The History Of The Hypercar

The word "Hypercar" is being used more & more nowadays, which got me wondering: what's the history of the hypercar?

5y ago

The term "supercar" drips in copious amounts of puerility. Its very sound and nature heroic, conjuring thoughts of something at the top of its respective food chain. But in truth, the phrase only stretches so far, for there comes a point when it no longer does a machine justice. And that's when you have something that belongs to the league above: a "hypercar".

A hypercar is what happens when a car catches you dazed with a blow to the face upon looking at it, and then delivers the knock-out thump come full throttle. It possesses performance beyond the capabilities of supercars, and duals that with an extra dose of insanity in approach, aesthetics, and feel.

The word "hypercar" is one that's being thrown around more and more nowadays as speed machines continue to evolve. "Hypercar" however wasn't always such a common feature in automotive literature. Which has got me wondering: what is the history of the hypercar? And for that matter, what was the first hypercar?

Everyone will have their own idea of when the almighty era of the hypercar began - but for me, there's one stand out point in history. Many people hold Lamborghini as the inventors of the supercar, with the Miura. I think however that they also created the hypercar with the Miura's replacement: the Countach LP400.

The Countach is one of those cars that immediately calls for the reflective cliche of "can you imagine what this must've looked like back in the 70's?!" For the time, the Miura it replaced was a striking thing to look at - but the Countach took the jaw-drop factor to a never before seen level. Even today, the Countach begs to be ogled over with your chin hanging low!

Of course, spicy looks are meaningless without the speed to match, but the Countach had the means to deliver the performance goods. The 3.9L Six-Carb V12 produced 370BHP, which propelled the LP400 to a top speed of 179mph - making it in 1974 the fastest car in the world. No car before had brought together such intense quantities of all the important hypercar elements, and that's why I see it as the first hypercar.

Aesthetically, things calmed down in the 80's, with the maddest creations - like the continuously evolving Countach - children of the 70's. Madness however could be found in the feel and ingredients of a car. And in the era of crazy turbocharging and ballistic lag, insanity wasn't hard to find. And of all the turbocharged rockets of the 80's, 2 stand out in particular for their titanic rivalry: the Porsche 959, and the Ferrari F40.

If you look at the pair through objective eyes, you arrive at the conclusion that the 444BHP Porsche is the better of the 2; it's more comfortable, more usable, and way more sophisticated. It also had 4-Wheel Drive which meant it was stable and secure regardless of what the weather was doing. It was the fastest car in the world when it came out - with a top speed of 197mph - and yet that speed was delivered in a useable, friendly package. And that's exactly why the 959 was never a hypercar.

The F40 provided the 959's speed without its sophistication; it was 2 turbochargers, an engine, and some wheels. Taming the Go-Kart handling was an art-form, and riding the colossal wave of boost as you thundered through comically long gearing was all part of the F40 experience. But despite the fact that the F40 was definitely a hypercar in the 80's, it wasn't the most hyper car of the time. For there was a smaller, even more modest looking package that provided an even more insane experience.

The RUF CTR "Yellowbird" was another turbocharged animal of the 80's: a 470BHP, 212mph monster, that became the fastest car in the world in 1987. But this speed was coated with an extra layer of uncontrollable violence.

The 3.4L Twin-Turbo Flat-6 was - like all 911's - slung out behind the rear axle, making cornering a battle with the laws of physics - something that was exacerbated by the turbo-lag. You had no real idea of when the turbos were going to kick in, but if they did in the middle of a corner, you'd end up performing a rather smokey pirouette. And it's this danger-factor that makes the Yellowbird the stand out hypercar of the 80's.

The CTR isn't so much an experience as an ultimate test, with ability to control its beastliness a right of passage, affirming your status as a driving god. In 1989 German racing driver Stephan Roser piloted a CTR to a Nurburgring lap record of the day, of 8:05. But it's how that lap is driven that really showcases the Yellowbird's insanity. He fights the car every time he turns the wheel, resulting in a hypnotic display of him controlling the seemingly uncontrollable. And that's what makes the Yellowbird a very special hypercar.

