They are the stuff dreams are made of, a work of fantasy crossed with the very latest in technical reality, but which are the most significant supercars of all time?
It’s the question that’s most likely to fuel a debate amongst car-mad friends that’s as heated and angry as the performance of a supercar. For one fan’s Porsche there’s another fan’s Ferrari; Lamborghinis are ten a penny compared to Bugattis; and let’s not even get started on the technical sophistication, top speed or head-turning styling.
But what do we actually mean when we say the word supercar? The modern definition can’t be a racing car in disguise; has to have been sold to the public in limited numbers; must boast a top speed in excess of 200mph; and needs to have drop-dead gorgeous looks thanks to a ‘mid’ engine that sits behind the driver but ahead of the rear axle. But how did the supercar reach this point, and where is it accelerating away to next? Here are the five supercars we consider to be the most significant, so far…
The first supercar: Lamborghini Miura
Car fans can argue until they’re blue in the face about which was the first supercar. As all the cars on this list are mid-engined, let’s go for the first of those.
The Lamborghini Miura wasn’t a bad attempt considering it was knocked up by a tiny team who were working after hours and, initially at least, against the wishes of Lamborghini’s boss.
Designed as a road car that owners could take racing, rather than vice versa, it was unveiled in 1966. It instantly became the fastest production road car on sale with a top speed of 174mph. Famous owners included Frank Sinatra and jazz legend Miles Davis.
The fastest supercar: Bugatti Veyron Super Sport
Defining the world’s fastest supercar means taking into account both its top speed and acceleration. By happy coincidence, the production car that Guinness World Records says has the highest top speed of the lot is also the fastest from standstill to 62mph.
That car is the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport. It was measured at a near mind-bending 267.86mph and its 0-62mph time is an eye-watering 2.5 seconds. James May took one for a very fast spin on BBC Top Gear – as you can watch in this video. If it isn’t quick enough, Bugatti is apparently now working on a 300mph successor. Some drivers are never satisfied.
The first supercar to 200mph: Ferrari F40
The double century was a mystical barrier for production cars in the 1980s. The first car to power through it was the Ferrari F40, which briefly gave it the record as the world’s fastest production car with a top speed of 201.4mph.
Built from 1987, it was dreamt up to celebrate the famous Italian firm’s 40th anniversary. And what a dream it was. Jeremy Clarkson refers to it as the greatest supercar ever made. Fittingly, it was the very last car to be approved by the legendary Enzo Ferrari himself.
The game-changing supercar: McLaren F1
The 1988 Italian Grand Prix was the only Formula One race McLaren didn’t win that year. Returning home, four dejected team executives discussed the company’s future and elected, there and then, to design and build the finest road car in the world.
The McLaren F1 was that car. How was it different? Where do we begin? It had a unique layout with the driver sitting between two passengers. Attention to detail included a racing car-style carbon fibre ‘tub’, a first on a road car, a tool kit made from titanium, the pure gold heat shield around the engine and a hand-made instrument panel.
The result was a machine that changed the way other car makers thought about supercars. It also became the world’s fastest production car in 1998 with a top speed of 231mph.
The future of the supercar?: McLaren P1
Just as McLaren revolutionised the supercar in the 1990s, so its latest P1 gives car enthusiasts a glimpse of what supercars might look like in the years to come.
It combines a conventional twin turbo internal combustion engine with a plug-in electric motor for extra bursts of power. Alternatively, it can be driven on battery power alone, making it one of the greenest cars on the road. Like the F1, it majors on saving weight which enables it go as fast as it looks: a 217mph top speed and 0-62mph in 2.8 seconds.