A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of introducing myself to the Car Throttle collective with a little article on sleepers, and why it sucks to own one. Now I won’t go so far as to say the subject was click bait for the motoring masses - most people I know think sleepers are cool, and just about everyone has a sleeper story to some degree, whether you own one or got owned by one. But the love/hate thing is real, and if you’ve owned one, it’s hard to understand why.
Just a couple weeks ago I was reminded of this when I had to convince the organisers of a local car show that I’d actually entered my SHO-swapped 1987 Mercury Sable estate. I had to produce a receipt for the entry fee plus I.D.; meanwhile the vintage muscle rolled through without even stopping. Annoyed as I was, I did get some love in the form of a first-place trophy by the end of the day, something which made me feel great since it was a judged show and there were many other cars in my category. They didn’t want to let me in the show, then wouldn’t let me leave without a trophy. Sleeper life for the win.
It’s all about the experience, and despite the negative tone of my first sleeper article, I’m here to say every enthusiast should have that experience at least once in their lives. Here’s why:
Yes, this was the main reason why owning a sleeper sucks. It’s also undoubtedly the best. Don’t be confused - every car nut at some point wants at least a little recognition, and sleepers generally won’t deliver on that front.
That anonymity, however, opens a wealth of opportunity no other motoring segment can hope to enjoy. While the red Hondas with giant exhaust tips get pulled over for no reason, sleepers pass under the radar at speeds comfortably above posted limits. Should multi-car hijinks happen on a Friday night, Mustangs and Camaros are rolling bullseyes for trouble whereas a plain white wagon looks just fine parked next to a church. A theoretical white wagon. I’ve never parked by a church to avoid trouble. That would be terrible.
And then there’s the second best reason for loving sleepers, and it’s only possible when you’re driving a car petrolheads don’t ever notice—until it’s too late.
When I say look, I’m not talking about the understated, nondescript styling that defines a sleeper. I’m referring to the bewildered, jaw-dropping, double-taking, eye-popping, WTF look that only occurs when someone unexpectedly loses a contest of speed to something generally considered slow.
No matter how long you’ve owned a sleeper, or how many unsuspecting kills you’ve garnered with it, the look never, ever ceases to amuse, entertain and delight. It’s that look of utter disbelief. Few things deliver shock and awe better than a well-executed sleeper stoplight victory. And that’s when you beat normal car people. Lay the smack down on some cocky ricer or muscle car jock and the look—not to mention your satisfaction of victory—ascends to a whole new level of epic.
They may not garner the attention of higher profile rides, but once the sleeper’s secrets are revealed, car guys and gals are all about respect and that holds true whether you bought it, or built it. Yeah, there will always be the dirtbags who spout nothing but condescension (or excuses when they lose), but being a sleeper owner for the better part of a decade, I’ve found these cars are among the few rides with near universal appeal. From muscle car enthusiasts to the import and tuner crowd; they all seem to dig sleepers. Maybe it’s because they get right to the essence of what it means to be crazy about cars.
Sleepers are elemental, and fundamental, with all the pretence and excess stripped away. People can like or dislike a particular brand or style of car, but in the end it all comes down to a single person just enjoying their vehicle. And I think that’s something every single petrolhead on the planet can appreciate.