We are the champions… road cars to bear the name of history’s greatest drivers
There are the performance production models, then there are limited-run special editions, and then there are cars that arrogantly flaunt the name of one of motorsport’s great champions. Predominantly, the concept for these examples is conceived as another string to the marketing bow, but on rare occasions, it’s about a driver putting his stamp on a car, giving it a little something extra over the regular models and lending an unparalleled sense of exclusivity.
There have been many great champions throughout history to capture the imagination of audiences the world over, but not every team has the resources or the gumption to do right by their devoted fanbases and produce a championship edition car. On the odd occasion though, the stars align with manufacturer appetite and an end product worthy of such a designation.
Not all of these endeavours hit the mark, unfortunately. With the best intentions, some manufacturers release limited editions that the great champions themselves would turn their noses up at. That’s not to say most of them haven’t received universal acclaim and are now prime examples of great investment cars.
Ferrari 488 GTB 'The Schumacher'
There are few names in motorsport bigger than Ferrari and indeed Michael Schumacher. As part of a series of special edition liveries celebrating the iconic Italian brand’s rich heritage and 70-year anniversary, ‘The Schumacher was revealed at the 2016 Paris Motor Show. The car dons a red livery with white trim and roof stripes to honour the seven-time Formula 1 World Champion and, predominantly his 2003 campaign in which he took six race wins, eventually triumphing over a fresh-faced Kimi Räikkönen by just two points. In this case, it seems, a worthy homage to the Scuderia's most successful driver.
Infiniti FX Vettel Edition
In 2011, Sebastian Vettel was at the peak of his powers. An appropriate 11 wins from that season was enough to establish himself as the youngest double-world champion in history. He was in imperious form. What better way to celebrate than by releasing a two-tonne super SUV? Enter Infiniti. In an unnecessarily convoluted link, Red Bull’s engine partner Renault is partnered with Nissan and Infiniti falls under the Japanese manufacturer’s umbrella. Long story short, one of the contractual obligations was to create a road car bearing Seb’s household name. The result? A £100,000, 420bhp, carbon-clad lumbering giant that features an upgraded exhaust, front and rear wings designed by Vettel himself (the rear wing costs £4,800 on its own) and, the reigning champ’s signature icon embossed on the headrests. Perhaps, this one missed the mark ever so slightly…
Lotus Evija Fittipaldi
What is the most iconic motorsport livery of all time? Malboro Mclaren? Canon Williams? Brawn GP? There’s no denying that the stunning black and gold JPS Lotus livery of the seventies and eighties is a top contender. Transplant those distinctive colours onto the world’s most powerful production car and you have the Lotus Evija Fittipaldi. With only eight examples being produced, signifying the eight Lotus Type 72s – Emerson’s championship-winning car – remaining, this car is as exclusive as they come and they’re all already reserved. Celebrating five decades since the Brazilian’s first championship, this Evija features reuses aluminium from the original race car as well as an etched Type 72 aerial design in the roof and Fittipaldi’s signature hand-stitched into the dashboard. This one certainly does the man and the title justice.
Renault Megane 2.0 T 16V Renaultsport 225 F1 Team / Ferrari 599 Alonso Edition / Alpine A110 R Fernando Alonso
Although only one celebrates a world title, it’s worth mentioning that a driver with the gravitas of Fernando Alonso has utilised his influence to inspire not one, but three limited-run cars. The Megane F1 improves on an already well-performing hot hatch by introducing lighter wheels and improved suspension complemented by bucket-seat Recaros, the F1-reminiscent colours and numbered plaque making it a bit of a barbarous track weapon. The 599 meanwhile was built to commemorate 60 years of Ferrari F1 victories and borrowed much of its specification from the HGTE pack. With only 40 of the bespoke Alonso interior-boasting models produced in total, these cars now command a hefty premium. In an odd turn of events, the most recent Alonso edition car was an Alpine revealed in the wake of his departure from the French marque’s F1 outfit. Just 32 examples (the same as Fernando’s F1 win count) are being produced with each car’s plaque indicating the matching race victory.
