We’ve assembled an eclectic mix of machinery for RACER magazine’s annual Great Cars Issue. And, yes, we admit that for at least one of them our editorial brain trust’s definition of “great” is highly subjective, to say the least.

That would be the Group C Lancia LC2, a prototype sports car that utterly failed in its mission to match Porsche’s mighty 956, then 962. The LC2 won only three races in 34 starts for the Turin factory between 1983 and ’86, and was consigned to history when its already miniscule budget was absorbed by Lancia’s infinitely more successful WRC campaign.

So why do we think it’s great? Because of what it meant to us, rather than what it achieved, and the memories that it etched in our minds. David vs. Goliath; Italian cool and bravado; the sense of anticipation for those high-boosted, all-or-nothing pole runs at Le Mans and, yes, the iconic Martini stripes. Sometimes, a great car is more than just its accumulated stats.

Although stats can obviously build a case, too. Take our cover star, the McLaren MP4/2, which earned five out of a possible six Formula 1 titles between 1984 and ’86 (three drivers’ crowns and two constructors’). But what makes that car so fascinating to us are the singular focus of chief designer John Barnard in getting Porsche to build the engine he wanted, rather than accept any compromise, and then the sizable curveball thrown at his quest for perfection when F1 banned ground-effect aerodynamics before the MP4/2 even left his drawing board.

Barnard believes the only current F1 designer allowed anything approaching the level of conceptual control he enjoyed at McLaren is Red Bull Racing’s Adrian Newey. And when your cars are as great as 2023’s record-breakingly dominant RB19, why change that? But will we look back on RB19 for anything more than the stats it produces, or because it leaves us with indelible memories? Only time will tell.

We’re not sure what the collective noun is for great cars, but two others being viewed through RACER’s prism of greatness in this issue are A.J. Foyt’s Coyote IV Indy car and a rallying icon, the Ford Escort Mk2.

In an era when putting a deposit down on a McLaren or Eagle was the turn-key solution to being somewhere in the mix, Foyt plowed his own furrow with a series of in-house Coyotes – and increasingly Foyt-ized Ford engines – culminating in the Coyote IV. It was far from the path of least resistance, but the results speak for themselves. The IV made its debut in 1973, was still winning races in ’79, and earned A.J. his ’75 USAC title and a record-setting fourth Indianapolis 500 win in ’77.

The Escort Mk2 is a classic example of an ordinary car – in this case, Ford of Europe’s ubiquitous small family sedan – doing extraordinary things. Introduced into international rallying in 1975, the simple, rear-wheel-drive Mk2 won two World Rally Championship drivers’ titles, the last one coming in 1981, when the all-wheel-drive Audi quattro was taking traction to new levels and (theoretically) obsoleting cars like the Escort overnight. Not that ’81 champ Ari Vatanen was taking any notice, with the Finn’s sideways style and maximum-attack mindset leaving indelible memories on anyone who saw it.

Beyond the great cars, bringing us back into the present are some must-read stories including an interview with newly-crowned NTT IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou (or should that be “not so newly-crowned,” given that the Spaniard clinched with a race to spare – first time that’s been done since 2005); a look at how the McLaren Formula 1 team turned its 2023 season around in going from backmarkers to best of the rest in the space of a couple of update packages on its MCL60, and insight on the increasingly potent Porsche Penske Motorsport partnership in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s new-for-2023 GTP class.

Add in stories on 23XI Racing as it got into a NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs state of mind, Formula Drift’s RTR Motorsports, and the latest on the Formula 1 and IndyCar driver silly seasons, and we know that it’s an issue you’ll enjoy.

CLICK HERE to purchase the new issue of RACER. Interested in having RACER delivered to your mailbox? CLICK HERE to find out more about print and digital subscriptions.