How close to a real race car can you get from a dealer's lot?
NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - You don't hear it called "stock car" racing much anymore. That's because those $120,000 Ford Tauruses and Chevrolet Monte Carlos ripping around NASCAR tracks resemble the "stock"† versions of those vehicles about as much as a 99 cent Matchbox model does.|
Those† NASCAR racing machines are custom-built beasts with 700-plus horsepower engines. Basically, they're 200 mph advertisements for the family cars they somewhat resemble.
Auto manufacturers hope that the adage from the early days of racing still holds: "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday."† To that end, DaimlerChrysler wants to be sure you know that Ward Burton was in a Dodge Intrepid R/T when he won the recent Daytona 500 that kicked off this year's NASCAR season. Likewise, General Motors spends millions making sure you are aware that last year's overall Winston Cup winner, Jeff Gordon, drives a Chevrolet Monte Carlo. For its part, Ford can point out that the next three Daytona finishers after Burton were driving Tauruses.
"We're not just selling Intrepids," explains DaimlerChrysler racing publicist Dave Elshoff. "We hope any good feelings people have about our race cars will spill over to Viper, Dodge trucks and the entire brand."
That's pretty much how all the Detroit companies see their racing investments. But what if you're not Bill Elliot? Can you, the ordinary family car driver, get a little steak to go with that sizzle? Well,† you won't get 700 horses, but here's a look at what you can find in the showroom (or at least with some special ordering) in the real-world cousins of these NASCAR track stars.
Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS
Of the major contenders, the Monte Carlo SS looks the most like a classic NASCAR racer. It is a stylish two-door coupe, not the four-door sedan more common to family cars than racers. And the Monte Carlo SS gives you the biggest V6 Chevy makes -- the 3.8-liter power plant that produces 200 horsepower. Partly because of the government's corporate average gas mileage requirements, no V8 is offered. (The racing Monte Carlo has a 750-horsepower V8.) Monte Carlo brand manager Terry Dolan says he hopes to offer more horsepower in future production models.
Chevy claims that its racers have more real production sheet metal -- therefore look more like their "stock" cars -- than the competition. The Monte Carlo SS also offers the best options package to make your car look racier. The "High Sport Appearance Package" includes a rear spoiler, aluminum sport wheels and stainless steel tips for the dual exhausts that poke out under the SS's rear bumper.
For really serious NASCAR fans, Chevrolet produced 3,333 Dale Earnhardt Memorial editions of the Monte Carlo. These cars come in Earnhardt's signature black with the number 3 behind the side quarter window.
In case you want to experience those high-g turns just like a real racer,† Chevy has tried to make sure the Monte Carlo SS can handle it. Goodyear performance tires and MacPherson strut suspension combined with stabilizer bars beef up the handling. Traction control is standard on the Monte Carlo -- unusual for a car in this price range.
The base Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price is $22,995 for the SS and $2100 for the sport package. With some other options included, a good negotiator should be able to get this SS for about $23,000 before destination charge and local sales tax.
If you want to take the fantasy even further (and you have a high tolerance for being stared at) you can get your Monte Carlo dressed up with a fancy paint job and decals to look just like the NASCAR version. This is kind of the automotive version of buying a football jersey modeled on the one your favorite player wears. It's just a lot bigger and it costs a lot more.
Pontiac Grand Prix GTP
Even with a much smaller NASCAR presence than GM's Chevy division, Pontiac does more to empower its race-minded customers. The Grand Prix GTP gives you a supercharged version of the 3.8-liter V6, thus boosting horsepower to 240 from the 200 in the Monte Carlo version. The Grand Prix GTP also has an automatic transmission "power" setting that switches the normal smooth shifts to racier fast gear changes.
With the Pontiac version, standard equipment abounds and few options are available. The coupe GTP comes with a standard rear spoiler. Like the Monte Carlo, performance tires and traction control for good handling also are standard. On the non-performance front, a premium Bose stereo with a CD player and the OnStar navigation and emergency system also are standard equipment.
The GTP coupe has a list price of $25,760. But a good negotiator likely can race one off the dealer's lot for around $23,850 before destination charge and taxes.
Dodge Intrepid R/T
Dodge's racer is a four-door sedan, but one with a svelte design and a rear spoiler. Most of the options you can get say comfort more than racerólike leather seats and CD changers. However, the Intrepid R/T does give you a 3.5-liter V6 engine that produces 244 horsepoweróslightly more than even the supercharged Pontiac engine. And when you are thinking finances instead of speed, the car still is rated for 18 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.
The Intrepid does offer some performance features as standard equipment, including stabilizer bars and traction control. The automatic transmission gives you the option to shift it manually -- good if you are overcome by the desire to race through some curvy roads.
On the sticker, the base MSRP is $26,675. Strong negotiation will take you down to about $25,000, though. Add about $600 if you want leather seats and $350 more for a four-CD changer.
As with the Monte Carlo, a paintjob and decal package is available to make your Intrepid look just like the NASCAR one. This option, available only through dealers, is for the truly serious fan.
Ford Taurus SEL PREMIUM
The Taurus is Ford's racer by default. For years, their on-the track model had been the Thunderbird coupe (the big T-Bird, not the retro two-seater now on sale). The decision four years ago to discontinue the large Thunderbird left Taurus as the only likely racer in the stable. Ford believes racing has attracted younger buyers for Taurus. Nonetheless, Taurus is much more of a family sedan than the other racers (especially since the current version was redesigned to be more bland to match major competitors Toyota Camry and Honda Accord). The one really hot Taurus, the SHO model, has been discontinued.
You can, however, get a rear spoiler as a $230 option. And† the 3.0-liter V6 matches the 200-horsepower output of the Chevy engine. If that gets you going fast, the Taurus does have anti-lock brakes to help you stop in tricky conditions. Most of the standard equipment in this premium model, however, is more about comfortólike the six-CD changer.
Sticker price for the SEL Premium is $23,080, but a good negotiator can get it down to around $21,350. Leather seats normally list for $895 but recently were being offered free as an incentive in some regional markets.
In October of this year, Ford will be introducing a "Sport" version of the Taurus. The sportiness will be largely cosmetic though: Spoiler and ground effects, two-tone upholstery, racing-style gauges. Don't let it go to your head.