What does it mean to be the fastest car in the world? You could ask the team behind the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, the car that held the Guinness Book record from 2010 until the title was taken away in early 2013, and returned within days. The Guinness decision-makers were hung up on a rule that could have disqualified the Veyron because the specific car used to set the record had a deactivated speed limiter, which altered the car's straight-off-the-showroom-floor status. In the end, they decided, it didn't matter. Or maybe you can ask the engineers behind the Hennessey Venom GT (the car responsible for briefly dethroning the Bugatti) what it meant to be the "fastest" if even for a short period of time. And in the eyes of some (though not the shot-callers at Guinness) the Venom GT reigns anyway.
As you'll see, the rules are almost everything, and even the fastest cars in the world can get caught up on little details, no matter what the speedometer says. That's why the Guinness Book of World Records has an official certification process for cars attempting to claim the title. Most people turn to the book as the authority on this matter, but in some cases, the rankings are open to debate. And, what if a car has the chops to make it on the list, but hasn't been certified by the Guinness Book? Such a situation can spur even more debate.
Every list has its own criteria, and even though we aren't the Guinness Book of World Records, we do need to mention some of our own. First, only street-legal production cars qualify. That's a pretty common rule for this type of list, and, to put it simply, that means modified cars or one-offs don't count. Theoretically, this ensures a level playing field because we're talking about cars that have to be designed so that anyone could buy one and legally drive it anywhere. (Obviously, obtaining the money to do so is another issue entirely.) In the case of a tie for the same top speed, the quicker one, the one with the faster 0 to 60-mile-per-hour (96.6-kilometer-per-hour) acceleration time, takes the honor (even though that's more along the lines of the "quickest car," which is another battle entirely).
That said, if you ever get the chance to ride in -- or even see -- one of these beauties in person, you probably won't care about which one is technically the fastest, or why. And nor should you.
The Pagani Huayra comes from Italy, like so many record-setting cars before it. Though Pagani has only been established since 1992, the company quickly gained a reputation among motorsports enthusiasts, both for its amazing cars and its gift for working with carbon fiber -- the strong, lightweight, expensive material that's become one of the go-to composites for six- and even seven-figure vehicles. In fact, the company's founder, Argentinian Horacio Pagani, formerly managed composite materials for Lamborghini. The Huayra was introduced in 2011. It's powered by a twin-turbo, 6-liter, V-12 engine borrowed from Mercedes-Benz, and the Huayra is known for its track prowess as well as its speed in a straight line. There was a bit of drama in February of 2013, when the Huayra broke the record for the lap time on the test track at the television show "Top Gear" and was promptly accused of using illegal tires, but the smoke cleared and the "Top Gear" record stood. It's not the Guinness Book record for the fastest top speed, of course, but the Huayra can obviously excel in different environments, and we do love a multitasker.
What's the most powerful toy to come out of Denmark in recent memory? If you guessed LEGO bricks, you're not even close. This plaything is definitely unsuitable for the kids. Zenvo's carbon fiber ST1, introduced in 2009, is equipped with a 7-liter, V-8 engine that puts 1,250 ponies to the rear wheels. Zenvo wins points for exclusivity, too: Parts are jaw-droppingly expensive, and any extensive repairs require the car to be shipped back to the homeland. Just three examples of the 15-car production run were allocated to the United States, prompting a rush for the privilege of paying the base price of $1.8 million. That would buy a lot of plastic building blocks.
When the McLaren F1 was introduced, it had an official top speed of 231 miles per hour (371.8 kilometers per hour), but that upper limit has been pushed a little higher since then. McLaren Automotive, the British automaker, introduced the F1 coupe in 1992, released the first production models for sale in 1994, and canceled it in 1998. However, it still holds its place among the fastest cars in the world more than 20 years after its introduction and more than 15 years after the last examples left the factory.
The McLaren F1 quickly became known not only for its speed, but for its unique cockpit layout. The driver is positioned center and forward of the car's two passenger seats, offering an exclusive vantage point. Powered by a BMW-sourced, 6.1-liter V-12 engine, the McLaren F1 provided something different to buyers looking for a sports car that stood away from the pack, and the car's design has stood the test of time.
It's rare to see an American car holding its own against the Europeans on a list such as this, but we're graced with a precious few. Saleen is based in Corona, Calif., and got its start tuning Mustangs before branching out into creating its own supercars. The original Saleen S7, which was released in 2003, featured a robust 7-liter, V-8 Ford powerplant -- along the same lines as those used for NASCAR. A couple years later, Saleen decided to hunt down the Bugatti Veyron and its ilk, and updated the S7 with a pair of Garrett turbos. The twin-turbo setup was supposedly the plan all along, but Saleen decided to start (relatively) small and upgrade when the need arose. Chasing down the world's fastest cars was obviously sufficient justification for pushing this monster to the 750-horsepower mark. Saleen continued to produce this coupe in small numbers until 2009, but by then, the S7 Twin-Turbo had already made its mark.
