The Fastest Production Cars of All Time
With the SSC Tuatara taking the crown from Koenigsegg, let's take a look back at record holders over the years
Ah, 2020. What a confusing year this has been. The world has imploded, nearly public event has been cancelled and it seems every day we are subjected to a different raft of terms and conditions on leaving the house. We do however have a major development in the automotive world: the production car record has been claimed by SSC. Their Ultimate Aero successor, piloted by British racing driver Oliver Webb, took the crown from Koenigsegg by performing a one way run in the Nevada desert, reaching a Vmax of a staggering 316.11mph. To attempt to put that speed into perspective, that is the equivalent of travelling 1 and 1/3 football pitches a second. If a top fuel drag car with over 15,000hp set off on the quarter mile at full speed, the Tuatara would beat it to the finish line by not far off a full second.
Yet as we know, what constitutes a production car record is often very hotly contested; when the Bugatti Chiron Super Sport 300+ claimed the 300mph record at Ehra-Lessien, it was quickly discovered that this was in fact a pre-production prototype, and to date the production version has not reached this speed. While technically impressive, this does warrant exclusion from the list; only full fat production cars will make an appearance on this list. We shall not worry about direction runs or whether they have a VIN or all the other factors; we are interested in verified top speed runs of production cars.
1894 - Benz Velo
Hold onto your monocles, chaps..
While this is a somewhat facetious entry into the list, in it's day it did technically hold the production car speed record. Equipped with a 1 litre single cylinder engine, it topped out at a dizzying 12mph. Mind you this is on wheels more akin to a bicycle and no real roads to speak of, so it would've been interesting to say the least.
1949 - Jaguar XK120
The very first production XK120, previously owned by Clark Gable. Handsome thing, isn't it?
Following WWII, huge strides had been made in the art of automotive design and aerodynamics. Introduced in 1948, the Jaguar XK120 came with a 3.4 litre DOHC straight six engine, producing 160bhp. This, as demonstrated a year later from its introduction, was good for a top speed of 120mph, hence XK120. As it turned out however, the car was capable of much more than that; in 1950 a chap named Leslie Johnson drove his XK120 at the Autodrome de Montlhéry, the French equivalent of Daytona. Swapping every 3 hours with another chap by the name of Stirling Moss, together they drove the '120 at 107mph for 24 hours straight, only stopping for fuel and tyres. A year later Johnson drove the same car at the same track at 131mph for an hour straight; impressive on leaf springs and cross-ply tyres. A year after that, a team of 4 drivers drove an XK120 for 7 days and 7 nights continuously around that same circuit, averaging an impressive 100.31mph. The year after that, a modified XK120 managed to reach a staggering 172.412mph on a deserted highway in Belgium.
1955 - Mercedes-Benz 300SL
This list would not be complete without mentioning the car voted in 1999 as the "Sports Car of the Century": the Mercedes-Benz 300SL. Originally built as a Le-Mans winning racer known as the W194, the 300SL brought sleek bodywork, those iconic gull-wing doors and a top speed of 163mph. The roadster version only had a top speed of 150, but arguably much better looks. Because as we all know, cutting the roof off a car makes it look so much better. Well, in most cases anyway.
1967 - Lamborghini Miura
Now we're getting into some serious automotive territory, arguably *the* template for the whole concept of the supercar: the Lamborghini Miura. Low, swooping bodywork, mid engined, dirty great V12; all present and correct. Multiple versions were produced, such as the P400S, SV, SV/J, roadster and so on, the Gandini-designed Miura was good for a top speed of 173mph.
1985 - Lamborghini Countach LP5000QV
In the 80's it was the battle of the wedges; Lamborghini's Countach was getting firmly up the nose of Ferrari's Testarossa. The 1984 redhead weighed into battle with a 4.9L flat 12 engine, awarding a top speed of 180mph to the impossibly handsome driver in a cloud of cigarette smoke. Probably. To compensate, Sant'Agata Bolognese fired back in 1985 with the Countach LP5000QV. The 5000QV refers to the V12 being bored and stroked to 5.1L and given 4 valves per cylinder (quattrovalvole in Italian, which is tremendous fun to say), which propelled the winged QV to a top speed of 185mph.
1986 - Porsche 959
By the mid 80's, cars were very quick indeed but almost completely analogue. The 959 changed all of that; originally designed as a Group B rally racer, it represented a quantum leap forwards in the technology that cars of its type would employ. It featured revolutionary tech such as a 5-speed manual gearbox that featured a 'gelände' (terrain) gear for offroading, Kevlar bodywork, automatic ride height adjustment, magnesium wheels and a unique four wheel drive system. This system, known as Porsche-Steuer Kupplung, was capable of torque vectoring and gave the Porsche a unique 'super street' car persona. In fact the PSK system was so successful the Porsche head shed decided that from then on, all of their turbocharged cars would have four wheel drive as standard. Oh, the top speed? 198mph.
