Editor’s Note: Are we at “peak supercar?” Leading industry voices think so. If the current Holy Trinity — Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren P1, and Porsche 918 — are indeed the peak, it’s time to look back down at base camp, and see how far we’ve come. This limited series will take a brief look at the supercars that defined each era, one decade at a time, beginning with the birth of the supercar in the ’50s.
Despite a global energy crisis, the supercar seemed to hit its stride by the mid-’70s. Manufacturers relied less on racing regulations and homologation numbers for excuses to make mind-bending road cars. Though there was still a transfer of technology from the race track to the street, compared to the ’60s predecessors horsepower figures plateaued — since the world was basically starving for fuel, that was inevitable anyhow.
Supercars from the ’70s really left a mark in history with their revolutionary design. Yes, performance and handling figures were still coveted, but Italian design houses went crazy. Gone were the hand-molded curves of the ’50s and ’60s, replaced by facets, edges and wedge silhouettes that dominated automotive design for nearly the next 20 years.
1973 365 GT4 Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer
There would be no LaFerrari without the 365 GT4 Berlinetta Boxer. It was the first Ferrari to bolt a 12-cilynder in the middle of the car, and it almost never came to be at all. Mid-engined cars proved to be the obvious choice to win Formula 1 or Le Mans races, but Enzo Ferrari was initially against changing the architecture of his cars (from front- to mid-engine), for fear of the customers being unable to handle the performance. Considering that Lamborghini beat Ferrari to the mid-engine punch with the Miura and incoming Countach — and thanks to a few persuasive engineers — Enzo conceded. The first 365 BB’s engines were V12s from the Ferrari 365 Daytona, reengineered to be an 180-degree flat 12, similar to Ferrari’s F1 cars of the time.
Engine: 4.4-liter Flat-12
Top Speed: 188 mph
Original MSRP: $19,695
Current Estimated Value: $580,000+
Notable Owners: Giovanni Agnelli, Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Clint Eastwood, Nick Mason, Elton John
1974 Lamborghini Countach LP400
Since Ferruccio Lamborghini was notoriously adamant about staying off the race track, it made his potent, physics-defying cars that much more ludicrous. The Countach followed in the footsteps of the Miura, but its V12 was placed length-wise instead of perpendicular. Thanks to the new engine layout, legendary design house Bertone was able to execute the now iconic wedge-shaped, cab-forward design that became synonymous with the era. The Countach’s silhouette and basic design cues pretty much dictated the next 40 years of Lamborghini’s V12 car design.
Engine: 4.0-liter V12
Top Speed: 186 mph
Original MSRP: $52,000
Current Estimated Value: $1,300,000+
Notable Owners: Mike Tyson, Jay Leno, Simon Le Bon
1978 BMW M1
It may have been a little late to the ’70s supercar game, but with a little help from Lamborghini, the M1 became Germany’s first supercar. It started out as a joint venture between Bologna and Bavaria but after Lamborghini fell on hard financial times, BMW went at it alone, albeit with some help from a group made up of former Lamborghini engineers called Italengineering. The car was initially conceived to meet the homologation requirements in Group 4 Endurance racing and became the star of a one-make racing series that supported F1, called Procar. Though the road cars were built solely under BMW’s Motorsport division, and the full race-bred version got the fire-breathing 850 horsepower turbocharged engine, the M1 set the tone for BMW’s M cars for decades to come.
Engine: 3.5-liter inline-8
Top Speed: 164 mph
Original MSRP: $60,000
Current Estimated Value: $500,000+
Notable Owners: N/A