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This year will, in all likelihood, see a road-legal production car (perhaps more than one) attempt to hit 480kmph. Fast cars. Pointless? In every practical sense, yes, completely and utterly. Still, you have to admit that, however daft, it’s a pretty remarkable target for cars that are road-legal and more than wild one-offs. It wasn’t so long ago – okay, it was 30+ years ago: make me feel old, why don’t you? – that 320kmph was the benchmark. Back then people like us talked in hushed, worshipful tones about the 320kmph Club; a fraternity I seem to recall being founded by the Ferrari F40, even though there remains some doubt as to whether regular examples ever did more than 318kmph. Other famous 320kmph supercars of that era include the Porsche 959 and Jaguar XJ220.
It took the McLaren F1 to move the game on – to 384kmph, to be precise – then another decade for the Bugatti Veyron to bump the benchmark beyond 400kmph. Since then a rash of challengers, including a succession of Koenigseggs and the hugely impressive Hennessey Venom GT, inexorably pushed the envelope beyond 432kmph. Now the race is on for 480kmph, with Bugatti working on a faster Chiron, Hennessey poised to unleash its Venom F5 and Koenigsegg throwing down a marker with its remarkable Agera RS, which nailed a 447.2kmph average with a peak speed of 457.9kmph.
With 300 the new benchmark and so many series production cars now capable of 200, we could all be forgiven for thinking membership of the 320kmph Club is as exclusive as Amazon Prime, yet the flippancy is misplaced – truth is, relatively few of us can claim to have driven at more than 5.4 kilometers per minute. Thanks to my job I’ve spent more than half my life in the fastest road cars on sale, yet not only did it take me years to finally do 320kmph, it’s something I’ve repeated a scant few times since. Of those, repeatedly hitting 330kmph in a Noble M600 within the confines of Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground’s runway stands out, for it gave me a thumping adrenalin rush and boundless respect for the low-volume British-built supercar. Likewise the Hennessey Venom GT, the only car I’ve ever got in for the first time and immediately topped 320kmph.
“The Hennessey Venom GT, the only car I’ve ever got in for the first time and immediately topped 320kmph.”
A record-breaking effort with Skoda at Bonneville Speed Week back in 2011 is one of the best things I’ve ever done. No, a Skoda Octavia vRS wasn’t born for 320kmph, but eventually setting a new class record (recently beaten) of 365.45kmph on the sacred salt was a vivid reminder of just what a rarified realm 320kmph and beyond really is. If driving at 160kmph was a youthful rite of passage, driving at 320kmph remains the Right Stuff. At least, that’s what I thought, until I drove the Bugatti Chiron. The absurd ease with which it ran to its Stage 1 limiter (380kmph) graphically illustrated the staggering performance possessed by this new generation of hypercar. I’ve no doubt it would run to its Stage 2 (420kmph) limiter just as readily and then nudge beyond 450kmph if de-limited. Turn up the wick and it might even do 483kmph, but not before the tyres tore themselves to pieces with the strain of running so fast with the two-ton Bug weighing heavily on their overheating shoulders.
Who will be the first to top 480kmph with a road-legal hypercar? Given Koenigsegg’s record-breaking run late last year, the super-fast Agera RS has to be favourite. But John Hennessey’s Venom F5 won’t be far behind: the Texan tuner’s cars fly like rifle bullets. Of course 2018 also sees an attempt at an altogether greater goal, when Bloodhound SSC runs on Hakskeen Pan for the very first time. The plan is for Andy Green to make test runs to 800kmph – no big deal for a man who opposite-locked his way through the speed of sound, and barely a canter for a machine predicted to accelerate from 800 to its 1600kmph top speed in just 17sec – but an epic stride towards what will hopefully be a successful attempt on the World Land Speed Record in 2019.
Will our voracity for velocity ever be sated? Not likely and certainly not voluntarily, for the pursuit of speed is hardwired into humans and an impulse we’ve spent the last century or so enthusiastically exploring on four wheels. But for how much longer? In a world cowed by legislation and manipulated by technology giants, speed-crazed humans are being engineered out of the loop.
All of which means 2018 could be one of the last hurrahs for those of us hooked on the pointless, but enduringly glorious pleasure of punching a big hole in the horizon. If these truly are the end of days, a road car reaching 480kmph and a rocket car breaching 1600kmph seem a suitably spectacular way to sign-off.