One of the appealing traits of sharing a like of performance cars is that while you may disagree with others over the subjective aspects of such machines, like styling, build philosophy, or preferred setup, they can always be quantified by their statistics. Like the playground game of Top Trumps, there's no way to argue your way past the fact that someone else's car, no matter how ugly or overpriced, will show yours a clean pair of tailpipes at the traffic lights. The automotive industry is well wise to this too, since progress is far easily to pin down if your offering has 'more' than its predecessor, and more importantly, its rivals. More power, more grip, more noise, more LEDs in its headlights.
If you want to stay on top of the game in the supercar business for more than about twenty five minutes, you have to set such an outrageous benchmark that no-one will attempt, even dare, to try and take you on for a good while. The best recent example of this is the iconic McLaren F1. When Gordon Murray's carbon fibre and gold leaf masterpiece exploded onto the scene in the ealy '90's, it annihilated the previous fastest production car in the world, the short lived Jaguar XJ220. A naturally aspirated engine chucking out 621 bhp is a not insubstantial motor now. Slotting one into a 900 kg body with cutting aerodynamics and meticulous weight distribution was verging on downright irresponisble back then, but the resulting automobile would hit 231mph in road going trim, and 240+ without the rev limiter. With longer gearing it would have gone still faster, but it's always nice to quit while you're ahead. Setting such an outrageous level for competitors to reach meant that the handbuilt F1 remained the world's fastest street legal production car until 2004, an unprecedented 12 year period. During the '80's, the record changed every other year, with 288 GTO vs 959, vs F40. But England's Woking outfit couldn't be surpassed until the Koenigsegg CCR finally took the crown by reaching 240.7mph. That's how long it took it reset McLaren's benchmark. It's still the fastest ever natually aspirated road car, despite the attack of Carrera GT, Enzo, and Murcielago. Looking at the curent trend towards forced induction, it's not a record to be relinquished soon.
This set the ball rolling again however, proving the incumbent could be toppled. And then VW decided that they would pick up the rolling ball and knock it into the middle of next month, by creating a new benchmark. To propel a modern car with modern safety and comfort features noticeably faster than the challengers, they had to go big, so they went for 1000bhp, and got 987, which is a noble effort. They bunged it in the Veyron, it strolled up to 253mph, and the German designed, French made, Italian origined result was the fastest car in the world. And after all that investment, research and toil, their record lasted 2 years.
Back to the future: SSC's Diablo tribute act...
The problem was that they proved it could be done. That the infamous One Thousand Horspower could be created, tamed, put in a car, and used. So SSC from the USA came along with their Ultimate Aero TwinTurbo, consising of a highly tuned Chevy V8 in a toy Lambo style body, and shot their 1187bhp missile through the desert at 256.1mph. A whole 3 mph faster than the European Allies.
And as Bugatti scuttled away to tinker with the Veyron, other 1000bhp cars came out the woodwork. The Hennessey Venom GT, a stetched
Lotus Exige with another muscle car engine. The 9ff GT9R, a stretched Porsche 997 GT3 with 1200bhp. The Arash GT, with states of tune up to 1200 bhp available. And so it goes on. Once a company has proved such power is acheivable, it becomes more than just possible, it becomes neccessary. Because if your car has a less obscene power output than his, it's not as good. Period.
...and their as yet nameless Bugatti basher
Yet is this more fun?
Or not. This horsepower struggle will now keep rolling on until someone sticks a Krakatoan amount of poke in the back of their brainchild and fits a speedo that goes up to a number beginning in 3. It's all so tiresome since it's so utterly unusable, unappreciable, on anything other than a drag strip. So while Bugatti sits pretty back at the top of the automotive tree with the 1183 bhp Veyron Supersport, and SSC wait to strike back with their 1350bhp road rocket, I reckon the rest of the car world is starting to tire of it all. Apart from the environmental can of worms, there just has to be a better use of resources than the top speed club. Jerod Shelby of SSC predictably argues that top speed is still relevant as "it's the most difficult performance specification to meet", and that he likes at as "we used it to gain notoriety." I'm more with the Lamborghini school of thought though, brilliantly showcased in their recent Sesto Elemento concept. Light weight, medium modern power output, but focused on driver involvement, intense sensation rather than simply straight-line piloting, and rapid acceleration, with an estimated 0-60 time of 2.4 seconds. Plus, without the need for 250mph components, the price starts to drop below the half a million needed for even a second hand Veyrons and Aeros, uet alone the seven-figure stickers on fresh ones. This is the way for the performance car to go. Just look at the praise recentley lavished on basic specials like the Ariel Atom 500, GT3 RS, or Caterham R500. Acceleration is the new benchmark. Acceleration is about to take off.