250 kilometres per hour is fast. 250 miles per hour (or 402.336kph), however, is considerably faster, and though this isn’t the unit with which we measure speed here in India, until about a decade and a half ago, that number was the holy grail super-sportscar manufacturers set their sights on. The iconic McLaren F1 managed 240.1mph (386.4kph) in 1998, but 250 would take another seven years.
Not long after the turn of the millennium, the Bugatti Veyron burst into the world in an explosion of unfathomable numbers. 1,001hp, a quad-turbocharged 8.0-litre W16 engine, 0-100kph in 2.5sec, and, the one we’re here for – a top speed of over 400kph – or as they say in the ancient imperial system – 250mph. As all-encompassing as the car was, however, you need more than just raw performance and godlike engineering to crack 250mph – you need the right track, the right conditions and the right driver. It’s not just a Sunday blast down the Yamuna Expressway. So, on that day in 2005, on the 8.7km straight at VW’s Ehra Lessien track in Germany, with Uwe Novacki at the wheel, Bugatti had just that, clocking in at 408.47kph, or 253.81mph. The world stood still for a while as people tried to process this new feat of speed.
Bugatti Veyron — Year 2005
But once the gauntlet was thrown down, it didn’t take long for someone to go out and beat it.
It’s worth pointing out at this juncture that when I say ‘beat’, I refer only to those cars that have been officially tested and verified to do the speeds they claim to do. A lot of fast cars are capable of it, but as we saw with the Veyron, testing in the real world is not quite as simple as it sounds.
Just two years after Bugatti, a little-known American outfit called SSC (Shelby Supercars, which interestingly, has nothing to do with Carroll Shelby, a very well-known American name who also dabbled in speed) announced that its little-known supercar, the boldly named Ultimate Aero TT, had surpassed the might of the VW Group. The 1,287hp, 6.3-litre twin-turbo V8 supercar managed 256.14mph (412kph). Suffice to say, the small Washington company was ‘little known’ no longer and is now firmly etched in the history books, with a sequel to the Ultimate Aero that will be ready to strike very soon.
SSC Ultimate Aero TT — Year 2007
Bugatti, having none of it, came back with a more powerful, more focused, faster Veyron – the SuperSport. In 2010, the hypercar, now packing 1,200hp and improved aerodynamics, went back to the Ehra Lessien proving ground – this time with Pierre Henri Raphanel at the wheel – and dropped a 267.8mph (430.98kph) record. The VW Group took the title back.
Bugatti Veyron Supersport — Year 2010
Next up, it was the USA again, and this time with the better-known tuner Hennessey, famous for its supercharger kits that turned American muscle cars into fire-breathing 1,000hp rocketships. Its entrant, the Venom GT, however, was based not on a muscle car, but on a Lotus Exige. Shoehorned into the heavily modified frame was a 7.0-litre twin-turbo V8 with 1,261hp put through to the rear wheels via a 6-speed manual gearbox. The result was 270.4mph (435.16kph), but controversially, it was only done in one direction (instead of both ways), so could not make it into the Guinness World Records list. We think we can let them have it.
Hennessey Venom GT — Year 2014
If you’re wondering how we made it this far down the list without Koenigsegg, wonder no more. Their first big official record run was in 2005 with the CCR (a little shy of the Magic Number at 241.1mph), and though pretty much every model since has been capable of going well past 250, it was the Agera RS in 2017 that was next to be officially timed. At 277.8mph (447.07), the 1,360hp twin-turbo V8 supercar from Ängelholm, Sweden, also broke the record for the highest speed on a public road. And they did it with a customer’s car; talk about bragging rights. And speaking of bragging rights, at this point, the goal had shifted closer to 300mph than 250, and with another big target in sight, you can only guess who re-entered the game.
Koenigsegg Agera RS — Year 2017
When Bugatti introduced the Veyron’s successor, the 1,500hp Chiron, it didn’t go after outright top speed, choosing instead to set the record for quickest 0-400-0kph time, which is a testament to just how relatively casual 250mph had become at this point. You can read the fascinating story about how this record was filmed here, but it was short lived, as Koenigsegg soon snatched it away. Little did anyone know, the bigger punch was to come shortly after.
At the wheel of a ‘near-production’, modified Chiron, renowned test driver Andy Wallace (who famously set the McLaren F1’s 240mph high-speed record in 1998) recorded 304.773mph (490.48kph). The record-run car produced 1,600hp, had taller gear ratios, a body that was 10cm longer with a significantly upgraded aero package and a set of even-higher rated Michelin tyres. Just 30 road-going versions of this ‘Chiron Super Sport 300’ edition will be sold to the public.
Bugatti Chiron Supersport 300 — Year 2019
This record run was also a sort of ‘mic drop’ moment for Bugatti, which announced it had now quenched its thirst for speed and would be bowing out of the Vmax race to focus on other pursuits of high-end automobilery. There will be others – notably all the other manufacturers in this list – who will try, and likely succeed, at breaking this 300mph record, but despite this, it does appear that the brakes have been applied on this mad rush for the horizon.
With tighter emissions laws and an attempt to lower carbon footprints, priorities at the big sportscar houses have changed. Instead of top speed, alternative propulsion is the new thing, and the likes of Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini are focused on keeping things thrilling. Perhaps more than those, however, it’s McLaren that’s lit the beacon for things to come. The Speedtail, the spiritual successor to the record-breaking F1, gets a hybrid powertrain with ‘just’ 1,070hp, substituting power for a greater focus on aerodynamic efficiency. And the top speed of this new fastest-ever McLaren? It’s just 10mph higher than the F1’s from 22 years ago – that’s right, 250mph.
On paper at least...
SSC Tuatara – 300mph+ (claimed)
The long-awaited sequel to the Ultimate Aero TT packs in more power, more speed, a sexier name and even sexier looks.
Hennessey Venom F5 – 300mph+ (claimed)
No more Lotus chassis, this time it’s a bespoke carbon tub. And with a 1,842hp twin-turbo V8, 300mph seems like an almost modest target.
Koenigsegg Jesko – 330mph+ (claimed)
Alongside in-housedeveloped camless engines and lightweight multiclutch gearboxes, it’s good to know they’re still making 1,600hp V8 hypercars.
Rimac C_Two – 258mph+ (claimed)
Not the fastest on this list but impressive because it’s all-electric. The 1,900hp Croatian hyper-EV promises more than just mindbending acceleration.