Sean McFarland

This article was originally published on BBC Autos.

Carmakers push. If they create a widely loved vehicle, they tend not to sit back and admire their work. They ask, “Where to next?”

Such carmakers may try their hand at tuning: modifying their already impressive cars even further to create distillations – not distortions – of what makes them special. What follows is a group of cars that have received a little something extra; something that distinguishes them, and their drivers, from the norm. (Photo: BMW Group)

Mazda RX-7 Spirit R

The third generation of Mazda’s rotary-powered RX-7 is perhaps the most coveted of the breed. The curvaceous body, curious-sounding Wankel rotary engine and overall performance ticked all the right boxes for enthusiasts. So when the RX-7 was in its final years in the early 2000s, Mazda engineered a version specifically for the car’s most fervent fans. The Spirit R offered a 276-horsepower engine, a choice between an automatic and manual gearbox, and eye-catching aero tweaks, making it a faster, lighter and more aggressive proposition. Not only did it come in two-seater and 2+2 configurations, but the R also bore a Nardi steering wheel, lightweight Recaro seats and BBS wheels. All 1,500 Spirit R models were sold exclusively in Japan, save for one special unit produced for a Mazda executive in the United States. This car, the only existing left-hand-drive Spirit R, sits below Mazda’s Irvine Headquarters. (Photo: Mazda North America)

Ferrari 458 Speciale

Making its debut at the 2013 Frankfurt motor show, this track-focused version of the 458 Italia coupe boasts Maranello’s most powerful naturally aspirated V8 engine, as well as active aerodynamics in the form of flaps that open and close at various speeds. This stripped and striped version of the 458 produces 34hp more than the base car, in addition to weighing a remarkable 200lbs less. The Speciale also introduced Ferrari’s Side Slip Angle Control system, giving the car a welcome dose of good sense at the limit. Combining all of this with the Speciale’s wider tires and lower stance means a zero to 60mph time of less than 3 seconds and a top speed in excess of 202mph. (Photo: Ferrari North America)

Honda S2000 CR

The S2000 was Honda’s answer to the Porsche Boxster: a lightweight, free-revving two-seat roadster that emphasised driving dynamics above all else. The Honda won over enthusiasts, but never sold in the volumes that would ensure it any more than sleeper status. In 2008, Honda introduced a club racer variant of the S2000. Though it retained the 237hp 2.2-litre four-cylinder engine of the standard car, the CR was given a removable aluminium top, firmer track-oriented suspension and a quicker steering ratio. In its zealous quest to further reduce weight, Honda removed the spare wheel and made systems such as air conditioning and audio optional – the better to enjoy the CR’s superbike-calibre engine whine. (Photo: American Honda)

Porsche 911 GT3 RS

Wearing letters that hark back to the iconic 1973 Carrera RS, the GT3 RS of the mid-2000s was the 911 for a very particular Porsche buyer. The 3.8-litre 450hp flat-six-cylinder engine, sizable carbon-fibre wing and no-nonsense interior indicated these were not intended for idling in highway traffic. With the RS, Porsche flared the already-widened GT3 fenders to accommodate the nine and twelve-inch wheels at the front and back, respectively. But for a select 500 customers who craved an even more savage GT3, there was the GT3 RS 4.0, with 500hp and a curb weight just under 3,000lbs. (Photo: Porsche Cars)

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X MR

A rally car for the street, the Lancer Evolution has seen 10 generations. The formula has always been simple: a turbocharged engine, all-wheel-drive, four doors. The last three generations of the “Evo”, as the car has come to be known, have featured a more race-focused MR trim. Included in the 2014 MR is a twin-clutch automatic transmission, Bilstein shocks with Eibach springs and BBS wheels. The MR’s flappy-paddle gearbox also had three drive settings: Normal, Sport and an S-Sport optimised for high-revving track days. The only thing missing? A proper rally spoiler. (Photo: Mitsubishi)

Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

At first blush, the Z/28 may not seem anything more than a standard Camaro with a body kit. The shelf-like front splitter and aggressive aero tweaks are hardly an indication of its performance. The Camaro Z/28’s 505-horsepower 7-litre LS7 is roughly the same engine found in the previous-generation Corvette Z06. Chevrolet also put the Camaro on a diet, giving it thinner glass, optional air conditioning and lightweight wheels and tires that all told render the Z/28 some 300lbs lighter than the ZL1, previously the ultimate expression of Chevy’s muscle car. Granted, $75,000 for a Camaro may seem exorbitant – that is, until the spec sheet comes into view. Buyers get carbon ceramic brakes, five drive modes and a high-performance limited slip differential, all adding up to a faster lap around Germany’s Nürburgring Nordschleife than the Lamborghini Murciélago and Porsche 911 Carrera S mustered. (Photo: General Motors)

Dodge Viper SRT-10 ACR

Already one of the most raw of American sports cars, the Viper SRT-10 became one of the more frighteningly capable supercars on the market when it began sales in SRT-10 ACR form during the late 2000s. The American Club Racer package transformed the Viper into a track-gobbling carnivore. A carbon-fibre splitter, motorsport-style spoiler and eye-catching paint gave only a brief hint of the ACR’s capabilities. Its massive 8.4-litre V-10 churned out 600 horsepower and propelled the ACR to 60mph in under 4 seconds. Plus, with 14-inch vented brakes from Brembo, this striped serpent comes to a stop almost as quickly. So quick was the ACR, in fact, that it broke the unofficial lap record for a production car at the Nürburgring. (Photo: Chrysler Group, via Newspress)


Racing homologation is a simple rule: in order for a manufacturer to enter a car for motorsport, it must produce and sell a certain number of road-going versions of the car it wishes to race. In the early ‘70s, BMW produced the 3.0 CSL. The nameplate addition stood for “Coupe Sport Lightweight”, and it wasn’t a hollow marketing ploy. Aluminium body panels, thinner glass and a lack of soundproofing made the 3.0 CSL a canvas for high-speed motoring. So spirited was the car that the eventual racing version – nicknamed “The Batmobile” for its massive rear wing – became BMW’s first so-called Art Car, painted for competition by American abstract expressionist Alexander Calder. With just over 1,000 units produced, a clean 3.0 CSL commands over $100,000 at auction. (Photo: Benson Chiu/RM Auctions)

Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca

For the 2012 model year, Ford offered a multitude of trim levels for its pony car, but with apologies to the 500-horsepower Shelby GT500, this was the year of the Boss – namely, the Boss 302 Laguna Seca, a track-optimised version of the already potent Boss 302. Both cars came with a 5-litre V8 engine that churned out 444hp. But only the Laguna Seca, named for the race circuit in northern California, was stripped of its rear seats in favour of a chassis-stiffening X-brace; received a massive, downforce-abetting front splitter; and ultra-sticky R-compound race tires. Regardless of whether you opted for black or silver exterior paint, the body came adorned with bright red accents. (Photo: Ford Motor)

Mini Cooper John Cooper Works GP Edition

The GP was an effort to take the already tuned JCW Mini Cooper to the next level. Mini removed the back seat to save weight, introduced an adjustable coil-over suspension and tuned the turbocharged four-cylinder engine to 218hp – up from 208. The GP edition was also distinguished by Recaro seats, ensuring driver and passenger would reach a well-bolstered 60mph in about 6 seconds. Only 2,000 of these Coopers were produced, making them some of the more coveted modern Minis. (Photo: BMW Group)

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