Currently in The Gallery, PaddlUp has its own Fernando Alonso homage in the shape of a Ferrari F12berlinetta.
Mazda MX-5 Le Mans Edition
This one may not be named after a championship-winning driver, but it doesn’t come much more prestigious than winning the greatest endurance race on the planet so we’ll let this one slide. This MX-5 celebrated the success, and indeed the shock victory of the iconic 787B over the endurance racing powerhouses that were Jaguar, Sauber Mercedes-Benz and Porsche recording the first outright win for a Japanese manufacturer. Two months after the 1991 Circuit de la Sarthe triumph, Mazda UK took it upon themselves to pay tribute to the team that etched their names into the history books. This car does a proper job of that tribute too, not only is the livery painted rather than wrapped, but it also features a bespoke body kit, OZ Racing wheels, Tokico springs and dampers as well as a BBR low-boost turbocharger kit that boosts power to 150 bhp.
Subaru Impreza Series McRae
You can’t have a conversation about the World Rally Championship without mentioning the Subaru Impreza or Colin McRae. This limited edition rally car for the road celebrates both these icons of off-road racing and their first championship victory as a pairing and individually. All of the 200 cars produced came in Rally Blue with unique Recaro seats, racing emblems and centre console-mounted plaque. Not the most impressive spec on this list but we dare anyone reading to mark it down as a result. The original is so revered in fact, that 25 years on it has inspired Prodrive to create the £552,000 Prodrive P25 restomod as a testament to its seminal ancestor.
Pagani Zonda 760 LH
Back in 2014 when Lewis Hamilton was a simple one-time champion he commissioned Pagani to create a one-of-a-kind purple Zonda and christened it the LH. Eight years later and Lewis is now a record-equaling seven-time world champion, unsurprisingly that fact has boosted its initial value of £1.6 million to a healthy £8.5m, who knew becoming the most successful driver in history would generate a 48 per cent annual ROI? Other than being caked in purple – both exterior and interior – the car is littered with LH emblems and is believed to be the only 760 to feature manual transmission. Its driver’s reputation ensures this car surpasses all other ‘champion’ titled cars to sit atop the pile.
Mercedes-Benz A160 Edition Hakkinen
Coming crashing back down to earth, we find ourselves at the end of the 20th century and a car honouring the only racer Schumacher feared. We use the word honouring lightly here as the A160, as you can probably guess does little to honour double world champion Mika Hakkinen, nor his teammate who also received a limited run of the same model, bearing the name Coulthard. 125 models were produced for each driver, both of which were presented in a hand-finished Mercedes-McLaren livery as well as their name and nationality’s flag adorning the doors. Performance-wise, it offered little in addition to the standard A160. It houses the same lacklustre 1.6-litre 101 hp engine but does come with dual exhaust pipes and 17-inch AMG rims and low-profile tyres accompanied by a sports suspension setting.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI Tommi Mäkinen Edition
As explored in our Tommi Mäkinen homologation specials feature, The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI TME was certainly worthy of the name. An ultra-quick steering rack and myriad branded components give your authentic rally-driver vibes in the cabin, whilst the simple fact that Mäkinen himself slid this model to a record-equaling (at the time) four WRC titles bolsters its reputation beyond measure. That much is clear in its modern-day valuation.
Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren 722 S Roadster & Stirling Moss
We know, we know. He’s not a world champion but how could we deny the greatest driver never to win a world championship? This Mercedes-McLaren collaboration pays tribute to the SLR 300 racing car that Moss superbly drove to victory in the 1955 running of the 1000-mile Mille Miglia road race donning the number 722. A truly stunning and worthy tribute that PaddlUp is quite familiar with, this particular example has been twice signed by the late, great driver himself.
Last but certainly not least is the Honda NSX. Although there's another car you may be expecting us to mention for this champion, few cars are as closely associated with a driver as the NSX is to Ayrton Senna. To many, the greatest racing driver to ever live, Senna famously played a huge part in developing the NSX and also owned one himself, holding its handling in particular in very high regard.
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