“Speed provides the one genuinely modern pleasure,” Aldous Huxley said, and he might just have a point.
You can talk about modern features and conveniences all you want, but the first question on everybody’s lips when you bring a brand new car home is usually: “How fast does it go?”
But there’s a difference between going quickly and going quickly. The cars in this list are decidedly the latter: they are, or were, the fastest production cars in the world in their respective times.
The emphasis of course is on production cars that you can actually buy and that can wear a road legal numberplate instead of racing cars and custom jobs. Any guesses for what’ll be number one?
Top speed: 12mph
The Benz Velo was the world’s first true production car, which made it the fastest car in the world at its time by default. Hollow victory? Maybe a little, especially when you consider that by definition it was also the slowest…
All the same, it’s impossible to understate the importance of Karl Benz’s invention. Despite the fact it started with a tiny 1.0-litre 3.5bhp engine, this was the vehicle which started it all and without which none of the following would have been possible.
Top speed: 132.596mph
Of course as manufacturers began to build cars of their own, the title of the world’s fastest continually flitted from one model to another as engineers further refined and perfected the combustion engine.
More than 50 years after the Benz Velo, Jaguar unveiled its XK120 roadster, the first Jaguar to use a double overhead cam straight-six engine, which Jaguar would continue to use in its cars until 1992.
During a high-speed run between Jabbeke and Aeltre in Belgium the XK120 recorded a top speed of 132.596mph, leading the Observer's Book of Automobiles to declare the Jag the fastest production car in the world.
Top speed: 140mph
Six years after that and Mercedes-Benz would unveil its stunning 300SL, widely regarded as one of the most beautiful cars ever made and one of the first to make use of supercar-style lightweight components and slippery aerodynamics.
Built on a tubular spaceframe with an aluminium bonnet, door and boot lid construction, the 300SL’s dainty build could see it reach speeds of up to 140mph, an absolutely phenomenal achievement for its time.
Aston Martin DB4
Top speed: 141mph
A win’s a win, even if it’s not by much. In 1958, the Aston Martin DB4 trumped the 300SL’s record by a whole 1mph, putting it at the top of the list for the fastest production car of its time.
Cop out? Maybe a little bit, but it counts all the same and the DB4 was also the first Aston to be built at Newport Pagnell, the factory that would go on to build such iconic cars as the DB5, the V8 Vantage and the original Vanquish.
Iso Rivolta Grifo A3/L 327
Top speed: 161mph
What, you’ve never heard of the Iso Rivolta Grifo A3/L 327? Okay, so it mightn’t have a penchant for the most easily pronouncable naming conventions, but Iso Rivolta is perhaps best known as the company behind the dinky little BMW Isetta.
After building and licensing the quintessential bubble car, Iso Rivolta turned its attention towards face-rearranging supercars like the 327. Powered by a 5.4-litre General Motors V8, it was briefly the Sixties’ fastest car with a 161mph top speed.
Top speed: 171mph
By 1967 the automobile was already a septuagenarian, but it was also the year that the world got its first true supercar, the mid-mounted V12-powered Lamborghini Miura.
It was the sort of car you looked at in a way you’d be arrested if you did the same to a woman, but it had the brawn as well as the beauty. Its 3.9-litre V12 made a then-incredible 350bhp, taking the Miura to 62mph in a fraction over seven seconds and all the way on to 171mph. If you were brave enough.
Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona
Top speed: 174mph
The Miura’s record-breaking performance didn’t sit too well with Ferrari though, and it would take Maranello just a year to respond in kind with the 174mph 365 GTB/4 Daytona.
Unlike the Miura it was traditionally front-engined with rear wheel drive, but its 4.4-litre V12 engine marginally beat the Lambo in the horsepower race, pumping out a maximum of 352bhp.
Ferrari 288 GTO
Top speed: 188mph
Ferrari would sit at the top of the top speed leaderboard (speederboard?) for several years, before stealing the crown from, err, itself in 1984 with the 288 GTO.
A homologated version of the 308 GTB that was originally designed for a racing series that folded before it even began, the 288 GTO was a mid-engined weapon with a top speed of 188mph, and which held the position of world’s fastest car for two years.
Top speed: 195mph
The 288 GTO’s reign was abruptly brought to an end in 1986 when Porsche debuted its 959, one of the most advanced cars of its time and arguably the direct precursor to the modern hypercar.
Several technologies which had never been seen before but which are now hypercar staples first appeared on the 959, including magnesium wheels and adjustable suspension, while it also featured four-wheel drive.
It was powered by a 440bhp turbocharged flat-six engine, could hit 62mph from a standstill in 3.7 seconds and knock on the door of 200mph. Bill Gates and Boris Becker both owned one, and Porsche lost about £150,000 on every 959 it made such was the expense of the new-fangled kit in it.
Top speed: 202.687mph
Despite the 959 being so cutting edge, its time at the top of the table wasn’t to last. Ferrari decided it didn’t much like playing second fiddle, and in response designed arguably the best-loved and most iconic Ferrari ever, the F40.
The first production car on earth to crack 200mph, the F40 was the last car that Enzo Ferrari personally signed off and was a textbook exercise in how to make a supercar, with an intoxicating mixture of power, agility and just the right touch of exotic ridiculousness.
