My first taste of a supercar was travelling to Leicester Squares’ Athena poster store aged ten. I’d spend ages picking through the rack of exotica checking off the poster number with the rolled up copies in the shelf below. The very first bedroom poster to don my wall was a white Lamborghini Countach, not a naked woman. Although Athena offered many variations of each car, mine was the straight Countach minus the big-haired model draped over the bonnet. Even at the age of ten, I was totally mesmerised by these machines which completely captivated my imagination. It took me a while to accept that fact that other sports cars could and were as good as my pride and joy, albeit in print on my bedroom wall. Twenty four years have passed and I still haven’t had the opportunity to even sit in a Countach, although a Diablo came close a few months ago.
Ask any car enthusiast, owner or petrol head to name their favourite car of all time and probably two manufacturers’ spring to mind: Ferrari and Lamborghini. The two Italian neighbours have been the closest of rivals since the late sixties and over the years have always raised the bar, always trying to out-do each other. It’s been fascinating to watch and thanks to the many manufacturers trying to follow suit this has, in turn, brought up one of the most difficult questions to answer: What are the very best pedigrees? Like your dream garage, putting together the definitive chart has given many publications the mother of all headaches over the years and for some, leaving out one or two that should have been included, or their not quite understanding the very essence of a ‘supercar’, is extremely frustrating. Narrowing down a top ten list is one of the hardest surveys to put together. Ask any petrol head “what makes a supercar” and you’ll open a can of tyre-smoking worms. Trying to understand why certain supercars should make the grade will also keep you up to the early hours. There has been so many over the last fifty years that heated debates can quickly flair up. And to top it all, where did the phrase ‘supercar’ come from?
A supercar has to make an impact, break new records and deliver technological breakthroughs. Sure, there have been many record breakers and benchmarks set, even from the early twenties and some that have come and gone that haven’t really left their mark. Most importantly, a supercar has to be designed for the road, a car that isn’t just a one-off, or an experimental prototype. A supercar should be a road-legal statement. Surprisingly, you don’t have to be a wealthy aristocrat to own one.
So MTI is about to list the top ten supercars of all time with a survey that has fired up many debates and pub arguments. A survey that is bound to disagree with many and a top ten list that could, very well, open the flood gates. When we set about putting together such a varied compilation, one rule had to be adhered to, namely they all had to be full production road cars. That split the feedback straight down the middle, and with over 6,000 replies to our independent survey, gave us here at MTI a mammoth task.
After many late hours, too many cups of coffee and some sore typing fingers, here is MTI’s ‘Top Ten Supercars of All Time’.
10. Nissan Skyline R33 GT-R
The first Skyline was launched in April 1957 and featured a 1.5-litre 60hp engine. It was sold as a family four-door saloon and went through various incarnations over the years. The famous ‘R’ series introduced in 1981 saw service for 28 years, and in 1993 Nissan launched the R33 which created a revolutionary impact that would shift the supercar fraternity into another gear. The R33 Skyline was sold as a four-door saloon and 2-door coupe in Japan but it was the latter that Nissan was to eventually use as its performance benchmark. It also revived affordable supercar ownership once more and the more powerful GT-R featured an array of technology that hadn’t been seen before on a sub £40k sports car. Even a factory standard GT-R could match Ferrari and Porsche for performance yet would cost over £20,000 less and it was this affordability that seriously hit the supercar manufacturers again. More and more owners swapped their exotica for a Skyline and that in turn set Porsche et al a real challenge to beat Nissan at its own game. But it was its mind-boggling combination of four-wheel-drive and its revolutionary four-wheel-steer system carried over and improved from its predecessor, the R32 that defied the laws of physics and had every other supercar manufacturer scratching their heads in disbelief. The Skyline continued to raise the bar until 2002 and was quickly offered entry to the supercar club early on, hence it making it into our top ten.
