey, that’s not a bad idea…


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