This entry was a little challenging to sort out, because the Swedish automaker Koenigsegg made two cars with similar specs and similar names, the CCR and the CCX, and top-10 lists elsewhere on the Internet refer to the models as if they were interchangeable.
For a while, the Koenigsegg CCR held the top slot with a reported top-speed of 250.7 miles per hour (403.5 kilometers per hour). Koenigsegg's Web site says the CCR took the Guinness record at the time, although, with just 14 CCRs produced, Guinness must have waived its requirement that 30 cars must have been built for a model to qualify as a production vehicle (or the requirement was instated later). In 2006, Koenigsegg phased out the CCR and brought in the CCX, which was designed specifically to meet United States safety and emissions standards. Like the CCR, Koenigsegg built just 14 CCXs over five years, so this car is super rare, and its eligibility for the Guinness record is questionable at best. And, like the CCR, its top speed is estimated at about 245 miles per hour (394.3 kilometers per hour). It might be easy to confuse the two cars, but sources agree that the record-setting run was made in 2005, which narrows it down.
The GT9-R, from the German Porsche tuner 9ff, was limited to just 20 cars. That might help explain why the company didn't make a big deal about trying to chase down any official records. Or maybe 9ff just didn't care, believing instead that this car speaks for itself. The GT9-R is basically a reconfigured Porsche 911, powered by a 4-liter, six-cylinder boxer engine that pushes the horsepower well into the four-figure range. Really. The 9ff GT-R has 1,120-horsepower.
Though the 9ff GT9-R became known for being one of the first street-legal race cars to cross the 400-kilometer-per-hour threshold, and it was soon demonstrated that the car could actually go quite a bit faster than the equivalent 248.5 miles per hour -- but that accomplishment didn't result in fame and fortune. Instead, 9ff filed for bankruptcy in late 2013, so it's unlikely they'll be churning out any more monsters, Porsche-based or otherwise.
The Ultimate Aero, which actually held the speed record for a while, comes from Washington-based SSC North America, formerly known as Shelby SuperCars. This vehicle eschews electronic driving aids such as traction control and anti-lock brakes, instead concentrating on the purity of its speed. The Ultimate Aero that made the 2007 speed-record runs was powered by a supercharged V-8 sourced from Chevrolet. After some testing at the NASA facility, the Ultimate Aero raced down Highway 93 in Nevada that March, and the Guinness-sanctioned run was in Washington in September. Guinness announced that they had verified the new record that October, briefly displacing the Bugatti Veyron from the top spot.
And for those keeping track, the 257 miles per hour (413.6 kilometers per hour) statistic does tie with the 9ff GT9-R, but the Ultimate Aero's 2.7-second 0 to 60 miles per hour (96.6 kilometers per hour) sprint gives it the edge.
Yeah, the Swedes made the list again -- this time with the Koenigsegg Agera S. The Agera S is a more formidable competitor for a top-slot than the CCR. It boasts a "theoretical" top speed of 273 miles per hour (439.4 kilometers per hour) according to the manufacturer, but the best anyone's been able to do is about 260 miles per hour (418.4 kilometers per hour). It's equipped with a 5-liter, twin-turbo V-8, which yields a little less power than some of the competition, but the car's light weight makes up for a lot.
Koenigsegg has been chasing Guinness world records for a while, and achieved four between 2003 and 2011 [source: Spinelli]. The Agera R actually beat the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport in 2011, although not in the all-important "fastest car" category. Instead, the Agera R showed off its skills by accelerating from 0 to 300 kilometers per hour (186.4 miles per hour), and then braking back down to 0, in just 21.19 seconds. That beat the Veyron Super Sport's time of 25.3 seconds by a rather comfortable margin. Maybe the Koenigsegg Agera R isn't the fastest car in the world, but its drivers are probably pretty happy with its proven acceleration and braking prowess.
Some Bugatti loyalists might vehemently disagree with this number-two ranking. Long story short, Bugatti's Veyron broke the record in 2005, just a couple months after the Koenigsegg CCR's triumph, but the run wasn't certified by Guinness. It was, however, good enough for some fans -- and anyway, Bugatti made it official later. Or, rather, they tried. When the Veyron finally made a Guinness-sanctioned attempt in 2010, the car achieved a top speed of 267.81 miles per hour (431 kilometers per hour). Then the Guinness officials found out that the car had its speed limiter removed, which violated the "no modifications" rule, so Guinness stripped Bugatti of its title. In the end, the Guinness Book of World Records decided the altered speed limiter didn't change the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport's mechanical abilities, so the car was awarded the "world's fastest" designation. At least by Guinness. But not by HowStuffWorks.