9. Porsche 911 Turbo
Originally signed off as the Porsche 909 in 1964, the German manufacturer had to change its moniker shortly after as Peugeot had already registered the numbers previously. The 911’s silhouette hasn’t changed much over the last 45 years, and our number nine supercar, the 911 Turbo, has also kept much of its original DNA. Launched in 1974 it was Porsche’s first turbocharged production car, but more importantly, started the ball rolling for turbocharged power. Before the days of traction control, Porsche’s turbocharged 256bhp flat-six was a seriously quick and sometimes scary combination. There wasn’t much out there at the time that could match the Turbo’s outright performance yet coupled with a light rear end, the Turbo was feared by many journalists and owners alike especially in the wet when you could easily swap ends in a flash. But it was Porsche’s useable 911 Turbo which made it such a special car and set the standards for years to come. Unlike the Ferrari’s of the time, the 911 Turbo was able to be used as an everyday car but could also take its driver to another level with its blinding performance. More importantly for Porsche, the ’74 Turbo qualified for FIA Group 4 competition and spawned a long line of racing 911’s which dominated some of the world’s most special races. If we wind back to 1974, most manufacturers were building supercars that were riddled with mechanical and electrical problems and rife with unreliability issues, yet the 911 Turbo was able to outperform them all and would rarely break down thanks to its rigid German build quality. Even in 2009, the 911 Turbo is still referred to as a supercar and that couldn’t be a more fitting tribute.
8. Honda NS-X
The Honda NS-X came along at a time when Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini thought they had the supercar scene sewn up. In 1984, Honda commissioned Pininfarina to design a concept supercar, the HPX. Having decided to take the project further, Honda’s NS-X (New Sportscar eXperimental) was benchmarked purely at Ferrari’s 328. Unlike the Porsche 911 Turbo in the 70’s, Honda was the first manufacturer to make the NS-X exceed the performance of most supercars, while offering Honda reliability and a lower price point. As we all know this philosophy has been adopted by many manufacturers since and we have the Honda NS-X to thank for that, which is why it has made it into our top ten. Although it used a 3.0-litre V6 producing 290bhp, the NS-X closely matched Ferrari’s later 348 0-60mph time of 5.0 seconds with 5.2 seconds yet still had the outright pace to match. During its development, new technologies were being adopted and everyone knew that this would be something pretty special. When it was launched in 1990 it totally revolutionised how manufacturers would approach supercar design. What the NS-X did was to show that you didn’t have to spend £80k on an Italian thoroughbred to have the performance and the status of a supercar. It was hailed as a masterpiece and priced at half the cost of its exotic rivals but more significantly, gave all of its rivals a serious challenge. It was also the first production car to use an all aluminium chassis, suspension and body. The NS-X was designed from a clean sheet of paper, and rumour has it that Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini all bought one to find out how Honda could build a car that beat them hands down. Although it sold in very small numbers, the NS-X was the first affordable supercar of its kind and made it into our number eight spot.
7. Bugatti EB110
If it wasn’t for Italian entrepreneur, Romano Artioli, it’s very unlikely that the Bugatti name would have been revived. In 1987, Artioli established Bugatti International, a holding company that bought the Bugatti trademark name – rumoured to be encouraged by Ferrucio Lamborghini, and in 1991 the EB110 (named after Ettore Bugatti and launched on his 110th anniversary) was presented to the world in Paris. Designed by Marcello Gandnini who also penned the Lamborghini Countach and the Citroen BX, the EB110 was riddled with pre-production problems mainly due to its mammoth engine layout. Instead of using a normally aspirated engine as with so many other Italian supercars at the time, the EB110’s 4-litre V12 had four turbochargers giving it 542bhp and a top speed of over 212mph. This type of configuration and huge power output had never been attempted before and gave the designers a huge technological mountain to climb, something that would be repeated in 1998. In the end four-wheel-drive had to be adopted in order to cope with its huge power output. Unfortunately the revived Bugatti marque would not only be a technological mountain to climb but also a financial one. Despite the EB110 being a tremendous achievement and still one of the finest supercars to drive, Artioli couldn’t manage the company’s finances. Purchasing Lotus from General Motors in 1993 whilst still trying to run Bugatti put Artioli’s finances under scrutiny and in 1995 the company went bankrupt. Although only 139 EB110’s were produced, we owe our thanks to Artioli as without his revolutionary vision, we probably wouldn’t be writing about the famous French marque once more.
