Modifying cars is one thing, but when the performance upgrades happen under the financial might and technical knowhow of a gargantuan carmaker, some weird and wonderful things happen.
We’re not sure how these one-off specials snuck past the bean counters, but we’re glad they did.
Here are five of our favourite factory-built hotrods made for no other reason than… because they can.
BMW X5 Le Mans
The stars aligned in 1999 for BMW which won Le Mans and released its first ever SUV, the X5, in the same year.
And to celebrate, the Bavarians combined the two occasions by literally stuffing the screaming V12 engine from its winning prototype race car into an X5 body, creating one of the most memorable Beemers in the process.
The X5 Le Mans, as it’s called, sends 522kW to the rear wheels through a custom six-speed manual transmission. Inside there’s a relatively stock dashboard, but the driver’s seat is replaced with a carbon racing bucket and the back seats are removed to make way for a rollover hoop.
It’s fairly unassuming in exterior appearance but a lowered suspension, gold BBS alloys and a custom bonnet scoop are dead giveaways this isn’t your average pavement hopper.
In 2001 BMW enlisted Hans Stuck to test drive the Le Mans around the Nurburgring, and the famous German racer didn’t hold back. His quickest lap came was 7:49.92, making this one-off creation quicker than a current M4.
Ford’s famed Supervan promo actually counts for three vehicles because the first 1971 version was such a laugh, that a second one was built in 1984 and then another 10 years later.
Made in the international racing scene’s heyday, these creations are what happens when manufacturers’ motorsport budgets swell to “what can we blow cash on” proportions.
Supervan 1 was a steel-bodied Ford Transit van grafted onto a GT40 racing chassis complete with a 298kW V8 small-block mounted midships. Ford said top speed was limited to 241km/h, not for lack of power, but because it started to lift front wheels from the ground at this velocity.
Supervan 2 was also made for promotional purposes and demonstrated at race tracks only, but this time the steel body was swapped for a fibreglass replica of a gen-2 Transit.
Underpinnings were based on a Group C prototype racer and power came from a 3.3-litre Cosworth V8 with enough guts to push it to 280km/h at the Silverstone circuit.
In 2004 Supervan 3 debuted to promote the launch of the then-new gen-5 transit.
Similarly to its predecessor its body was made from fibreglass but this time to ⅞ scale to better accommodate the Group C chassis underneath.
Its 3.5-litre Cosworth revved to 13 000rpm, allowing for a giant wing-restricted 250km/h top speed.
Jaguar Transit Van
When Jaguar was busy with development of its XJ220 in the early 1990s it needed a way to inconspicuously test the supercar’s engine before the chassis it would eventually fit into was ready.
Lucky for Tom Walkinshaw Racing – the team contracted by Jag to run the project – an unregistered 1989 Ford Transit sat forlornly in the company lot just begging to get involved.
TWR craftily crammed the XJ220’s 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 under the work van’s giant white cloak, and fettled the 400kW engine to their heart’s content.
Today the Jag-Transit, as it’s affectionately known, is owned by Don Law Racing – a British Jaguar workshop specialising in the upkeep of rare XJ220s.
Don’s son Justin regularly races the wild workhorse up the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed Hillclimb, and with a good sense of humour too.
A ladder and plumbing pipe have been permanently affixed to the roof, there’s a “How’s my driving” decal on the back door, and the dashboard is littered with fast food wrappers and smutty magazines just as any blue-collared Transit owner would have it.
It’s easy to spot the XJ220-specific rims and fat tyres if you know what to look for, but other than that it’s a run of the mill plumber bus.
Don Law says 0-100km/h happens in just five seconds, and top speed is a very non-standard 274km/h.
Renault Espace F1
What do you get when you cross a 1993 Williams FW15C Formula One car with an average French mommy van? Lucifer’s grocery getter, or, the Renault Espace F1 to be more politically correct.
By far the wickedest machine in this list, this crazy creation was built in 1995 to celebrate 10 years of Renault’s Espace minivan and the brand’s three consecutive F1 championships.
It’s a fairly standard MPV on top but underneath is an actual Williams Formula One carbon tub chassis, a 588kW 3.5-litre V10, and all the go fast trimmings used to give Alain Post his fourth world title in 1993.
With two rows of racing buckets this preposterous people-mover is the only car in history to allow four passengers to experience the acceleration, G-forces and stopping power of a proper F1 car, all at the same time. Its most notable ride-along, however, was when Frank Williams himself was chauffeured by flying Scot David Coulthard.
It was the first and only time the wheelchair-bound team owner was able to feel the sensations associated with one of his very own V10 masterpieces.
And some sensations they were. This Espace bolted from 0-100km/h in 2.8 seconds, topped out at 312km/h, and could perform a 0-270-0km/h acceleration and brake test in less than 600 meters.
Volkswagen GTI W12-650
Every year since 1981 the Austrian town of Wörthersee hosts Europe’s biggest Volkswagen and Audi car show, and at just about every meeting Volkswagen itself pitches to show-up everything in sight with some creation built under a monstrous factory budget.
In 2007 VW used the event to debut its Golf GTI W12-650 - a concept car that resembled a bog standard mk5 GTI, but with a 6-litre twin-turbo W12 engine from a Bentley plonked in the boot.
But the Frankenstein mish-mash of VW Group components didn’t stop there.
Its five-speed Tiptronic gearbox comes from a Phaeton, Audi’s RS4 parts bin was raided for brakes and the back axle was donated from a Lamborghini Gallardo.
The 650 moniker comes from its horsepower output (rounded up from 641, actually), with which the world’s most bonkers GTI launches from 0-100km/h in 3.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 325km/h.
The W12-650 was a notoriously bad handler, as demonstrated by Jeremy Clarkson who spun the thing numerous times in an episode of Top Gear. There were rumours that the then boss of Volkswagen, Ferdinand Piëch, considered putting the crazy car into production before common sense set in.