Production Car Speed Records - A Timeline In Automotive History
You don’t just have to be the fastest; you have to fit a lot of requirements to be called a production car firstby Kirby Garlitos, on
Ask any performance carmaker worth its salt and they’ll tell you that having a car that owned the fastest production car record goes a long way in creating an aura of prestige around that brand. There is a reason automakers like Bugatti, Koenigsegg, and McLaren spend millions and millions of dollars developing technologies that can help one of their production models claim that title. Sure, not all car models are created equal, but the really special ones that can challenge for the title of the fastest production car in the world are developed and built differently. It’s as if they’re in this world for one specific reason: to be the fastest production car in the world.
Having that kind of ability goes a long way in achieving that goal, but it’s far from the only requirement to owning the production car speed record. You have to claim it, too, and doing that means following a specific set of guidelines that allows a specific model to be called, first and foremost, a production car.
What is a production car?
The definition of a production car is pretty much straight forward. For the purpose of this list, a car can be called a production car if it falls under these requirements.
- It has to be constructed primarily for retail purposes, specifically for consumers who will use them principally for personal use or transport people on public roads. Commercial or industrial vehicles do not fall under this category.
- A production car should be available for commercial use to the public in the same specification as the vehicle that achieves the fastest production car record. That means that the specs of the Koenigsegg Agera RS that currently holds the title of the fastest production car in the world should be available to Agera RS models that consumers can buy from Koenigsegg.
- The automaker that builds the production car must build at least 25 units of the same car in the same specifications as the record-setting car.
- A production car that achieves the title of the fastest production car in the world has to be manufactured in the record-claiming specification by a manufacturer whose World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI) number is shown on the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). This includes vehicles that are modified by professional tuners or others that result in a VIN with a WMI number in their name. A good example of this is a Porsche-based model that’s remanufactured by noted Porsche tuner RUF. If the car carries RUF’s WMI W09 number, it is eligible to be called a production car. ON the other hand, if that same car carries Porsche’s WMI WP0, it becomes ineligible to be called a production car.
- If a car is manufactured before 1981, that car must still be made by the original vehicle manufacturer and not been subjected to modifications from individuals or professional tuners
- A production car must be street-legal in its intended markets. It also has to comply with homologation tests and inspections, both of which are required in many of the world’s biggest automotive markets, including the U.S., the European Union, and Japan, to be granted production car status.
- A production car has to be sold in more than one national market.
How are official top speed records measured?
In addition to meeting all the requirements to qualify as a production car, a production car only claim the fastest production car in the world title if it participates in an independent road test that specifically includes a two-way top speed run that’s supervised by an independent body. The average top speed a car hits from its two one-way speed runs will be treated as the car’s overall top speed.
This requirement prevented the Hennessey Venom F5 from taking the title of the fastest production car in the world from the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport back in 2014. While the F5 did clock a top speed of 270.49 mph, it only did a single-direction run and the model that was used did not have a Hennessey VIN number.
In instances where the top speed has been determined by removing the limiter, all other production models should be able to reach the same speed if their limiters are also removed.
Oftentimes, automakers invite journalists or even representatives from the Guinness Book of World Records to legitimize their car’s top speed runs.
How many cars have set world speed records?
To date, there have been 18 cars that have held the fastest production car title dating back to the genesis of cars. Not all records were erased in equal measures, though, so for the sake of creating a clearer picture of this list, we’re dividing it up by eras, beginning with the 1894 Benz Velo.