6. Jaguar XJ220
The 90’s saw a supercar boom. After the financial bubble had burst in the 80’s, manufacturers started to sign off huge financial budgets ten years later as the worlds finances became buoyant again. It was also a time when supercar manufacturers became obsessed with speed. 200mph was no longer fast enough and the quest to go faster became the number one priority. This gave the engineers a new challenge (as seen with the Bugatti EB110) and Jaguar was next on the list. Rumour has it that certain Jaguar employees had created an informal group they called “The Saturday Club” (so-named because they would meet after-hours and on weekends to work on unofficial pet-projects). In the 1980s, Jaguar’s chief-engineer Jim Randle, as part of that group, began work on what he saw as competition for cars like Ferrari and Porsche. From the outset, Randle was adamant that his new project would achieve a top speed of 200mph. Work began in 1986 ready for a launch at the 1989 British Motor Show. The XJ220 was originally fitted with a Tom Walkinshaw designed V12 but due to high cost production implications Jaguar swapped it for a re-worked twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 from the defunct Metro 6R4 rally car. Such was its limited production run (281 units) and high price £369,000; in 1989 the XJ220 started the trend of selling spaces in the waiting list for a higher premium. Although potential prospectors benefited, this caused the value of the ‘220 to drop dramatically because most of the so-called customers pulled out before taking delivery and many early cars sat at the factory unsold. Shortly after the XJ220 was launched the world fell into yet another recession and the ‘220 followed shortly after. Apart from a short production run and an underserved short life span the reason why the ‘220 has made our list is the fact that it was briefly the first production supercar to get close to its name in terms of speed: 220 – 217mph in fact. It’s world record was smashed shortly afterwards by the McLaren F1 (240mph), but even still, it had started the quest for outright speed. Only three supercars can ever claim to be the fastest in the world, and the XJ220 still remains one of them.
5. Lamborghini Miura SV
“The Miura should have never gone into production” says American, Bob Wallace, who was Lamborghini’s test driver until ’73. “The first Miuras had problems with cockpit heat, electrics and the oil system. But the press had fuelled interest, orders flooded in and we were making cars before they were ready”. Despite his scepticism, the Miura was Lamborghini’s very first supercar and wowed the press at the ’66 Geneva motor show. It was, of course, the benchmark and successor to the Countach but in the 60’s it was way ahead of its time. The ‘P400’ as it was known had one significant design flaw – front end high-lift. Whilst testing the car, journalist, Doug Blain, clocked 180mph and managed to discover the Miura’s most frightening aspect. According to Blain, all he could see was ‘blue sky’ but managed to get it down straight and square. This didn’t put off customers flocking to buy one. Most ended up stored amongst private collections or as a status symbol for pop stars, and of the 746 built a large number never turned a wheel after leaving the factory. It was also the first supercar to be allowed to test around the roads of the factory in Sant’Agata without the attention of the police. “I think Ferrucio Lamborghini had a deal because we never got stopped for speeding when testing” Bob Wallace recalls. Its 3.9-litre V12 produced 345bhp, but it’s the very rare 380bhp SV model which has become the most sought after. Only 150 SV’s were built, and as most have been sold from private collections over the years with little mileage on the clock, they demand very high prices. It’s almost impossible to find an SV for sale today, but as a guideline expect to pay over £450,000. Despite its exclusivity, the reason why the Miura has made our top ten list is because it was this very car, the P400, of which the phrase ‘supercar’ was revived in the late 60’s by British journalist L. J. K. Setright. Originally coined in 1917 for an Alfa Romeo Monza, without the Miura, the word ‘Supercar’ probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day again.
4. Ferrari 250 GTO
Probably one of most sought after Ferrari’s and one of the rarest. Produced between 1962 and 1964 only 34 were ever made which makes it one of the most expensive cars ever sold at auction. In 1988 a 250 GTO came to auction having been seized from a convicted drug dealer by the FBI and was sold for approximately $2 million. In 1989, at the peak of the boom, another 250 GTO was sold to a Japanese buyer for $14.6 million. Its value peaked in 2008 when a British buyer bought another 250 GTO at auction for a record £15.7 million making it the highest recorded Ferrari sale. Its moniker, GTO, stands for ‘Gran Turismo Omologato’ a homologation term used for racing, and every customer who put up the $18,000 asking price had to be personally approved by Enzo Ferrari himself. Its 296bhp 3-litre V12 would punch the 160mph barrier making the GTO one of the fastest cars around at the time. But what really made it so unique is that the majority of owners who raced their GTO’s could drive them to the circuit, compete, then drive home again thanks to its road car underpinnings There are only a very small number still around competing today and although values have peaked, its racing pedigree is regarded more sought after than the standard factory cars. Although the 250 GTO is regarded as a sports car, it’s made our supercar list purely on its past and present auction values and its usability and desirability amongst collectors. Radio presenter and Ferrari collector, Chris Evans, recently splashed out £5million on a 1961 250 GT California and later said that the only car missing from his collection was a 250 GTO. Despite his reported £20million fortune, even Chris Evans can’t stretch his budget to buy one.
