Most of the time, driving is a simple thing. You get in, start the motor, and off you go at a steady pace. But what about the cars that don’t quite let you do that? What about the cars that refuse a steady pace? The ones that have you gripping the wheel with excitement and terror? These are the reported scariest cars to drive based on journalist and enthusiast opinion.
Land Rover Series I
The 1949 Land Rover Series I is scary to drive simply because you need to be so strong to do so. It was designed for off-roading (obviously), but that’s seriously it. All the controls are extremely rigid and the clutch requires “legs of steel”, according to Auto Express. Additionally, it’s not very comfortable thanks to a bouncy ride and thinly covered seats. Not only is it uncomfortable, it’s unresponsive and uncomfortable. Land Rover have come a long way.
1985 marked the appearance of one of the scariest cars ever to hit the road. Not only is the driver completely exposed, but if you came up to a hill then the electric motor wasn’t keeping up which means the driver has to start cranking the pedals. Additionally, there’s only one gear and the driver has sit uncomfortably with their legs over the handlebars.
But what’s scary about being uncomfortable (except for everything)? It tops out at 8mph, so while the driver is a few centimetres off the road cars are thundering past covering you in exhaust and grit.
While single seat electric cars have come a long way since, the Sinclair C5 was an unfortunate false start.
Aston Martin Virage Vantage V600
The Aston Martin Virage Vantage V600 was the last made by the brand before Ford took over in 1991. A hand built underappreciated gem. It’s 5.3-litre V8 was given two superchargers capable of 600 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque with the V600 upgrade for a top speed of 200mph making it the most powerful car of its time.
What made this a scary to drive was its power and handling. As Motor Trend wrote, “It remains, to this day, the one car in which I never dared poke the bear.”
The Virage Vantage would casually rev the car faster than acceleration which then kicks out the rear tends if it’s wet or damp. In fourth gear, at 50mph, the car reportedly spun its rear tyres. The Virage Vantage has no traction or stability control so the owner’s manual actually told customers not to drive the car if the roads were wet.
Considering only a few hundred examples sold, it’s safe to say that drivers found it terrifying as well.
Dodge Challenger Demon
Once again, we have a lot of power (808 hp on stock, 840 hp with the Demon Crate Package) and 717 lb-ft of torque. What does that mean? It’s difficult to put the power down without the tyres “slipping and sliding” according to Hot Cars. However, in contrast to some of the other cars we’ve featured, it’s quite a comfortable ride thanks to some soft suspension and you can actually stop the car with some solid brakes. It needs those brakes too because this beast was designed with the drag strip in mind and per Hot Cars, “when it’s time to go into a corner is terrifying to even think about.”
Renault 5 Turbo 1 & 2
While it might not be one of the flashiest cars on this list, this hot hatch was extremely quick and unreasonably twitchy, according to Car Keys. Renault took the front-drive, front engine 5 model and gave it a turbocharged, intercooled, 1.4-litre engine driving 160hp to the rear wheels. Its acceleration was brutal (once you got past the turbo lag), but it’s propensity to spin out without warning is what frightened people. It also had redesigned suspension and bigger brakes with flat box flares designed by Marcello Gandini, the man behind the Lamborghini Miura.
These existed for FIA Group B rally work, where it did well before the Audi Quattro came strutting in. What’s crazy is that Renault actually put these in production with over 5,000 examples sold, of course, the car being mass produced is a requirement for Group B.
So why is this scary? It’s a 50hp car fitted with a crazy engine and bodywork. While it may be scary for some, it’s reportedly an absolute joy for others if not absolute exhausting though you do have to know what you’re doing to get the best out of it, according to Hagerty.
1992 Dodge Viper
The Dodge Viper, by most accounts, is an experience to drive. A terrifying experience. It’s one of the most famously dangerous cars in the world with the original often being decried the most intimidating car ever produced. What would you expect from a car that Dodge purposefully engineered to be the fastest and most extreme car they had ever created.