|Year||Make and model||Top speed of production car||Engine||Number built||Comment|
|1894||Benz Velo||19 km/h (12 mph)||1,045 cm3 (63.8 cu in) single-cylinder 1.1 kW (1.5 PS; 1.5 bhp)||1,200||First production car|
|1949||Jaguar XK120||200.5 km/h (124.6 mph)||3,442 cm3 (210.0 cu in) inline-6 119 kW (162 PS; 160 hp)||12,000||Some publications cite the XK120's timed top speed as almost 214 km/h (133 mph) in 1949. The XK120 that achieved this speed was a tuned prototype, not a production car. The production car reached 200.5 km/h (124.6 mph).|
|1955||Mercedes-Benz 300SL||242.5 km/h (150.7 mph)||2,996 cm3 (182.8 cu in) inline-6 158 kW (215 PS; 212 hp)||1,400||Two-way average speed tested by Automobil Revue in 1958. 245 km/h (152.2 mph) reached in one direction.|
|1959||Aston Martin DB4 GT||245 km/h (152 mph)||3,670 cm3 (224 cu in) inline-6 225 kW (306 PS; 302 hp)||75||Tested by Autosport in December 1961.|
|1963||Iso Grifo GL 365||259 km/h (161 mph)||5,354 cm3 (326.7 cu in) V8 268 kW (365 PS; 360 hp)||over 400||Tested by Autocar in 1966. A total of 412 Iso Grifos were built 1963–1974.|
|1965||AC Cobra Mk III 427||266 km/h (165 mph)||6,998 cm3 (427.0 cu in) V8 362 kW (492 PS; 485 hp)||>25||Tested by Car & Driver. Top speed described as observed|
|1967||Lamborghini Miura P400||275 km/h (171 mph)||3,929 cm3 (239.8 cu in) V12 261 kW (355 PS; 350 hp)||275||Tested by Motor in June 1967. Over 750 units built in 1966–1973 period, which includes P400, P400 S and P400 SV models.|
|1968||Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona||280 km/h (174 mph)||4,390 cm3 (268 cu in) V12 262 kW (357 PS; 352 hp)||about 1,400||Tested by Autocar in 1971.|
|1969||Lamborghini Miura P400S||288.6 km/h (179.3 mph)||3,929 cm3 (239.8 cu in) V12 276 kW (375 PS; 370 hp)||338||Tested by Sport Auto in 1970.|
|1982||Lamborghini Countach LP500 S||293 km/h (182 mph)||4,754 cm3 (290.1 cu in) V12 280 kW (380 PS; 375 hp)||323||Tested by Auto, Motor und Sport|
|1983||Ruf BTR||305 km/h (190 mph)||3,367 cm3 (205.5 cu in) turbocharged flat-6 275 kW (374 PS; 369 hp)||about||Tested by Auto, Motor und Sport, about 20-30 built with Ruf VIN|
|1986||Porsche 959||319 km/h (198 mph)||2,849 cm3 (173.9 cu in) twin-turbocharged flat-6 331 kW (450 PS; 444 hp)||337||Tested by Road & Track in 1987. The 959 Deluxe version attained 317 km/h (197 mph), the Sport version 319 km/h (198 mph). 29 were built in a performance-enhanced 379 kW (508 hp; 515 PS) sports version which reached 339 km/h (211 mph) tested by Auto, Motor und Sport at Nardo in 1988.|
|1987||Ruf CTR||342 km/h (213 mph)||3,367 cm3 (205.5 cu in) twin-turbocharged flat-6 345 kW (469 PS; 463 hp)||29||Tested by Auto, Motor und Sport at Nardò Ring in 1988|
|1993||McLaren F1||355 km/h (221 mph)||6,064 cm3 (370.0 cu in) V12 461 kW (627 PS; 618 hp)||64||Speed at the rev limiter estimated by Car and Driver. Without the rev-limiter, it was able to reach an average top-speed of 386.7 km/h (240.3 mph). No tested top speed faster than 340 km/h (211 mph) found for an unmodified car.|
|2005||Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4||408.47 km/h (253.81 mph)||7,993 cm3 (487.8 cu in) quad-turbocharged W16 736 kW (1,001 PS; 987 hp)||300||Recorded and verified by German inspection officials on 19 April 2005.|
|2007||SSC Ultimate Aero TT||412.28 km/h (256.18 mph)||6,345 cm3 (387.2 cu in) Twin-turbocharged V8 882 kW (1,199 PS; 1,183 hp)||<20||Two-way average top speed measured independently on a temporarily-closed 2 lane stretch of public highway in Washington State using Dewetron's GPS tracking system and verified by Guinness.|
|2010||Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport||431.072 km/h (267.856 mph)||7,993 cm3 (487.8 cu in) quad-turbocharged W16 882 kW (1,199 PS; 1,183 hp)||30||Out of the initial production run of 30, 5 cars were named the Super Sport World Record Edition. With the electronic limiter turned off the Super Sport World Record Edition was capable of 431.072 km/h (267.856 mph) two-way average. When sold they were electronically limited to 415 km/h (258 mph). Pierre-Henri Raphanel drove the unlimited car and its top speed was verified by Guinness World Records.|