Bugatti EB110 GT
Top speed: 209mph
The EB110 is a bit of a forgotten hero, being the first Bugatti to be manufactured after entrepreneur Romano Artioli revived the company in 1991 and made the car in commemoration of Ettore Bugatti’s 110th birthday.
It was built on a carbon fibre chassis manufactured by aircraft company Aéropsatiale and was a favourite of F1 legend Michael Schumancher, who bought one in a bright banana yellow finish.
The EB110’s real party piece was its 3.5-litre V12 engine, which had a total of four turbochargers and 60 valves, giving it enough whack to hit 62mph in 4.2 seconds before powering all the way on to a top speed of 209mph.
Top speed: 213mph
Perhaps one of the reasons the EB110 is so overlooked is the fact that it was only at the top for less than a year before the Jaguar XJ220 ripped the crown from its head by beating its terminal velocity by 4mph.
By all admission, the XJ220 was a bit of a weird supercar. It allegedly handled like a bus, it was about the same width as a bus and its brakes may as well have been made of papier maché but by God it was fast.
Its 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 engine was derived from a Group B rally car and put out enough power to take the XJ220 from 0-62mph in just over 3.6 seconds, with a staggering 213mph top speed.
Top speed: 240.1mph
A masterpiece of design and engineering, the McLaren F1 was specifically designed by its creator Gordon Murray to be the ultimate supercar and boy did it deliver.
The first carbon fibre-bodied production car on earth, the F1’s engine compartment was lined with gold to better reflect heat. It cost around £500,000 and the gearbox had to be custom made because nothing else could handle the sheer torque of its 550bhp 6.1-litre BMW V12 engine. It was both the zenith of everything that had come before it, and the genesis of everything that’s come since.
It could do 0-100mph in 6.3 seconds - quicker than the average car can do 0-60 - and went on to a top speed of 240.1mph, securing its place as the world’s fastest car. It would hold that title for nearly two decades and even today, the F1 remains the fastest naturally-aspirated production car ever.
Top speed: 253mph
It stands as testament to the Veyron’s ability as well as its place in pop culture that if you ask the average punter what the world’s fastest car is, they’ll probably still tell you it’s the Bugatti.
It’s incredible to think then that the Veyron first appeared all the way back in 2005, smashing out its own niche in the car world. Not only was it the fastest car ever, it was also the most powerful and the most expensive.
The Veyron’s quad-turbocharged 8.0-litre W16 engine was good for 1,000bhp and could hit 62mph from a standstill in 2.5 seconds. It could reach double that speed in 7.3 seconds, and could batter its way on to a 253mph top speed despite weighing as much as a small elephant.
Shelby Supercars Ultimate Aero
Top speed: 256.18mph
Nope, it’s not that Shelby, but Shelby Supercars is just as well known for building cars that are as ridiculous as they are quick. Case in point, the Ultimate Aero which stole the original Veyron’s fastest car title in 2007.
The Guinness Book of Records officially recorded the Ultimate Aero crack a top speed of 256.18mph, comfortably beating the Veyron’s record by more than 3mph, no mean feat when at those speeds the air around the car is so dense it’s like driving through solid concrete.
Shelby Supercars would hold its record for a number of years, but it hasn’t taken being overtaking lying down and says it’s currently working on a new tyre designed specifically for record-breaking speed runs.
Bugatti Veyron Super Sport
Top speed: 267.857mph
The Veyron’s last hurrah and probably the car you think of when somebody says “Bugatti Veyron”, the Super Sport was designed with a single purpose in mind: be the fastest production car ever made.
Total output from the Super Sport’s engine was just under 1,200bhp meaning that it essentially had the power output of a hot hatch bolted on top of the standard car. Still to this day the Veyron Super Sport remains a marvel of modern automotive engineering.
Hennessey Venom GT
Top speed: 270.49mph
But all things must pass and the hypercars of today soon become the has-beens of tomorrow. The Veyron has been superseded: the current champ and the fastest production car in history is the Hennessey Venom GT.
Manufactured by Texas-based Hennessey Performance Engineering and based on the chassis of a heavily modified Lotus Exige, the Venom GT is powered by a 1,244bhp 7.0-litre twin-turbo V8 engine sourced from GM.
It can hit 186mph from an absolute standstill in just 13.63 seconds and takes off with such force that it subjects the driver to nearly one and a half times the earth’s gravity under acceleration. Top speed has officially been recorded at 270.49mph, but is the Venom GT’s reign already under threat?
Top speed: ?
This is Bugatti’s Chiron, and the fourth entry on this list from the French supercar manufacturer. The long-awaited successor to the legendary Veyron, Bugatti says that the Chiron will inherit its forebears’ title of the world’s fastest, most powerful and most expensive production car.
It’s a frankly ridiculous exercise in over-engineering, with a 1,500bhp quad-turbocharged W16 engine that sucks in the equivalent of a shipping container’s worth of air each and every minute and which is as powerful as 25 Ford Fiestas.
Bugatti is still keeping a tight lid on exactly how quick the Chiron is, but officially its speed is limited to 261mph for road use. When derestricted and able to push flat out? Well nobody’s sure yet, but it’s rumoured that the Chiron could be the first production car to hit a top speed of 300mph.
If there’s one thing we can say for certain, it’s that the new Bugatti Chiron is going to be damn fast indeed.