3. Porsche 959
Whilst five years from the 959’s debut, supercar makers were stretching the laws of physics in order to be the first to exceed the 200mph barrier, Porsche however were ready to set a new kind of performance figure: the 0-60mph time. When the 959 was officially tested in 1986, it clocked an amazing 3.6 seconds to 60mph setting a new benchmark. This was partly achieved by its twin-turbo 2.9-litre flat-six producing 444bhp coupled with its PSK all-wheel-drive system. No other performance car at the time could match the 959’s outright pace. Although the 959 could achieve these impressive performance figures it never quite managed 200mph, coming in at ‘197. With the Porsche 911 due to be axed in 1982, shortly after the company’s then new Managing Director, Peter Schutz had taken office in 1981, Porsche’s head engineer at the time, Helmuth Bott, approached Schutz with some ideas about the 911 replacement, or more aptly, a new one. Bott knew that the company needed a sports car that they could continue to rely on for years to come and that could be developed as time went on. Curious as to how much they could do with the rear-engined 911, Bott convinced Schutz that development tests should take place, and even proposed researching a new all-wheel-drive system. Schutz agreed, and gave the project the green light. Bott later saw Group B rallying as a way to accelerate development and test the new car’s design but due to the regulations and in order to compete, Porsche had to produce 200 road going versions thus rescuing the 911’s fate and in turn producing what would become the 959. First customer deliveries of the 959 road car began in 1987 at a cost of $225,000, still less than half what it cost Porsche to build each one. Even so twenty-two years later most supercars still can only match the 959’s 3.6sec 0-60mph time making the Porsche 959 one of the ultimate benchmark supercars of all time.
2. Bugatti Veyron
After VW took control of the then bankrupt Bugatti from Romano Artioli in 1998, VW Chairman, Ferdinand Piech, announced that the Bugatti name would be revived once more and that it would produce the fastest, most powerful and most expensive road car in history. Even before the project got off the ground he promised it would produce 1,000bhp and top 250mph. Work began in 1999 and although the new company headquarters were established at Ettore. Bugatti’s Chateau in France, most of the team behind the Veyron project were all brought over from VW’s factory in Germany. With such a high bar set, the Veyron’s engine would become a technological masterpiece, but it wasn’t all plain sailing. Four turbochargers and 8-litres all packed into 16 cylinders would eventually produce the figures Piech was looking to achieve but with early prototype problems, such as major engine fires, it looked the Veyron wouldn’t happen. It was slotted in for a 2003 debut but with aerodynamic issues that were testing the engineers, engine problems and costs spiralling, Ferdinand Piech stepped down as chairman and the Veyron project came to an abrupt halt. Four years had passed and it there was still no sign of the new super Bugatti. Piech’s successor, ex BMW Chairman, Bernd Pischetsrieder, got the project back on track and with a new man at the helm of the French marque, Thomas Bscher, the Veyron continued at full speed. With a new launch date set for 2005 and a huge injection of cash from VW HQ, the Veyron started to make some headway. Although priced at 1million Euros to buy but costing VW 2million Euros to manufacture every car, it didn’t quite make its 1000bhp target (987 to be precise), but what the Veyron set in 2005 was to re-write the supercar rule book. With an official top speed of 252mph, a 0-62mph time of 2.5secs and technology that was a first in any road car, the Bugatti Veyron is arguably the most remarkable supercar of all time. With six years development, a project that nearly didn’t make it and technology that will be used by other manufacturers, it’s very unlikely that we will see this sort of automotive magnitude in our lifetime again. Truly, one of a kind.
1. Ferrari F40.
And now for number one in the MTI Supercar Top Ten. It doesn’t really need a fan fair introduction because the F40 was and still is the ultimate supercar statement. A year after the Porsche 959 was launched Ferrari came along with its F40 and became the first production car to crack the 200mph barrier. 1987 onwards became the time when every other supercar manufacturer was determined to exceed its performance figures. No exclusive marque before had even attempted or worried about a 200mph V-max for their production supercars until the F40 came along, then everyone else set about trying to break the ’40’s world record. Two-hundred miles per hour for a production car was a milestone achievement in automotive history and Ferrari were the first to achieve it. It began when Enzo Ferrari had recently turned 90, and was aware that time was not on his side. He wanted his new sports car to serve as his final statement, a vehicle encompassing the best in track-developed technology and capable of being a showcase for what the Ferrari engineers were capable of creating. The company’s upcoming 40th anniversary provided just the right occasion for the car to debut. As he had predicted it would be, the F40 was the last car to be commissioned by Enzo before his death and that makes it even more poignant. The F40 captivates everything a supercar should be and it will always remain numero uno in our petrol-fuelled veins.