|2017||Koenigsegg Agera RS||447.19 km/h (277.87 mph)||5,000 cm3 (310 cu in) twin-turbocharged V8 1,000 kW (1,360 PS; 1,341 hp)||25||The base engine is rated at 865 kW (1,176 PS; 1,160 hp), 11 cars were factory specced with the 1 MW (1,400 PS; 1,300 hp) option. Niklas Lilja drove one of them in November 2017. Its top speed was independently verified by Racelogic – although the record is yet to be verified by an independent body related to world records.|
The 1894 Benz Velo is on this list for one reason: it was the first production car ever built. That’s it. It wasn’t powerful — it ran on a 1.0-liter engine that produced an astounding three horsepower — and it certainly wasn’t fast with its 12-mph top speed. Still, we’ll give the Velo its due props, even if it competed against nobody when it was launched 126 years ago. It’s like Adam saying he’s the most handsome man in the Garden of Eden. He might as well have been since the only other person who was there was a woman.
The first standard-bearer
The 1949 Jaguar XK120 is arguably one of the most underrated cars of all time. Not only did it become the first production car to break 200 km/h (124.6 mph), but it’s also the only car on this list that was sold in large quantity by it automaker during its six-year production run. A total of over 12,000 units of the XK120 were sold, far and away the highest number of all cars that have set the fastest production car in the world title. Even more impressive is the fact that a prototype version of the XK120 reportedly hit 214 km/h (133 mph). Of course, prototypes don’t count in recognizing the speed record, so the production model’s 124.6-mph stood as the record for six years until a string of high-performance models tossed the fastest production car title like a hot potato in the 1960s.
What you can do, I can do better — or faster
It says a lot about the auto industry’s thirst for speed that in a span of 14 years from 1955 to 1969, the fastest production car title changed hands a total of seven times. On top of that, all the cars that took turns with the title read like a “who’s who” of automotive icons.
The legendary Mercedes-300SL ended the XK120’s six-year run when publication Automobil Revue hit a top speed of 140 mph in the 300SL, including a scintillating 152.2 mph run in one direction. The 300SL held the record for six years until the 302-horsepower 1959 Aston Martin DB4 GT came along and hit a top speed of 152 mph during a test run performed by British publication Autosport in December 1961.
Then, in 1963, fellow British publication Autocar took its turn under the spotlight when it tested a 1963 Iso Grifo GL 365 and achieved a top speed run of 161 mph. Not too bad for a 360-horsepower sports car, right?
The Grifo GL 365’s turn atop the mountain was short-lived when a 1965 AC Cobra Mk III 427 that was driven by Car & Driver established a top speed of 165 mph. It was the first time an American-made sports car became the fastest production car in the world.
Unfortunately, the Cobra Mk III 427 didn’t get to warm its throne before a 1967 Lamborghini Miura P400 came knocking on the door. Tested by Motor in 1967, the Miura P400 incredibly set a top speed run of 171 mph despite a 135-horsepower disadvantage over the Cobra Mk III 427. The Miura’s ascendance started Lamborghini’s run of dominance. Over the next 15 years, from 1967 to 1982, three Lamborghinis set the fastest production car record, including the mighty 1982 Lamborghini Countach LP500S, which hit a top speed of 182 mph. The only other car to own that title at that time? A legend among legends: the 1968 Ferrari GTB/4 Daytona, which broke the Miura’s top speed record in 1971 — it hit a top speed of 174 mph — before giving it up to the Miura’s high-powered variant, the Miura P400S after the latter clocked a top speed of 179.3 mph in 1969.
Not counting the Veno’s 55-year run as the “fastest production car in the world,” the Miura P400S holds the distinction of owning that title for the longest period. It took 13 years before another Lamborghini — the aforementioned 1982 Countach LP500S — replaced the Miura P400S as the fastest production car in the world.
