If using a famous racing driver to sell racing games works well, shouldn’t it also work well for selling actual cars? That’s been the motivation behind driver edition cars, special edition models bearing the name and signature (and occasionally the actual autograph) of drivers who compete for a manufacturer. Such models are usually based on the road-going versions of the cars the pilot in question drives or, if he’s a single-seater or prototype shoe, a sporty model from the company’s model line-up.Below in no particular order, are 10 of the most distinctive and desirable street legal rides ever to wear a motor-sports hero’s moniker.
ACURA NSX ALEX ZANARDI EDITION
Considering how closely he was associated with its development, you’d think the late Ayrton Senna would have had his own special edition Honda/Acura NSX.Well, you’d be wrong, just like you would be wrong about Satoru Nakajima and Bobby Rahal (the other two racers that did the early development driving) having their own branded versions of Honda’s aluminium bowl of awesome sauce. No, the only racing driver to get an NSX named for him is Alessandro “Alex” Zanardi, who won the 1997 and ’98 CART Champ Car titles driving Chip Ganassi’s Honda-powered, Target-sponsored Reynards.
The Acura NSX Alex Zanardi Edition was produced only for the 1999 model year and only 51 were built, all of which were sold in the U.S. The Zanardi NSX featured, in addition to the expected plaque bearing the serial number and Alex’s signature, leather and suede seats with red stitching, a lightweight battery, lighter rear wing, lightweight BBS alloy wheels, and manual steering instead of the regular model’s power steering system. Truly a terrific tribute to a guy who was an inspiration for his winning record and, following the horrific 2001 crash in which he lost his legs (and very nearly his life), his never-give-up, never-feel-sorry-for-himself attitude.
BMW M3 CECOTTO
Long before Pastor Maldonado and EJ Viso began prompting investors in carbon fibre futures.Venezuelan motorsports fans had Alberto “Johnny” Cecotto for whom to cheer for.After getting his start in motorcycle road racing, the Caracas native made his move to cars in 1980. He tied his teammate for the most points scored in the 1982 Formula Two championship (but lost the title on the tiebreaker), which was enough to get him a seat with the Theodore F1 team the following year. That team folded with two races left in the season, but Cecotto was able to sign with the Toleman team for 1984, where he’d be paired with another promising young South American Ayrton Senna.
Unfortunately, Cecotto had a massive shunt in qualifying for the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, smashing both his legs and ending his single-seater career. However, he did recover to the point where he was able to have a pretty successful career in touring cars, much of which was spent with BMW. BMW subsequently released a limited run of first generation (E30) M3s that paid homage to him. They featured a high-output version of the 2.3L S14 inline-four with a body-coloured valve cover, Evolution II body kit, 16” wheels with metallic black centres, chrome tailpipes, and a dashboard plaque bearing Cecotto’s signature. A total of 480 Cecotto M3s (plus 25 similar ones saluting Johnny’s Italian teammate Roberto Ravaglia that were exclusively right-hand-drive and offered in the U.K. in place of the Cecotto) were made, and only for model year 1989.
CHEVROLET CORVETTE Z06 RON FELLOWS CHAMPIONSHIP EDITION
Even though the Chevrolet Corvette has been around for 61 years, there’s only been one driver edition. And that lone driver-edition version of “America’s Sports Car” wasn’t even dedicated to an American, because the non-U.S. pilot in question is Canadian road racing hero Ron Fellows.
All 399 Corvette Z06 Ron Fellows Championship Editions produced for the 2007 model year (the only year it was offered) were Arctic White (a color previously unavailable on the C6 Z06) with red Grand Sport style stripes on the front fenders (the driver side ones incorporating a maple leaf motif, Ron’s name and the years in which Corvette won the American Le Mans Series GT1 manufacturers championship), plus a “CORVETTE” windshield banner and full-width rear spoiler. Inside, there was a mixture of red and black, with Fellows’ autograph and the number of that particular car adorning the underside of the center armrest/console lid.
MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION VI TOMMI MÄKINEN EDITION
If you were to go out and win three consecutive WRC drivers championships with the same manufacturer (as well as a manufacturers title for that nameplate), there’s a good chance that manufacturer would do a special salute-to-you edition of the street version of the car you used for all that success. Well, that’s exactly what Mitsubishi did with the 1999 introduction of the Lancer Evolution VI and the limited production Tommi Mäkinen Edition thereof.
