WHEELER DEALERS: PETROLHEADS
THE FUTURE OF SUPERCARS
It’s generally accepted that the first ‘supercar’ in the guise that we have come to recognise them – mid-engined, V12, extreme styling, 170 mph+ – was the Lamborghini Miura, the eyelash-clad Italian film star that took the automotive world by storm at the 1965 Turin Car Show.
Before the Miura’s introduction, a series of road cars with sporting pedigree were indeed ‘super cars’, including the Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, the Chevy Corvette, the Jaguar E-Type and the Ford GT40 (which had to be rebuilt to meet road car regulations), and while they were undoubtedly spectacular looking, fast and expensive, the mid-engined bullets of the late 60s and early 70s paved the way for what came after.
After the Miura came the Maserati Ghibli and the Ferraris 365 GTB Daytona and then the daddy of them all arrived, the Lamborghini Countach. Completely beautiful, supremely quick but utterly bonkers, for over a dozen years it was the king of the road and with Porsche, Aston Martin, Mercedes and Bugatti all jumping on the bandwagon with stunning results, the era of the supercar was well and truly with us.
Fast-forward to the twenty-teens and even though we’re not all driving around in flying cars powered by a plutonium-based flux capacitor as we were promised in 50’s sci-fi magazines and 80s teen films, the cars we can buy today are, by any criteria in which they’re judged, quite remarkable (if you have a spare two hundred grand).
Today’s supercars are sensational feats of engineering and design with more than a little maths and physics thrown in for good measure. Indeed, so good are they that some are called hypercars, just to make it clear that they’re a whole new beast. Just look at the Lamborghini Huracán, the Bugatti Veyron, the Pagani Huayra and the Mercedes Benz SLS – but, and this is a big but – what’s next? Can these petrol-powered speed demons simply keep getting more powerful, faster, more expensive, more high-tech and more ludicrously beautiful?
In theory yes they can. A 300 mph car with a 12.0-litre WW32 engine and a 10-speed gearbox with a 0-60 time of 1.9 seconds can’t be that far away but with manufacturers having to comply with increasingly stricter efficiency and emissions regulations as well as a clientele who are a lot more eco-aware than when they were buying Diablos and Testarossas, it’s unlikely.
So what’s the answer? Make everyone drive around in non-descript 1.6-litre Euroboxes with no style and no character? It’s an argument. They’re cheap, manufactured in massive numbers and they’ll do 50+ mpg. They make little noise, they’re easy to park and emissions are low.
But they’re not for the supercar market. This is why, for the first time, the likes of Ferrari, Porsche, McLaren, and BMW are embracing a new word – hybrid.
This is the future of supercars.
The futuristic BMW i8 is a stunning GT sports car with a 0-60 time of 4.4 seconds and a top end of 159 mph. It’s powered by a 1.5-litre turbocharged engine and a 7.1 kWh lithium-ion battery. It costs somewhere north of £100k but it can be charged at a household socket and the electric motor can be used on its own for the school run.
Ferrari, possibly the last car manufacturer you’d expect to embrace hybrid tech have given us the oddly-named LaFerrari. It uses the 6.3-litre engine from the F12 (upped from 720bhp to 789bhp) but it’s boosted by not one, but two electric engines. The first one is an F1-esque HY-KERS system that harnesses energy in corners and under braking, turning that energy into battery power. In addition, it reduces emissions by at least 40% and increases the overall power by 10bhp. The second engine which helps to make the LaFerrari 94% energy-efficient, powers the ancillary systems like the instrumentation, lights, windscreen wipers, door locks etc.
PORSCHE 918 SPYDER
The halo Porsche 918 Spyder is the 2015 version of the Carrera GT and is powered by a mid-mounted 4.6-litre V8 with an electric motor over the front axle and another over the rear axle and it’s fast – super fast – with a reported top speed of 214mph. Most of it is carbon fibre and the interior is akin to being inside a jet fighter but again, we’re talking about a £600,000 car with similar power capability to a mid-table F1 race car but with less CO2 emissions than a £16,000 Toyota Yaris 1.5…
Hot off the heels of the MP4-12C, McLaren have produced their own plug-in hybrid, the McLaren P1. It’s a rear-wheel drive, mid-engine design with a 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 engine with 727bhp and the electric motor, charged by the engine or via plug-in tech can be at full capacity in two hours, offers a further 176bhp, taking it up to 903bhp, or Veyron territory. They are only building 375 P1s as well as adding 35 P1 GTR track-only models which will only be available to buy, by invitation, to the 375 P1 owners.
As much as for their sheer speed, it is the ground-breaking technological innovation of these cars which really changes the game. Just as changes in Formula One have opened the way for the supercars of the future, so these high-performance wonders will pave the way for a whole new generation of day-to-day motors. And that doesn’t even touch on self-driving technology, which is rather self-defeating when it comes to these best-in-breed monsters. A self-driving supercar? Never.
But time rolls on and there’s no doubt the supercar as we know it is going through a transformation. It’s no longer about who can dump the biggest fire-breathing engine in the most ridiculous looking spaceship and get it round the Nürburgring in four minutes. The design departments at Ferrari, Aston, Lamborghini and Porsche will still churn out staggeringly beautiful cars but the engineering departments will be less focused on trying to squeeze a 9.0-litre lump into them and more focused on getting the maximum power output from smaller, lighter, more economical, greener, and yes, hybrid super engines.