The Usain Bolts of the automotive world
Usain Bolt, the fastest man in history, will hang up his spikes this month after a long and illustrious career. The 30-year-old will run his final races at the World Athletics Championships at the London Stadium after winning eight Olympic gold medals and 11 World Championships. Bolt will likely compete in the men’s 100m final on August 5, but his farewell race will be the men’s 4×100 relay on August 12. He is the world-record holder in both events.
In celebration of the Jamaican’s legendary speed, we’re taking a look at the past few record-holding vehicles of the world. The machine versions of Usain Bolt, if you will. To set a production car speed record, a car must meet the long list of requirements defining a production car. It must then run a two-way independent road test in each direction, and the mean of the top speed for both runs is considered the car’s top speed. There has always been some controversy surrounding the measurement of production car top speed, as there is no central authority to standardize testing methods or verify speed claims. Usain Bolt has had no such problems, consistently demolishing his competition and breaking records in spectacular fashion. Here are the previous seven cars to hold the title of fastest production car in the world.
Lamborghini Countach LP500 S: 182 mph
In 1982, Lamborghini’s crazy Countach LP500 S managed 182 mph when tested by German automotive magazine Auto, Motor, und Sport. The Countach was Lamborghini’s flagship V12 supercar from the late 1970s through the ‘80s. The LP500 S version, of which 321 were produced, featured a bigger and more powerful 4754 cc engine over the preceding Countach LP400. With the top speed record, the Countach could back up its striking, pioneering style with a legitimate claim as fastest car in the world.
Ferrari 288 GTO: 188 mph
Ferrari’s 288 GTO quickly bested the Countach’s record, achieving 188 mph in 1985, again in the hands of Auto, Motor, und Sport. The 288 GTO was built for homologation of the Ferrari 308 GTB in the new Group B Race series, and only 200 production units were required. The relative prosperity of the global economy in the 1980s produced an explosion of legendary supercars during the decade. From Porsche to Ferrari, the ‘80s supercar craze accelerated the pace of technological innovation and brought model after model of state-of-the-art machines. The 288 GTO’s successor? The Ferrari F40.
Porsche 959: 197 mph
In 1987, Road & Track tested the Porsche 959 at 197 mph. During its production, the Porsche 959 was lauded as the most technologically-advanced road-going car ever made, and a progenitor of all supercars to follow. Thanks to its rally car roots, the 959 was one of the first supercars with all-wheel drive. Its success convinced Porsche to make all-wheel drive standard on all 911 Turbos from the 933 generation on. The 959 was the first production car with tire pressure monitors, and even featured active suspension — in the ‘80s! Its fierce rivalry with the soulful, engine-focused Ferrari F40 epitomized the differing approaches of the emotional Italian ethos and the German fixation on cutting-edge technology and engineering.
Ruf CTR Yellowbird: 212 mph
When the Porsche 911-based Ruf CTR made its debut, it just barely edged out the Porsche 959 S as the fastest car in the world. Auto, Motor, und Sport brought the twin-turbo Ruf CTR, commonly called the “CTR Yellowbird”, to the Nardò Ring in Italy and managed 212 mph in 1988. The Yellowbird featured many upgrades over the 911, including lightened body panels, an integrated roll cage, upgraded suspension, and a highly tuned version of Porsche’s 3.2L flat-six engine. Only 29 Yellowbirds were produced, most of which were modified from the customers’ very own 911 Carreras.
McLaren F1: 240 mph
The McLaren is another one of the all-timers, and even today remains the fastest naturally-aspirated car in the world. With the rev limiter removed, the 6.1L V12 brought a 1993 F1 to a searing 240 mph in March of 1998, a record which stood for 17 years. Even by modern standards, the F1 still looks like a spaceship. It has a silky form, wide air intake above the windshield, and dihedral doors. The user pilots the McLaren from the very center of the car, slightly forward of the two passenger seats on either side of the driver. The McLaren F1 is truly one of the enduring icons of speed.
Bugatti Veyron: 253 mph
The McLaren F1’s top mark was such a staggering achievement that few companies even tried to best it for years. But the Bugatti Veyron was very specifically developed with the goal of topping 250. With Volkswagen Group’s engineering and financial might behind it, the Veyron could not fail. It promptly achieved 253.81 mph when it was released in 2005, a precise figure verified by precise German inspection officials. When it came out, not only was the Veyron the fastest car in the world, it was the most powerful and most expensive. The Veyron’s quad-turbocharged 8.0L W16 (that’s two V8s mated together) made 1,001 hp and propelled the $1.25 million car to 60 in 2.5 seconds. The original Veyron is perhaps the last undisputed top speed champ, with American-made SSC Ultimate Aero claiming 256 mph in 2007.
Bugatti Veyron Super Sport: 257 mph
Bugatti couldn’t have its title challenged, and lopped on 200 more horsepower to make the Veyron Super Sport. Of the initial production run of 30 cars, five were branded the Super Sport World Record edition. When delivered to their owners, the electronic limiter held the cars to 257 mph. With the limiter removed, as tested and verified by Guinness World Records, all Veyron Super Sports could reach 267.86 mph. In 2014, a Hennessey Venom GT recorded a run at 270 mph, but only in one direction. Only 12 Venoms were produced, disqualifying it for the production car speed record by Guinness’s standards. Bugatti’s replacement for the Veyron, the brand-new Chiron, will be electronically limited to 261 mph. The ludicrous 1,500-hp Chiron will surely keep the crown with Bugatti, but so far the actual top speed has been a tightly kept secret.