1987 - Ferrari F40
By now, Ferrari had had enough; they had been bested by Lamborghini and Porsche, the latter getting dangerously close to the fabled 200mph barrier. With the closure of the 1986 Group B rally series, Enzo Ferrari had a handful of 288 GTO Evoluzione cars ready for racing, but no races to enter them into. One of his best engineers, Nicola Materazzi managed to convince Ferrari that one of the 288's could be converted to road use. Given this was to be his last car he personally oversaw, he gave the green light and the F40 was born. Not that this was a 959 rival... Not at all. They even said so. Despite definitely not being interested in beating the 959's 197, it managed to break the 200mph barrier. By 1 mph.
1992 - McLaren F1
Not much really needs to be said about the F1 really, so I'll give the highlights: BMW developed V12. 618bhp. Carbon construction. Gold in the engine bay. Top speed? 221mph. If you were a customer, that is; with the rev limiter removed, and your name is Andy Wallace, you can crack 240mph, a record that stood for more than a decade.
2005 - Bugatti Veyron
Even less needs to be said about the Veyron. All that engine. All that power. All of that 253mph. All this, wrapped in a cocoon of luxury. Just don't talk to anyone about the servicing costs.
2007 - SSC Ultimate Aero TT
253mph? Pathetic, the Americans scoffed. 16L W16? All you need is a V8, they retorted. Not to be outdone by the Europeans, Shelby Super Cars decided to take a more Lotus approach; simplify, but add horsepower. The Ultimate Aero wasn't even equipped with ABS or traction control, despite a power figure that wasn't far off 1,200hp. The twin turbo Corvette C5R V8 derived engine hurled the 1,300kg machine to a top speed of 256mph. The 2009 update saw a slight increase in power which boosted the theoretical top speed to 267mph. Not that I'd want to try to brake from that with no ABS...
2010 - Bugatti Veyron Super Sport
SSC got up the nose of the French and the Germans in a big, big way. The Veyron had taken the world by storm, but it was no longer the fastest. Given that this did not fit the brief of the Veyron being the ultimate car, this simply was not acceptable. So Bugatti fired back by bumping up the power figure from 987bhp to 1,184, lightening it and revision the aero. As we all saw on Top Gear, the Super Sport managed to record an average top speed of 267mph at Ehra-Lessien. Not that you could reach it, peasant; each car is limited to 258 to stop those 5-figure each tyres disintegrating. Very considerate, Bugatti.
2017 - Koenigsegg Agera RS
Koenigsegg have a reputation of making cars that go rather quickly indeed. When they released their Agera R in 2011, they claimed a theoretical top speed of 273mph. To try and achieve this, they sent their test mule for a few runs up and down their track, which happens to be an ex-Swedish Air Force base complete with paved runway. This had a profound effect: in one day, six separate land speed records for production cars were broken; including the 0-300km/h and the 0-300km/h-0. The latter was possible thanks to the Ageras incredible stability: Koenigseggs test driver Robert Serwanski demonstrated this by braking from 300 km/h to 0 without laying a single finger on the steering wheel. This wasn't enough, however - they wanted the crown. So in 2017, an Agera RS shattered the record by delivering two runs; one of 285mph, one of 271mph, for an average of a whopping 278mph.
Which brings us neatly to the present day. In the age of the up and coming EV supercar there are records which are tumbling seemingly every week; power and torque figures, acceleration stats, power/weight ratios and so on. Despite the power of the electron and the seemingly impossible performance it delivers, it has one crown that for the time being, is far out of reach: speed.
Ah, the XJ220. One of the automotive world's greatest 'shoot for the stars, end up in the car park' moments. The original concept was destined for V12 flavoured greatness, but still managed to clinch the top speed record with a humble turbo'd V6 in 1992. It managed 212.3mph at the Nardo test circuit, a record that stood for about 5 minutes, when it was usurped by the McLaren F1.
Dauer 962 Le Mans
We all know the Porsche 962 and it's decimation of Le Mans. What is not so known is the decimation of the production car speed record, courtesy of the folks at Dauer Racing. In 1992 rules for auto racing in Europe were changed, meaning the 962's days were numbered. However in '93 the rules were adjusted to accommodate production based cars, with one crucial loophole: no minimum number of road-going examples were necessary. So to continue their efforts, Dauer Racing built a handful of road going 962s, with very little changes save for the restrictors removed and a splash of leather in the cockpit.
The top speed? 251.4mph.
What's your favourite fastest car from over the years? Comment below!
Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/own photography.