Come the 90's, and there was one undisputed hypercar king: the McLaren F1. In terms of pure speed, it was unquestionably the greatest hypercar of the era - performance it teamed with handling only tameable by the delicate touch of a professional. The 80's however weren't ready to say farewell to its tradition of turbocharging everything from vacuums to fountain pens, and so came 2 iconic turbocharged nutters: the Jaguar XJ220, and the Bugatti EB110 SuperSports.

The Jaguar XJ220 will always been known as the hypercar that broke all its own promises. Shown as a concept that had 4-wheel drive, and a V12 engine; however, due to the fact the drivetrain and engine made the car ridiculously heavy compared to rivals - with the Ferrari F40 being 1,323lbs (600kg) lighter - Jaguar didn't deliver the car as they'd promised. So, a heavily modified Metro 6R4 V6 was used - with 2 turbos and a longer stroke, resulting in 540BHP. The turbocharging was so extreme however, it made the XJ220 as friendly as a starving shark.

The presence of an engine is almost absent from the Jag; the whoosh and unpredictability of the turbochargers encompasses the entire experience. The XJ220 seems to steal every ounce of air available to invest in its own lunacy and horsepower. Yet for sheer turbo-madness, Bugatti's creation is even more hyper.

The EB-110 was powered by a V12, but instead of a smooth, sonorous 6L, the engine had a capacity of just 3.5L. It also had 5 valves per cylinder, and 4 turbochargers! The SuperSports version of 1992 produced 612BHP, which culminated in a 0-60mph time of 3.2s, and a top speed of 216mph. It may've been a luxury item, with a 4-wheel drive system to keep everything in check - but the idea of such a tiny capacity V12 with 4 turbochargers is such a beautifully mad recipe, it gains hypercar status for that alone.

And then came the naughties, which were very naughty indeed. Lamborghini may've been calming, succumbing to 4 wheel drive sedation - but this wasn't a reflection on the rest of the automotive industry, as an influx of epic hypercars were born. And with many hypercars, came many epic rivalries.

The standout battle of the 00's was fought between the Porsche Carrera GT and the McLaren Mercedes SLR. The Carrera GT was connected along the same bloodline as the 959 of the 80's - but the two cars couldn't be more different. The 959 was a luxury, forgiven mistress; whereas the Carrera GT forgave mistakes like an action movie villain. It refused to disguise its own potential to make exceptions for inexperience. It was a brutally sharp instrument that wasn't afraid to bite if you treated it incorrectly. The McLaren may've been the better car - with its plush interior and approachable demeanour - but the Porsche was the better hypercar. And it sure as hell had a suitably mad soundtrack.

The 5.7L normally aspirated V10 was originally designed for racing, which is no surprise given the way it howls. The war-cry that occurs on the journey to the 8,400rpm redline makes your spine tingle furiously, like it's the epicentre to a skeletal earthquake. It's the sound of 612 explosive horsepowers firing the super-light body to 60mph in 3.6 seconds, 100mph in 6.5 seconds, and to a top speed of 208mph. It was one of the last truly analogue hypercars - providing all its purity and potential through a 6 speed manual gearbox.

This was the time where things were starting to become a little bit more synthetic - primarily because paddle shift gearboxes were starting to become more common. But 2 paddles behind the steering wheel didn't prevent certain machines from acquiring hypercar status - machines like the Ferrari Enzo.

The Enzo was a huge leap up for Ferrari. The successor to the undeservedly hated F50, the Enzo twinned its power and madness with technical design and innovation. The engine produced 650BHP - 140 more than the F50; it had traction control to keep you safe; and the body - while providing the striking hypercar looks - also provided huge downforce. Active aerodynamics meant that the Enzo produced 1,700lbs (771kg) of downforce at 186mph. It was the ultimate speed benchmark, until 2005, and the arrival of the ultimate automotive legend.

