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The World's Fastest Cars

By Dan Lienert, Forbes
September 21, 2005 07:15 IST
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The world of superfast cars is where fantasy blurs with reality. Sleek, sexy and, yes, superfast, these cars look like what a teenaged boy might dream up if he was given a drafting pencil, a wind tunnel and an assembly plant to play with.

Adding to the mystique of cars such as the Koenigsegg CCR or the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, and underscoring their unreality, is that these cars are not only astonishingly expensive but also very, very rare.

In fact, because of speed restrictions, emissions, safety testing and the availability of good roads and talented mechanics, few countries have the facilities in which to drive, let alone build, one of these beauties.

When we set out to identify the world's fastest cars, their very scarcity made our task easier. We were quickly able to whittle down the candidates to cars made in the US and Europe.

While it came as little surprise that countries with legendary racing heritages, like Italy and Germany, made the list, it was a bit of a surprise, however, that, given its enormous share of the international auto market, Japan did not. Equally curious, two countries with small-to-nonexistent auto industries--Holland and Sweden--did.

How fast are we talking? The entry point is a car that can do a minimum of 202 mph, but the top speeds can be as high as, in the case of the new Saleen S7 Twin Turbo--the world's fastest car and, last time we checked, America's most expensive car--260 mph. These are cars on an entirely different order of being, bearing as much resemblance to a normal passenger car as a tinfoil gum wrapper has to the Koh-i-noor diamond.  

World's Fastest Cars




Price in $


Saleen S7 Twin Turbo

240 to 260 mph



Koenigsegg CCR

242+ mph



Koenigsegg CC8S

240 mph



Ultima Can-Am 640 & GTR 640

231 mph



Spyker C8 Double 12 S

187 to 215 mph



Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren

207 mph



Evans 387 & 487

206 mph



Ford GT

205 mph

141, 245


Lamborghini Murciélago

205 mph



Porsche Carrera GT

205 mph


The world's fastest cars give a few lucky and very wealthy people a chance to take the thrill of being racecar drivers home with them. As one racecar builder pointed out, owning any of the cars on this list means you can drive yourself to the track, beat race cars that were hauled there in trailers and then drive home in the comfort of something a race car wouldn't have: air conditioning.

Remember the old saying 'beauty knows no pain?' Well, we're afraid it applies equally to these supercars. Think a Porsche is unforgiving? Try driving a Dutch-made Spyker C8 Double 12 S. If you want to spend a quarter-of-a-million dollars for comfort, get a Rolls.

Consider Evans Automobiles' $175,000 387 and $170,000 487 models, each of which has a top speed of 206 mph and, as such, ties for the title of the world's seventh-fastest car.

Evans, a small American automaker based in Scottdale, Ga., admits its street-legal race cars are spectacular on tracks, but cause headaches on public streets.

"As everyday road cars, they are not the best," writes the company's John Evans in a recent e-mail message. "They are quite high strung and almost demand that you push them. Although they are easy to drive, my most pervasive thought when driving on the road is 'Am I going to jail today?'--and you have to really like talking to 20 people when you buy gas."

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  • While American automakers have the most cars on the list--four out of 14 (it's a top ten list with some ties)--running a close second are British automakers, with three (we are counting the SLR McLaren as a German car, despite Mercedes' partnership with the UK racing company McLaren).

    Even though many of the most famous British car companies, such as Lotus, Jaguar, Aston Martin and Land Rover, are now owned by foreigners, such as Ford Motor, Britain continues to produce gorgeous--and extremely fast--cars for the well-heeled buyer, such as the low-volume, exotic Ultima Can-Am 640, which is inspired by classic race cars of the 1960s and '70s.

    Another British sports car manufacturer inspired by classic racers is Marcos Engineering, whose chairman, Tony Stelliga, says the company now builds the 'British Corvette.'

    Stelliga, 45, is a Canadian engineer who had a motorcycle-mechanics' degree when he was 12. He has lived in California, but decided his dream of building sports cars would be best achieved in Great Britain. So in 2001, he took over Marcos, a storied manufacturer that built legendary driver Jackie Stewart's first winning car in the 1960s, but had gone bankrupt by 1999.

    "It's easier to put these [low-volume, exotic sports] cars on the road in Britain," he said during a recent phone interview. "As long as you're building fewer than 200 cars per year, you can put cars on the road without crash testing and things that would otherwise kill a small-volume manufacturer." (Not to mention pedestrians and drivers.)