As with other Evo VIs, was powered by a turbocharged 2.0L inline-four rated at 276 horsepower four wheels drive through a 5-speed manual transmission. But those four wheels, incidentally, were special 17” Enkei alloys finished in white, plus there was a Momo steering wheel (with matching shift knob) and embroidered seats inside. Other revisions included a different front bumper, a lower ride height, a front strut tower brace, a quicker steering ratio, a titanium turbine inside the turbocharger and the option of body-side accent stripes based on the ones applied to Mäkinen’s rally car.
Was the availability of this car the sole reason Tommi won his fourth-straight WRC title in ’99? Of course not. But it certainly wasn’t a hindrance, either…
NISSAN SKYLINE PAUL NEWMAN VERSION
When Nissan decided to do a special edition version of the R30-generation Skyline, it asked Newman (who had by that time won a pair of SCCA National Championships and was driving Datsun’s in SCCA and IMSA competition) to lend his name to it, as well as be the celebrity pitchman for the Skyline range. Essentially, the Skyline Paul Newman Version was a GT-ES Turbo Coupe (powered by the L20ET turbocharged SOHC 2.0L inline-six) with the azure-eyed thespian’s signature emblazoned on the bonnet and rocker panels in decal form, the rear fascia in badge form, and embroidered on the front seat backs. There were faster and more powerful version the Newman was arguably the coolest version.
ALFA ROMEO SPIDER NIKI LAUDA EDITION.
Despite having just won his second world championship in three years at the wheel of a Ferrari, Niki Lauda abruptly quit the team with two races remaining in the 1977 Formula 1 season as a result of disagreements on how the Scuderia was being run . Come 1978, the Austrian was with the Brabham team, whose cars were powered by Alfa Romeo’s 3.0L flat-12 engine. And to celebrate his joining the family, the Italian company cooked up a special Niki Lauda Edition Spider that same year.
Offered exclusively in the U.S. and only in red, the Lauda Spider was mechanically identical to the regular U.S.-spec Spider Veloce, meaning it had a 2.0L twin-cam inline-four , a 5-speed manual transmission…and a tumor-esque black-plastic-clad 5 mph bumper at each end. But it also had a set of white-outlined dark blue stripes adorning the nose and rear to provide a visual link to the Brabham BT46’s livery, special medallions on the front fenders, twist-to-adjust Tornado exterior mirrors, a 3” tall ducktail rear spoiler, and a chrome tailpipe. There was a serialized dash plaque denoting where in the sequence of the 350 examples Alfa Romeo made.
OPEL CALIBRA KEKE ROSBERG EDITION.
Upon its introduction in 1989, the Opel Calibra – a handsome two-door coupe with a well-camouflaged hatchback – was the most aerodynamic production car built, with a drag coefficient of 0.26. Naturally, the slippery shape lent itself to competition use, which Opel began with the 1994 DTM season. And one of the Calibra drivers that year was 1982 Formula 1 World Champion Keke Rosberg. The Finn may not have scored any wins for GM’s German outpost, but as the most prominent member of the marque’s driver roster, it seemed only natural that he would be the one getting a signature edition road going Calibra.
The Calibra Keke Rosberg Edition (made only in 1995) was offered exclusively in white (except in Switzerland, where it was only available in black) with white BBS wheels, lowering springs from respected Opel tuner Irmscher, leather-wrapped steering wheel, white-face gauges, special badging and a 997 plaque that also bore Rosberg’s autograph.
MERCEDES-BENZ SLR MCLAREN STIRLING MOSS
Although he never managed to win neither the Formula 1 World Championship nor the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Sir Stirling Moss still had a pretty spectacular career. And the dapper Englishman (whose father Alfred and sister Pat also raced professionally) is still a beloved ambassador for the sport at age 84. So when Mercedes-Benz and McLaren decided to produce a special edition SLR McLaren, it was only natural that it would be a celebration of the man who, in 1955, drove a 300 SLR to victory in the Mille Miglia at an average speed of just under 100 mph.
Unlike most of the SPECIAL EDITIONS mentioned, which are distinguished primarily by simple things like decals, badges and embroidered seats, the 640 horsepower SLR McLaren Stirling Moss featured bodywork that was dramatically different to that of the standard SLR McLaren Roadster. What’s more, there was no roof of any sort, and instead of an actual windshield, there were just small clear screens for the driver and passenger. Only 75 were built and they were only available to people who already owned an SLR McLaren.