If you have ever been to a demolition derby and spoke with any member of the crew or audience, you know there are all kinds of opinions about what makes the best derby cars. Usually the free-flowing beer at the county fair leads to some heated debates on this subject. So, to avoid stepping on any toes, here are our opinions on the best cars for demo derbies.
Most rear-wheel drive sedans were built in the classic era, and are favorites due to their body-on-frame construction methods, massive overhangs, and total disregard for a light weight. Unfortunately, classic iron is getting rare and more expensive, leaving little room for derby budgets.
Chrysler Imperial — The 1964 – ’68 Imperial is notoriously tough, to the point that most derbies banned it. A 6.8 liter V8 delivered almost 500 lb/ft of torque in a car that weighs as much as a freight train. If your local rules allow, and you happen to have one, this is the car to use.
Ford LTD/Crown Victoria — The Panther chassis is stupid cheap, and cop car tough. It became more reliable as the decades passed, but it still retained the same formula of solid V8 in a full frame RWD car. Modifications are cheap and easy, and there are plenty of LTD/CV derby drivers online to learn from.
Chevy Impala — Box or bubble, you can’t go wrong beating on an Impala. The old school coupes are a treasure, with massive overhangs and sinister good looks. It was also available as a wagon for many years, and these often unwanted models weigh quite a bit. Also, if you’re a Chevy guy, look at the ‘70s and ‘80s Caprice.
It took a while for front-wheel drive to gain acceptance, as they were generally smaller and lighter than the old RWD classics, with shorter overhangs barely covering critical parts. However, driving a FWD car in reverse makes a massive battering ram out back, without any delicate drivetrain parts back there.
GM W-Body (Lumina, Regal, Gran Prix, etc) — These things were ugly, and everywhere, which means they are cheap to buy twenty-odd years later. The 3.8 liter V6 provides plenty of power and has legendary reliability. With a huge trunk and a cheap price, the W-body cars are quickly becoming a derby favorite.
Ford Escort — If you’re looking at a compact class, a first generation Ford Escort might be the best option. It has a rally car inspired engine, so it can take a beating. These cars are commonly under $500, and they are surprisingly tough.
Alright, so not many people chose to go this route, even if the rules allow all-wheel drive. Still, it’s interesting to look at the potential. AWD offers lots of grip in the dirt, so you can get serious impact power from just a short run.
Subaru Outback — A mid ‘90s Outback wagon is probably a great choice as an AWD derby car. The non-turbo engine is the one to get, as it is a torquey 2.5 liter flat four cylinder sits low in the engine bay. It’s a wagon, so it has a lot of metal to tear up back there before it quits. It’s seriously something to consider if the rules allow.
Remember, a derby car is only as good as the builder and driver. Choosing the best car in the world won’t save you in a modified class if the builder has no clue. A great car with a skilled builder and a competent driver is what makes a legendary demolition derby car.