    He points out that to meet the crash-test standards of other countries, a small-volume manufacturer might have to crash an amount of cars equal to six months' worth of production.

    Indeed, many of the cars in the slide show are street-legal in certain countries but not in others. Also, many sports car manufacturers electronically limit their vehicles' top speeds to keep the cars' equipment safe for use.

    Ford, for example, electronically governs its GT supercar to a top speed of 205 mph, earning it a tie for eighth place on our list--but the vehicle could go faster. According to a company spokesman, it did hit 211 mph at a test track in Nardo, Italy, and 'through calibration [the speed governor] could be removed or set at a higher limit'--although Ford does not recommend that, because it certified all systems, including tires, at 205 mph.

    At press time, the GT and the other cars in the slide show are the world's fastest street-legal cars in production. In contacting manufacturers to research this piece, we specified that we were interested only in original factory issues, and not customizations of other manufacturers' vehicles or in replicas of other cars.

    We spoke to all of the manufacturers represented in the slide show for verification of the statistics we present there. Moreover, to make sure we did not miss any vehicles that had a chance of qualifying for the list, we sent multiple e-mails--or made multiple phone calls--to each manufacturer of original, exotic sports cars in the world of whom we were aware.

    In searching for such companies, we encountered some obstacles. Some automakers had what appeared to be defunct contact information or no contact information listed on their Web sites. Some had Web sites that were not available in English.

    Some manufactures refused to provide top speeds for their cars, and some--including Britain's famous TVR--said they do not measure top speeds. And in a few cases, we had heard of some manufacturers but were unable to track them down.

    However, we are confident that we heard back from the automakers that had the possibility of making this list, with one noteworthy exception: SSC Autos, a small American company that has a street-legal race car called the Aero SC/8T.

    According to the company's Web site, the car has a top speed of 249 mph, which would have earned it second place on our list--if only we could confirm that it is currently in production. A statement on the company's Web site dated August 2004 said the automaker was planning to make 25 vehicles.

    But the company did not return multiple e-mails and phone calls regarding the SC/8T's production status, and, as such, we excluded the vehicle from consideration.

    In general, we only included factory-assembled vehicles of which multiple copies exist on the list. Special prototypes were not what we had in mind. We also would not consider a one-off hot rod that some guy builds in his garage, as appropriate for the list. But, if you can build a car in your garage that goes 202 mph, please call at (212) 366-8900 because we have questions for you.

    Some hot-rod shops can build--to a customer's specification--a car that goes 195 mph. These custom jobs are not the sort of thing we considered for this story. Nor did we consider kit cars, under the logic that things you build in your garage don't count.

    In addition to limiting our search to specific types of cars, we only considered specific types of performance statistics. The top speeds we evaluated came entirely from the automakers themselves; we did not evaluate top speeds provided by independent testers or other publications.

    Some manufacturers gave us top speeds as ranges. For example, the Dutch company Spyker told us its C8 Double 12 S sports car has a top speed in the range of 187 to 215 mph. In such cases, we gave the benefit of the doubt and fit the models into our ranking based on the high end of the ranges.

    Some manufactures gave us top speeds in this kind of form: "over x mph." For example, Italian automaker Pagani said its Zonda supercar has a top speed of "over 186 mph."

    In this case, we would have considered the Zonda faster than a car that has a listed top speed of 186 mph, but still not fast enough to qualify for our list, because the manufacturer had not provided us evidence that the car could reach 202 mph.

    Another example of a lack of evidence came from British sports car maker Ascari, which builds a supercar called the KZ1. Ascari's Web site lists the KZ1's top speed as 200 mph. But in a recent e-mail message, an Ascari spokesman wrote, "The top speed of the Ascari KZ1 consistently hovers around 200 mph, so we're pretty confident that it would crack 202 mph."

    Sorry, not hard enough evidence to earn a spot on the list. We were willing to accept estimates in some cases, but not in a case like this--when the spokesman's estimate seemed iffy and conflicted with other data issued by the company.

    A final caveat is that some cars have different top speeds in different regions. For example, Rolls Royce limits its Phantom sedan to 130 mph in the US and 150 mph in the rest of the world. While Rolls specified different top speeds in different regions, in most cases manufacturers provided us with only one top speed, which was the speed we used in our calculations. When more than one top speed was provided, we used the highest.

    The results of our research are in the slide show that follows, and we think the list looks awesome. Some of the cars appear as if they could fly right off the road, and we expect some of the vehicles will be unfamiliar to most readers. To find out what the world's fastest cars are, please follow the link below.

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