As an evolutionary species, man has always strived to go further, longer and faster than those who have come before. In the late 19th century when the first sub-10mph petrol-powered, internal combustion engined cars were coming out of the factories of Karl Benz, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, our collective ‘need for speed’ immediately became more acute. It turned into an obsession that shows no sign of, ahem, slowing down…
When we refer to the 200mph Club, we’re talking about the fastest road car – street-legal production cars – rather than Formula 1 cars, NASCAR monsters and a whole host of highly-modified jet and concept cars including the 750mph+ bullets specifically built for attempts on the land speed record like the Spirit of America and the Thrust SSC.
Just by the way, at time of writing the most recent land speed record is a jaw-dropping, eye-watering and unbelievably fast supersonic 763mph (1,228km/h) – or Mach 1.02 – measured over one mile in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, USA, in October 1997. The car was driven by Wing Commander Andy Green OBE BA RAF and his call sign was ‘Dead Dog’.
The Thrust SSC was powered by two afterburning Rolls-Royce Spey turbofan engines (the same engines used in the F-4 Phantom II jet fighter) and the stats are staggering. It boasted 110,000 bhp and burnt approximately 18 litres of fuel per second. Translated into standard fuel consumption figures for road cars, this equates to something like 0.05 mpg!
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Anyway, back to the road.
Two-hundred miles per hour has always been seen as a benchmark for both speed freaks and manufacturers of very expensive, high end sports cars. But today, any list of the fastest road legal cars which top the double century is in the dozens. The usual suspects are on the list – Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bentley, Bugatti, Maserati, Pagani, McLaren, Porsche and Jaguar, as well as our American cousins Chevrolet and Dodge– but there has emerged over the last 15-20 years a series of small, independent manufacturers that are producing some quite phenomenal speed, including Ascari, Caparo, Fisker, Gumpert, Saleen, Hennessey and Ultima.
Ever since the first Benz overtook the first Daimler on the cobbled streets of a small German town (we don’t know if this actually happened but it’s an evocative mental image) we have made the pursuit of speed of paramount importance. The first car to unofficially break 100mph was a 90 bhp Napier in 1905 but complying with today’s rules, it wasn’t until after the second world war that the official race for that exemplary fast production car was well and truly on.
The Europeans led the automobile world (and still do) in terms of design, mechanics, aerodynamics and of course speed. Up until the late 1960s, it was the big boys who traded supremacy in the bid for the fastest road car and gained kudos as the makers of the fastest cars in the world. The honour was progressively held by:
- 1949 | Jaguar XK120 | 124.6 mph / 200.5 kmh
- 1955 | Mercedes-Benz 300SL | 140 mph / 225.3 kmh
- 1958 | Aston Martin DB4 | 141 mph / 226.9 kmh
- 1959 | Aston Martin DB4 GT | 152 mph / 244.6 kmh
- 1963 | Iso Rivolta Grifo A3/L327 | 161 mph / 259.1 kmh
- 1965 | AC Cobra Mk III 427 | 165 mph / 265.4 kmh
- 1967 | Lamborghini Miura P400 | 171 mph / 275.1 kmh
- 1968 | Ferrari 365 GTB / 4 Dayton | 174 mph / 280 kmh
Rather surprisingly, we then had to wait 16 years for the next major breakthrough, but by then (the mid-80s) manufacturers were embracing the available technology and producing some seriously fast cars. In 1984, a Ferrari 288 GTO hit 188mph (302.5 km/h) and then two years later the Porsche 959 Touring topped out at 195mph (313.8 km/h).
Then, in 1987, we hit the big one.
The last car personally approved for production by motoring demi-god Enzo Ferrari, the F40, broke the 200mph barrier, reaching 202.687 mph (326 km/h). There aren’t many cars before or since that are worshipped and revered as much as the F40 and although 202mph today seems decidedly average (if it’s possible to call that type of pace ‘average’), because it was the first production car to reach the holy grail, it holds a special place in the hearts of all true petrolheads.
Intended to be a car produced in very limited numbers (final production numbers topped 1,300), the F40 was a 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V8 supercar churning out 478 bhp and with a 0-62 time of a shade under four seconds, it was the world’s fastest, most powerful and most expensive car (approx. $400,000 in 1987) and it’s only rivals were the Porsche 959 and the Lamborghini Countach which graced many a movie car chase, neither of which could attain the 200mph mark.
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Fastest Road Legal Car: Open Season
After this benchmark for the world’s fastest production car was reached, it became open season to see who could go even faster.
Over the next five years we saw small increases from a range of 200mph cars. The Bugatti EB110 GT hit 209mph (336.3 km/h) and then the Jaguar XJ220 got to 212.3 mph (341.6 km/h) but by 1993, there was a new kid on the block.
Utilising large elements of Formula 1 technology as well as advanced understanding of aerodynamics, mechanics, braking and suspension, the McLaren F1 tore through the record books by reaching a previously unimaginable 240.1 mph (386.4 km/h) without the rev limiter at the world-famous, Porsche-owned Nardò Ring in Italy.
There was then a further gap of 12 years until 2005 when arguably the greatest car ever made showed up and obliterated the competition.
The original 987 bhp Bugatti Veyron 16.4 roared to a top speed of 253.81 mph (408.46 km/h) with its 8.0-litre, W16, quad-turbocharged engine at the Volkswagen-owned Ehra-Lessien test track in north-eastern Germany on 19th April 2005.
The car is so fast that you can’t simply turn it on and get up to full chat. There is a ‘top speed mode’ which must be enabled when the car is at rest and then the driver has to use a special key in the seat which initiates a checklist to ensure the car (and driver) is ready to go that quickly. If everyone’s happy, the rear spoiler detracts, the air diffusers at the front close and the car hunkers down by 6cm. It’s fast. Very fast…
…but not as fast as its younger cousin, the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport. Anything called ‘Super Sport’ and coming hot on the heels of a 250mph+ beast was bound to make the automotive world stand up and pay attention.
At the time of writing, the Veyron Super Sport is officially recognised by Guinness World Records as the world’s fastest production car, not surprising then that Bugatti is now firmly established as one of the most expensive brands of car ever. Limited to 30 models with a price tag of about two million Euros, it was, unbelievably, faster and more powerful than the 16.4. Horsepower was upped to 1,200 bhp using the same 8.0-litre, W16, quad-turbocharged engine and it reached a teeth-rattling 267.857 mph (431.07 km/h).
To understand just how fast the Super Sport is, if from a standing start it set off a full 10 seconds after a McLaren F1 (by which time the F1 would be nudging 130 mph), they will both hit 200 mph at the same time.
There are strong rumours that Bugatti are planning a 1,500 bhp, 290 mph (466.7 km/h) future supercar using a heavily modified version of their now classic 8.0-litre block but the final numbers will no doubt be a closely guarded secret and it’s testament to our collective will that surely in years rather than decades we’ll see a 300 mph car on the roads in the constant battle for the fastest road car ever. What it will look like, what it will cost and how much you’ll have to fork out to insure it is anyone’s guess, but we’re excited for the future of speed!