What is the fastest car in the world?

The history of the models that have claimed to be the fastest production cars in the world

The Koenigsegg Agera RS is the fastest car in the world, according to the official record books. The Swedish hypercar maker broke the existing record, which was set in 2010 by the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, by 10mph in 2017, with a speed of 277.9mph. However, while it took seven years for the record to be broken, it’s likely that the Agera RS (below) won’t hold on to it for as long, because a number of car makers are now aiming for the 300mph barrier.

What constitutes the world’s fastest car depends on the classification you use. But here we’re talking about production cars that can achieve these speeds from the factory. It’s one of the most prestigious titles a car can hold, because it gives it a desirability that puts it ahead of its rivals. Here we look at the history of the world’s fastest car, looking at past record holders and what the future holds.

Speed records have been a target for engineers, racing drivers and car makers for many years. At the dawn of the car, claiming to have the fastest car in the world also meant you could lay claim to the Land Speed Record. But soon the competition for both records split once production cars had to accomodate the reality of carrying passengers and luggage, while also being affordable to buy.

But as technology has advanced and vehicle ranges have broadened, the pursuit of the title of the world’s fastest production car came to be. Early contenders included Mercedes and Jaguar, while Porsche and Ferrari have had an intra-brand battle, with Lamborghini butting into the action, too. In recent years, we’ve seen McLaren and the revived Bugatti stake a claim, while a number of niche supercar and hypercar makers are also on the hunt for the production car record.

Today, the Koenigsegg Agera RS is the title holder, but there are a few cars ready to take the title from it. Chief among these is the Bugatti Chiron. The successor to the Veyron has more power (1,500bhp) and is better to drive than the Veyron, but Bugatti has yet to do an official top speed run with the car. At the moment, it’s electronically limited to 261mph, which is largely thanks to current tyre technology – no tyre manufacturer has yet to create rubber that can to cope with higher speeds than this, although Michelin is said to be working on tyres that can deal with speeds in excess of 300mph.

Once these tyres are available, it’s not just the Chiron that will be aiming for the fastest production car title. US company Hennessey has built a follow-up to the Venom GT, called the Venom F5, which is designed to achieve 300mph, tyres permitting. This model is all-new from the ground up, sharing nothing with the GT, with a 1,600bhp twin-turbo V8, carbon fibre construction and a target of 300mph in the company’s claims. Then there are other, less well known car makers with claims of building 300mph hypercars. This includes the Dubai-based Devel Sixteen and ‘cars’ like the 2,500bhp Dagger GT that only exist as renders on somebody’s computer.

World’s fastest car history

Ever since the dawn of the car, there have been people committed to building increasingly fast versions. Over the years, this devotion has evolved to the point where the fastest production cars are at the forefront of vehicle technology, racing past 200mph and currently chasing the elusive 300mph mark.

When you think back to when a man with a flag had to walk in front of your car to warn others of your glacial approach, it almost seems ridiculous that a little over a century later, manufacturers can accelerate from 0-60 mph in under 3 seconds and reach top speeds that surpass those of light aircraft.

Land speed records were the focus of speedhunters for decades, but it wasn’t until halfway through the 20th Century that manufacturers started to boast about the top speeds for their road cars.

An excellent early example of this was the Jaguar XK120, named after the top speed it was claimed to be capable of. The truth is that it was marginally faster than that when it was tested in 1949, but the XK124.6 doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

Six years later, Mercedes swooped in with the 300SL Gullwing to break the 150mph mark (150.7mph). Team Britain fought back in 1959 with the Aston Martin DB4 GT (152mph), only to be beaten by the Italian Iso Grifo, which reached 161mph in 1963. The Anglo-American AC Cobra arrived in 1965 with 165mph on the clocks, then two years later the beautiful Lamborghini Miura sped past 170mph (171mph), only to be passed by the Ferrari 365 GTB/4 a year later (174mph). The Miura returned in 1969 to hit 179.3mph, but it was 13 years before Lambo broke its own record with the Countach, and a 182mph top speed.

German Porsche modifier Ruf joined the battle in 1983 with the 190mph BTR, which was based on the 911, while Porsche’s own 911-based supercar, the 959, hit 198mph in 1986. But then the Ferrari F40 came along and smashed through the 200mph barrier in 1987. In the meantime, companies such as Vector made wild claims about 200mph top speed claims without the physical evidence to back it up. But then the McLaren F1 arrived and blew everyone out of the water. It has an official record of 221mph, although 230mph has been wrung out of one on more than one occasion. It would be 12 years before the Bugatti Veyron arrived and beat the record, although the F1 remains the fastest naturally aspirated car ever built.

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The Veyron Super Sport used a 1,200bhp quad-turbo W16 engine producing torque of 1,500Nm, which was connected to a four-wheel drive system and featured active aerodynamics to reach a top speed of 267.9mph and claim the official title of World’s fastest car. It didn’t take long for the controversy to start, though. US hypercar maker Hennessey claimed that its Venom GT should have the crown, as the Veyron Super Sport ran with a deactivated speed limiter to reach its record speed.

Guinness World Records temporarily agreed, stripping the Veyron of its title, before deciding that the fact a production car is prevented from reaching a top speed, does not change the fact it can reach that speed. It therefore reinstated the Bugatti. Then the Koenigsegg Agera RS arrived and blew them all off the runway.

Check out our world’s fastest car timeline below…

Year

Make and model

Top speed (mph)

1894

Benz Velo

12.0

1949

Jaguar XK120

124.6

1955

Mercedes 300SL Gullwing

150.7

1959

Aston Martin DB4 GT

152.0

1963

Iso Grifo GL 365

161.0

1967

AC Cobra MkIII

165.0

1968

Lamborghini Miura P400

171.0

1968

Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona

174.0

1974, 82, 84

Lamborghini Countach

179.0, 182.0, 188.0

1984

Ferrari 288 GTO

188.0

1986

Porsche 959

197.0

1987

Ferrari F40

202.7

1995

Ruf CTR2

217.0

1998

McLaren F1

221.0

2005

Bugatti Veyron 16.4

253.8

2010

Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport

267.9

2017

Koenigsegg Agera RS

277.9

Find out about the current crop of 200mph heroes in or top 10 fastest cars on sale…

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