Oh, and a notable footnote to Bugatti's record-setting attempts: They got to use the Ehra-Lessien oval test track owned by Bugatti's parent company, Volkswagen. It's a lot less complicated than using a straight runway or drag strip, allowing the car to build speed rather than making the driver worry about stopping in time to meet the end of the pavement.
Hennessey, a boutique automaker based in Sealy, Texas, mainly used components from other manufacturers to create its super-fast Venom GT. That's fine, according to the generally accepted definition of a production car: As long as a specific quantity -- at least 30 -- are built. However, 30 Venom GTs don't exist yet, and the company says it plans to build only 29. So a hand-built vehicle consisting of a stretched Lotus Exige body and a 7-liter, Corvette Z06 engine, boosted by two turbochargers, may or may not be a legit contender, depending on who you ask. On Feb. 14, 2014, the Hennessey Venom GT set out to take down the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, anyway.
The Hennessey Venom GT is so fast it needed to borrow real estate from NASA. That's right. The space shuttle's landing strip was the setting for the Venom GT's 270.49-mile-per-hour (435.3-kilometer-per-hour) run. However, John Hennessey, the company's founder, said that NASA only allowed one run, making it ineligible for the Guinness record based on the back-to-back run standard. Even if the result isn't official, the Venom GT's GPS-qualified run stole some of the Veyron Super Sport's thunder.
How much does it cost to lease a Lamborghini? Read about how much money you need to lease exotic cars like Lamborghinis.
Author's Note: 10 Fastest Cars in the World
The thought of buying one of these cars, especially one from a boutique automaker such as Hennessey, is mind boggling. I'm the type of girl who feels special if the bartenders recognize me at my favorite bar; I couldn't imagine paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for the privilege of being a VIP with one of the most exclusive automakers in the world. And even though I've spent a little time on some of the fine tracks of the Midwest, I just can't fathom that kind of speed. It's faster than I fell when I went skydiving. The reason we mere mortals care about such rankings, I think, is because it's a way to feel familiar with things most of us will never experience. And perhaps we all like to see the Bugattis of the world taken down a notch or two.
- Elliott, Hannah. "Danish Delight: Inside The $1.8 Million Zenvo ST1 Supercar." Forbes. Nov. 14, 2011. (March 25, 2014) http://www.forbes.com/sites/hannahelliott/2011/11/14/danish-delight-inside-the-1-8-million-zenvo-st1-supercar/
- George, Alexander. "American Supercar Takes Title of 'World's Fastest' From Bugatti." Wired. Feb. 25, 2014. (March 17, 2014) http://www.wired.com/autopia/2014/02/hennessey-fastest-production-car/
- George, Patrick. "Guinness Gives 'World's Fastest' Title Back to Bugatti." Jalopnik. March 12, 2013. (March 24, 2014) http://jalopnik.com/guinness-gives-worlds-fastest-title-back-to-bugatti-472709974
- George, Patrick. "The Fastest Car in the World: An Explainer." Jalopnik. March 12, 2013. (March 21, 2014) http://jalopnik.com/the-fastest-car-in-the-world-an-explainer-472518610
- Koenigsegg. "Agera R." (March 24, 2014) http://www.koenigsegg.com/models/agera-r/
- Koenigsegg. "CCR." (March 24, 2014) http://www.koenigsegg.com/models/ccr/
- Motor Trend. "2007 Saleen S7 Twin Turbo." May 2006. (March 25, 2014) http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/exotic/112_0605_2007_saleen_s7_twin_turbo/
- Okulski, Travis. "Did the Pagani Huayra Cheat To Set Its Record Lap Time on Top Gear?" Jalopnik. Feb. 27, 2013. (March 24, 2014) http://jalopnik.com/did-the-pagani-huayra-cheat-to-set-its-record-lap-time-450522444
- Orlove, Raphael. "The Ten Fastest American Cars Ever Made." Jalopnik. Nov. 1, 2013. (March 24, 2014) http://jalopnik.com/the-ten-fastest-american-cars-ever-made-1456734602
- Spinelli, Mike. "Koenigsegg Agera S is officially the king of going then stopping." Jalopnik. Nov. 30, 2011. (March 24, 2014) http://jalopnik.com/5863834/koenigsegg-agera-r-is-officially-the-king-of-going-then-stopping
- TheSuperCars.org. "Fastest Cars In The World: Top 10 List 2014-2015." (March 17, 2014) http://www.thesupercars.org/fastest-cars/fastest-cars-in-the-world-top-10-list/
- Wojdyla, Ben. "9ff GT9-R: An Insane 257 MPH Murder Machine." Jalopnik. Dec. 15, 2009. (March 24, 2014) http://jalopnik.com/5426828/9ff-gt9-r-an-insane-257-mph-murder-machine