Would Ali have taken down Tyson in the ring? Could LeBron beat Jordan (or even Kobe) in one-on-one? These are debates of “the best” that have spawned countless arguments, and probably even some scuffles. You can throw around all sorts of stats and cite great performances, but in the end, there is no way to stack up such rivals head-to-head. At least when it comes to the fastest production car in the world, there’s no debate, right? Well, not so fast.
The top echelon of world-class performance cars continues to defy conventional wisdom. Despite ever tightening fuel consumption and emissions regulations, cars keep getting faster and more absurd. The extensive use of carbon fiber and hybrid drivetrains are yielding a crop of hypercars that routinely break 200 mph.
But the true top of the high-speed totem pole use brute force and incredible engineering to claim the top prize, but who the fastest is a matter of who you ask. It is also a matter of what you consider a production car. In 1968, the FIA, a key governing body for auto racing, stated that for a car to be considered for production car racing, at least 25 had to be built in a 12-month period. There have been many exceptions granted through the years, but that 25 number will come into play a little later.
The first production car to break 200 km/h (124.6 mph) was the Jaguar XK120, and unlike the limited production runs of modern hypercars, 12,000 examples one-time record-holder were built. That number is significant, because it throws into stark relief every production car that set the record after it. Of the cars that have since taken the title, only four have been sold in numbers more than 1,000, six sold in the triple digits, and the four were in double digits. The XK120 was the only one built and sold in truly great numbers.
The XK was usurped by a succession that could be called a “who’s who” of automotive icons. First it was the Mercedes-Benz 300SL (140 mph in 1955), then the Aston Martin DB4 and DB4 GT (141 mph in 1958, and 152 in 1959), AC 427 Cobra, Lamborghini Miura, Ferrari 365 GTB/4, Ferrari 288 GTO, Porsche 959 and so on.
Things got interesting in 1987, when the Ferrari F40 became the first production car to breaking 200 mph, with a top speed of 202.687 mph. 1,315 examples of the F40 were built, which is low production, unless you put it in the context of the car that unseated it. In 1991, the Bugatti EB110 GT hit 209 mph. Only 95 examples of that car were built.
Just one year later, the Jaguar XJ220 hit 212.3 mph–short of Jaguar’s targeted top speed of 220 mph, but enough to take the crown. But success was fleeting, as one of the greatest cars of all time (some argue the greatest automotive achievement of the 20th century) took the scene in the form of the McLaren F1. The F1 destroyed the previous record, with top-speed runs hitting 240.1 mph with the rev-limited removed. It was a record that was held for an incredible 13 years. Such an achievement was unheard of, and may likely never happen again.
The F1 was finally dethroned in 2005 when the Bugatti Veyron came on the scene. Unlike the F1 that was a finesse instrument that used incredible tradeoffs to get its top speed, the Veyron was every knob cranked up to 11. It’s what happens when all of the resources of the Volkswagen family are at your disposal. The record-setting run of 253.81 mph was recorded by German inspection officials, and it was the last time there was an undisputed winner.
Bugatti would outdo its own vehicle in 2010, with the Veyron Super Sport. They basically took the Veyron, and tuned the bejesus out of it, resulting in 1,200 horsepower, and a top speed of 267.856 mph. But only 30 of these cars were built, and only five of them were the “World Record Editions.” The rest were electronically limited to 258 mph. The Guinness Book of World Records reviewed the car and decided that the remaining cars could reach that 268-mph top speed with the rev limiter off, so all 30 cars were considered record cars, and thus the fastest production car, clearing the 25-car mark.
The waters were muddied in 2014, when the Hennessey Venom GT sprung onto the scene. It set a blistering pace of 270.49 mph, but it was far from cut-and-dry. The speed run was set on NASA’s former Space Shuttle landing strip, and Hennessey says the space agency would not allow Hennessey to make multiple runs in different directions.
So not only could Guinness not confirm the average top speed, but the notion of “production car” is up for debate with the Venom GT. Though 29 cars were planned, only 16 were sold. More may have been sold since, but that would fall outside of the 12-month window.
Hennessey is not necessarily known for building its own cars either. It is one of the most prolific tuning shops on the planet, and routinely takes fast production cars, and makes them bonkers. They are among the best when it comes to modifying existing cars, and even its only standalone model, the Venom GT, is more of very, very, very heavily modified Lotus Exige.
So which do you really consider the record holder? The low-volume Veyron Super Sport? The even-lower-volume Venom GT? Or, with the 300-car production run, was the original Veyron the last production record-setter? As cars become lighter and more powerful, and with a replacement for the Veyron on the way, you can bet, that this debate is only going to heat up as the years go on.