The 1992 Dodge Viper had an 8.0-litre V10 with 400hp being sent to the rear with 450 lb-ft of torque. It’s quick, but it’s the high amount of torque in such a small package combined with a lack of safety features that scared the pants off of everyone in the 90s. There are no airbags, no traction control, and no ABS, just a huge amount of power with only your wits to control it.
TVR Cerbera Speed 12
Let’s put it this way – when the owner of TVR took this for a spin, he was convinced that it was too dangerous and scary to sell to the public and so shelved the entire project. At least, that’s the story according to legend, but the sentiment remains; if it’s too scary for a company that only makes quick and scary cars, then what hope did the public have?
TVR’s PR representative, Ben Samuelson, said that “there just weren’t any road tyres that were suitable. If you put it on road tyres it would just light them up in any gear at any speed. And it was just too big for a road car.”
To this day, only one road-going Cerbera Speed 12 remains and so it was discovered that powering this monster is a 7.7-litre V12 capable of 840hp. Allegedly, the original had 960hp. Considering that the car is just 2,400lbs (just over 1 tonne), it was a race-bred thing of terror.
Hennessey Venom GT
One writer at Top Gear called this car the “one car that truly intimidates me,” and it’s for good reason. With a 7.0-litre twin-turbo V8 capable of 1451hp, it was at one point the fastest car in the world with a top speed of 270mph. The only thing was that it needs ideal conditions to drive effectively, with Top Gear writing that even though it was only overcast on the day, they decided to wait for a sunny one.
When the car is so quick and expensive that even experienced drivers would rather wait until conditions are ripe, that truly sets fear into people’s hearts (and wallets).
Porsche Carrera GT
Hot Cars called the Porsche Carrera GT “seriously awesome and beyond scary” and the simple reason why? A lot of power and no traction control. Unfortunately, while it is a well-loved and respected car, it’s claimed the lives of many including most famously Paul Walker in 2013.
Powering this beast is a 5.7-litre naturally aspirated V10 engine capable of 612 hp and 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds for a top speed of 205mph. The engine was actually intended to power a Le Mans Prototype but the project was shelved and made way for this, the last “analogue” supercar.
The Carrera GT has the absolutely bare minimum of electronics, basically the only thing you do get is traction control. If you’re an experienced and skilled driver, then this is an absolute joy, but if not, the Carrera GT will not be about as kind as a bucking bronco.
This car isn’t scary fast, it’s just scary dangerous. The Ford Pinto is notorious for its numerous safety issues but the largest was its flawed fuel system placed near the rear end. This placement meant it was prone to fires and possible explosions that did lead to fatalities.
It wasn’t simply the placement that was the issue, it was actually common for at the time, it’s that they didn’t all catch fire during low-speed impacts. This car was so dangerous that it prompted changes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to test 20mph rear end collisions and introduce stricter standards for fuel system placement.
There’s not much scarier to drive than a ticking time bomb.
The Reliant Robin is famous for its appearance on Mr. Bean or that one episode of Top Gear where Jeremy Clarkson continuously rolled it. A car that flips and rolls? Sounds dangerous enough, though unfortunately it isn’t actually that easy to roll. For the bit on Top Gear, they had a “play around with the differential” so that it rolled every time Clarkson turned the wheel, according to the man himself. The reality is that while it (probably) won’t roll, because it’s on three wheels it constantly feels like it’s going to roll. That’s where the fear comes in not to mention that it’s made of fibreglass and it was fitted with unequal sized wheels which meant an imbalance towards the driver’s side.
So no, it won’t flip on you, but that only makes it slightly less scary to drive. Like how jumping out of a plane is slightly less scary with an instructor strapped to you. Doesn’t change the fact you’re jumping out of a plane.
Older Porsche 911 Turbos
How can a car with the nickname, “The Widow Maker”, not be at the top of this list? The big reason for its reputation is the significant turbo lag that often catches drivers off guard. During cornering it adds to the pendulum effect of the engine feeling like it’s hanging out of the back of the car which makes for some unpredictable handling situations.
The strange architecture also meant that it took a skilled driver to properly tame the beast at high speeds, but the rewards were often worth it. As long as you don’t think of the lack of safety features like ABS, traction control, or even airbags.