Once upon a time, traversing the length of roughly one football field per second was the benchmark of sports car supremacy. Hitting two hundred miles per hour used to be an achievement unlockable only by a select few production cars; indeed, it didn’t happen until the 1987 Ferrari F40, aided by bare-bones features and paint so thin you could see through it.
How times change. These days, many plush sport sedans can just about kiss 200 mph — or rather, many could if not for speed limiters that hold them back to more reasonable speeds like 155 or 186. Modern supercars and hypercars aren’t so restricted; most of them can crack the double century with ease. Here in 2021, we’ve arrived at a new normal where 200 is meh; 300 miles per hour is the top tempo.
Is traveling on land a noble bragging right in the name of science, or a juvenile notion? Is the quest for maximum land speed built into mankind’s DNA since our first steps out of the mother continent? No disrespect to 200 mph, but it ain’t what it used to be. At least, not for any of these — the world’s fastest production cars.
Top Speed: 304.77 mph
Power: 1,578 hp
Engine: 8.0-liter quad-turbo W16
Weight: 4,544 lbs
Units Built: 30 planned
Bugatti might have developed carpal tunnel syndrome over the years from dropping the mic every time they set a new production car speed record. The latest and (so far) greatest example is the current holder of the “fastest car in the world” title: the Bugatti Chiron Super Sport 300+. The moniker isn’t random: this car is super, it’s sporty — and it goes 300-plus.
It’s a hyped-up version of their “regular” Chiron, which is a beast in its own right but limited to only 261 mph. To reach past 300 mph, Bugatti engineers had to work several fluid dynamic refinements into the design, including stretching the body lengthwise nearly 10 inches to allow laminar flow to pass over a longer surface, therefore reducing the aerodynamic stall by more than 40 percent. The new rear diffuser houses a redesigned exhaust configuration that is said to generate negative lift, while further reducing drag. Longitudinal orange paintwork and naked carbon fiber everything serve as distinguishing visual cues.
Top Speed: 282.9 mph
Power: 1,350 hp
Engine: 5.9-liter twin-turbo V8
Weight: 2,750 lbs
Units Built: Still in production
Like the U.S. census, SSC gives us something to debate every ten years. Twice in their 20-year history, they’ve built the world’s fastest production car — and although SSC isn’t a player in the pantheon of legendary car builders. those records are what get them in the conversation.
For its record run, one Tuatara’s owner maxed it out at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Tuatara’s gearing was adjusted to accommodate for the short 2.3-mile runway. Racelogic, Life Racing, Garmin and IMRA certified the results of a two pass top speed run. Why so many certifiers? Well, SCC previously claimed a top speed of 316 mph, which was later rebuffed. Like we said, they give us all something to debate.
Top Speed: 277.87 mph
Power: 1,160 hp
Engine: 5.0-liter twin-turbo V8
Weight: 3,075 lbs
Units Built: 25
Unlike Bugatti’s run, accomplished at the VW Group’s massive Ehra-Lessien test track in Germany, Swedish dihedral door darling Koenigsegg clinched its official top speed in the United States on a public road while chugging E85. The closed section of Highway 160 outside of Pahrump, Nevada, was the stage for the average two high-speed passes; the record-breaking pull was done with an owner’s car, albeit with full technical support from Koenigsegg and Michelin. A Racelogic representative was on site to install VBox data-logging equipment and independently verify the data.
Top Speed: 270.49 mph
Power: 1,244 hp
Engine: 7.0-liter twin-turbo V8
Weight: 2,743 lbs
Units Built: 29
For 30 years, NASA’s 15,000-foot long Shuttle Landing Facility was home to historic takeoffs and touchdowns. Now decommissioned, it’s become a pedal-to-the-metal private sector playground for those wishing to reach terminal acceleration. The Hennessey Venom GT built by Hennessey Performance of Sealy, Texas — essentially it's a morphed Lotus Exige with tweaked aerodynamic components and a shoe-horned twin-turbo V8 behind the seats — was able to hit 270 mph on this stretch. Note, however, that while the Guinness Book of Records was on hand to certify the run with a Racelogic Vbox. However, it should be noted the speed was hit only on one pass— it wasn’t the average of two speeds that Guinness prefers.
Top Speed: 267.85 mph
Power: 1,183 hp
Engine: 8.0-liter quad-turbo W16
Weight: 4,850 lbs
Units Built: 40
The Bugatti Veyron that preceded the Chiron was no stranger to record velocity; even the first Veyron unveiled in 2005 could pinch 235 mph. One key ingredient to their secret sauce is, well, a key: to achieve top speed, the 16.4 Super Sport and its predecessor use a special key to activate a systems check and subtly alter exterior air trappings to low drag mode.
Some Super Sport changes include more carbon fiber for less weight and larger turbos for more power; the aerodynamics were also tweaked, as a slippery silhouette is crucial when you weigh nearly two and a half tons. This record-breaking run was conducted at Volkswagen’s German test track facility with full Guinness Book of Records certification.
Top Speed: 256.14 mph
Power: 1,180 hp
Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged V8
Units Built: Unknown
Looking back, we’d love to call the SSC Ultimate Aero a scrappy, exciting industry disruptor— but all it disrupted were air molecules at 256 mph. Not for nothing, the Ultimate Aero was a purpose-built hypercar; still, it had refrigerator-art looks, interior bits seemingly lifted from a 1980s-era marina and a heavily tuned Corvette engine. Yet it still managed to make an impressive top-speed run on a public road in eastern Washington, with the Guinness Book of World records as their witness.
Top Speed: 240 mph
Power: 618 hp
Engine: 6.0-liter V12
Weight: 2,509 lbs
Units Built: 65
English test driver Andy Wallace, who raced the McLaren GTR at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, said this of its road variant: “This is the best car ever built...and will probably never be beaten.”
To be fair, he made that statement in 1998 right after driving the Mclaren F1 XP5 to maximum speed at Volkswagen's test track in Germany, so he may have been coming down from a bit of a high. Still, more than 20 years later, the F1 remains a cornerstone for collectors and an enthusiast touchstone. Technology has advanced, and as you’ve seen, cars with higher top speeds exist; still, McLaren did it with a certain je ne sais quoi thanks to designer Gordon Murray’s singular vision and a normally aspirated BMW V12 — the latter making it the fastest normally aspirated production car to this day.
Stupendously quick, incredibly fun and remarkably usable, the 911 Turbo is about as close as you can find to a perfect car.