Porsche stakes its claim
As dominant as Lamborghini was from 1967 to 1982, the same can be said for Porsche, though it wasn’t entirely just the German automaker that wrestled the fastest production car title away from Lamborghini. German tuner and noted Porsche partner Ruf was the company that ended the Lamborghini Countach LP500’s 13-year reign as the fastest production car in the world. The Porsche 911-based Ruf BTR clocked a top speed of 190 mph during a test run conducted by Auto, Motor und Sport.
Three years later, Road and Track took a Porsche 959 Deluxe clocked a top speed of 197 mph while the Sport version nipped it in the bud with a top speed of 198 mph. A performance-enhanced sports version took it to another level, hitting a top speed of 211 mph during a test run conducted by Auto, Motor und Sport at Nardo in 1988.
In the same year, Auto, Motor und Sport returned to the Nardo Ring with a 1987 Ruf CTR and promptly set a new record with a 213-mph top speed run.
The godfather of modern supercars enters the scene
It says a lot about a supercar’s ability to destroy records when it can beat the existing top speed record of 213 mph so easily. That’s what the McLaren F1 when it clocked a top speed of 221 mph at the rev limiter, as estimated by Car and Driver. Without the rev limiter, the F1 hit a top speed of 240 mph, setting a new standard for supercars that would remain untouched until a certain French supercar came into the picture in 2005.
The era of Bugatti
The McLaren F1’s stature as the fastest production car in the world stretched 12 years. It’s an incredible accomplishment considering that the era was defined largely as a time when automakers started putting a lot of their time and resources developing high-performance machines. But like anything in this world, records are meant to be broken, and the F1’s production car top speed record finally ended in 2005 when the Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4 rampaged its way to a top speed of 253.81 mph. A lot of factors came into play that helped the Veyron EB 16.4 set the highest top speed of any production car in history, none more important than Bugatti’s — with a lot of help from Volkswagen — singular focus in making the Veyron the fastest production car in the world. Consider that mission accomplished; the record was verified by German inspection officials and the era of Bugatti began, or at least that was the plan until the SSC Ultimate Aero TT came into the picture.
Built by SSC North America (formerly Shelby SuperCars), the SSC Ultimate Aero TT came out of nowhere to shock the auto world in 2007. With a 6.4-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 engine that produced 1,183 horsepower in tow, the Ultimate Aero TT managed to usurp the Veyron EB 16.4’s top speed, clocking a run that peaked at 256.18 mph. The two-way average top speed of the Ultimate Aero TT was measured and verified by the Guinness Book of World Records. As far as upsets go, this was a big one for Bugatti. It prompted the French supercar brand to step up its game, and it did just that when it launched the Veyron 16.4 SuperSport.
Bugatti’s goal of reclaiming the production car top speed record came to a head in 2010 when driver Pierre-Henri Raphael drove a Veyron 16.4 SuperSport to a peak speed of 267.856 mph. That achievement came with the Super Sport’s electronic limiter turned off. With the limiter in place, the Veyron Super Sport clocked a top speed of 258 mph, which was still good enough to beat the Ultimate Aero TT and bring the crown back to Bugatti.
Who owns the record now?
I suppose it depends on who you ask. Most people recognize the Koenigsegg Agera RS as the fastest production car in the world after it clocked a two-way average top speed of 277.87 mph back in 2017. The record-breaking run occurred on a closed, 11-mile stretch of highway in Nevada and was independently verified by Racelogic, though an independent body related to world records has yet to do the same.
For now, though, it is the Agera RS’ record to lose. Bugatti is looking to reclaim the record with the Chiron SuperSport 300+, and a prototype version of that model already clocked a one-way top speed run of 304.77 mph, becoming the first production car in history to break the 300-mph top speed threshold.
Then there’s Hennessey and its Venom F5. The F5 is also expected to break 300 mph, though the American supercar has yet to make a timed attempt at a top speed run. All things considered, the record for the fastest production car in the world will be chased by all these automakers — and maybe a few more that are coming in the pipeline.
From 12 mph to over 300 mph, production car speed records have definitely come a long way.