You can't really run through 00's hypercars without mentioning the Bugatti Veyron - no matter how much of an idiotic hater you are. It may've been the undisputed speed king of the era, as its performance was enough to make even the Enzo look slow and pointless, but you could never really call it a hypercar. In fact, when you consider the Veyron's spectrum of abilities, you find it doesn't really fit into any established category. For back then it crafted its own specialised league that to this day has only ever been occupied by the Bugattis that have evolved from it. Not granting it hypercar status is far from a criticism in the world of the Veyron, as - despite what the bitter and stentorian haters will persecute you for saying - it's just too damn good for any predetermined genre.

Whereas many believe the Veyron was the car that took the McLaren F1's crown as the fastest car in the world, there was actually one hypercar that bridged this gap: the Koenigsegg CCR.

The CCR's predecessor - the CC8S - was originally destined to break the production car speed record; however it never had the opportunity to do so before Christian Von Koenigsegg released the CCR. Amongst the many important changes, the 655BHP Supercharged Ford engine from the CC8S had gained another Supercharger, resulting in 806BHP. This was sent to the rear wheels through a 6-Speed Manual gearbox in a car with no traction control, any electronic aids, or downforce. The result was one of the most untameable lunatics ever to grace the planet.

If you could capture anger itself and put it on 4 wheels, you'd have a Koenigsegg. They scare you half to death with their acceleration on the straights, and then put the other half of you 6 feet under when you turn the wheel. They inspire fear like an imminent apocalypse, and show as much restraint as a bloodthirsty poltergeist. Yet its these very qualities that make all Koenigsegg's in general, dominant forces in the hypercar world of the 00's.

The only thing you could say Koenigsegg's lacked was any pizzazz in their aesthetics. They weren't ugly, but they weren't very striking back then. Thankfully however, after the calm styling of the 80's and 90's, the 00's were ready to hit back.

The Pagani Zonda. Technically, a creation of the 90's; however it wasn't until the 00's that the Zonda's performance reached hypercar levels. When the original 1999 C12 came along, it had all the hypercar credentials on the outside, but only 355BHP on the inside. It took the 602BHP F version to elevate it into the hypercar domain. And not content with that, the Zonda just kept evolving - through the 650BHP F Roadster, the 680BHP Cinque, all the way to the 760RS. All things considered, I see the Zonda as the ultimate definition of a hypercar in the 00's.

With the coming of our current decade, and ever tightening regulations to limit emissions and fun, Pagani show no signs of calming down. The Zonda's replacement - the Huayra - takes hold of the baton with an unrelenting grip. The standard Huayra's output of 730BHP - provided by a 6L, Twin-Turbo V12 - is enough to get it to 60mph in 3 seconds, 100mph in 6, and onwards to a top speed of over 230mph. Beyond the speed, the emphatic styling of both the exterior and interior makes the Huayra the perfect drool-inducing poster of the modern era. And the new, 800BHP BC version takes its hypercar qualities to even further extremes.

Yes, we're living in an era where the 3 "holy trinity" hypercars dominate the airwaves more than anything else. But to me, the Huayra - the BC version in particular - is the definitive hypercar of our times. It's a hypercar's duty to entice every ounce of petulance out of a petrolhead to make them feel churlish excitement again, and the Huayra seems to do that better than anything else on the road.

Of course, as performance cars evolve more and more, even the word "hypercar" is having difficulty keeping up. Cars like the Koenigsegg One:1 provide every childish aesthetic delight of a hypercar, and then combine that with acceleration to leave cars like the McLaren P1 choking on its exhaust. It appears then that a new league is needed. Welcome everyone to the age of the megacar!!

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Written by: Angelo Uccello

Twitter: @AngeloUccello

Tribe: Speed Machines

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Comments (10)

  • I've personally always categorized hypercars by price rather than performance or power.

      5 years ago
    • Thanks for supporting Speed Machines Alessandro! You have some great stuff out there!

        4 years ago
  • Very interesting read, thanks!

      5 years ago
  • you missed out on the one-77, vulcan and hypersport

      4 years ago
    • This blog isn't about compiling a list of every hypercar ever made - it's about documenting the history of the breed, and looking through key moments in its evolution. I used the One-77 as an example in another blog called "What's The...

      Read more
        4 years ago
    • thanks man! just wondering about your thoughts about the aston valkyrie

        4 years ago