Editorial: Why Top Speed No Longer Matters

 

Josh is no longer impressed with top speed like he was when he was growing up. But it’s still fun trying to go faster.

Supercars were born to go fast in a straight line. Some, however, not so much in a turn. But for years, at least since the ’60s, we’ve been hailing a car’s top speed. How fast it could go from a dead stop. It’s been fascinating to kids all over the world, along with 0-60 times, too. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Corvette, Porsche, aftermarket tuning companies, and the like, all took pride in how fast their car could go. Top speed was the king of driving. People created tales of how they survived at triple digit speeds; they talked about it as if they were spared so they could tell the story.

The 1980s and ’90s seemed to be the real decades for top speed. Lamborghinis could do well over 200 mph, and most sports cars were aiming at the beloved 150-170 mph markers.

Hell, in 1987 Ruf had the CTR Yellow Bird, based on the Porsche 911, that could do 211 mph! Callaway had the Corvette Sledgehammer that could top 254 mph in 1988 (they even made a sick convertible version of it, too). This was not a time to be messed with. Even street cars, like the Lamborghini Diablo, could hit 207 mph or more in the ’90s. Chevrolet’s Corvette and Porsche’s 911 could easily hit 160 or more mph in any shape and form. It was a time when speed was becoming the true giant. While 0-60 and 0-100 mph where still cool, and getting faster, cars like the McLaren F1 could do it all. The McLaren could hit 60 in 3.2 seconds and go on to top out at over 240 mph. That level of street car top speed wouldn’t be touched again until Bugatti brought out the mighty Veyron in 2006, which could hit a real top speed of 253 mph, and then now with the Super Sport version that can do 268 mph.

As a child of the ’90s, I’ll never forget being obsessed with the highest top speed I could find. My brother always read the stats to me, and there were a couple of cars he used to list off quite often, one of them being from aftermarket Corvette manufacturers named Callaway and Lingenfelter. One was the Sledgehammer, as shown above.

All the while in the 1990s, companies like Lingenfelter and Callaway were still making Corvettes do over 200 mph. In 2003 Lingenfelter had a Corvette that could do more than 220 mph. Since the Bugatti Veyron came along, SSC (Shelby Super Cars, no relation to Carroll Shelby) brought out the Ultimate Aero that could go 256 mph. Interestingly enough, it’s said that the car’s aerodynamic qualities, along with its motor, could help it to achieve a top speed of 273 mph, thanks to wind tunnel tests. However, the transmissions could not handle anything over 260 mph where it would hit maximum redline.

Even though Bugatti and SSC will continue to fight for top speed bragging rights, and undoubtedly others will throw their hats into the ring, it really doesn’t matter anymore. The 200 mph top speed is becoming increasingly more pointless. Now it’s seen as amazing that the Corvette ZR1 can hit 207 mph. Every car that comes out of Germany is governed to 155 mph (although its weird that I know people who’ve gone in excess of that with their stock BMW and Mercedes-Benz cars). Lamborghini’s brand new Aventador has a rated top speed of 217 mph, only 10 mp faster than a 1990-’98 Diablo. Top speed has become kind of boring. It’s a war that no one really won and not many car companies really care to spend money on.

But all of this matters not. Koenigsegg, Lamborghini, Pagani, Ferrari, Corvette, Porsche, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and so many more, have become more meaningful than a straight line run. All of those car companies I just mentioned make amazing sports cars that can speed around 13 miles of the Nürburgring in well under 8 minutes. A feat previously seen by nothing but the greatest of sports cars. Now Cadillac has an every day saloon car with 556 hp that can race around The ‘Ring in 7 minutes and 59 seconds. That’s super car territory.

I’m not saying that top speed still isn’t cool, because it certainly is. I still go straight for a car’s 0-60 and top speed numbers whenever I look over their statistics. However, when I look at a car, I realize now, as it’s becoming more apparent to everyone, that top speed isn’t what it used to be. It used to mean superiority of your product. Now, though, it just means you have more money to make a better engine and have better aerodynamics. In no way am I knocking speed freaks, either. I’ve had my fair share of stupidities behind the wheel of a car, as I’ve done speeds in the 150 area, and it’s amazing. Speed is the greatest drug you could ever give me. But now, though, I’d rather make that speed last into a corner. Cars these days are becoming so increasingly quick that measuring a vehicle’s 0-60 is getting almost as useless as testing its top speed. Now we’re testing more for 0-100 mph and how fast it’ll hit 150.

Let’s take all of this energy we’ve used to write about top speed and 0-60s and talk about a supercar’s ability to lap a race track at ludicrous pace.

To continue the conversation about whether top speed is useless or not, or to just argue with me and tell me what a nit-wit I am, fall on over to the new RawAutos forums.

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I'm a car, music, and Howard Stern aficionado. I also love planes, trains, anything to do with science and engineering, as well as politics. I'm working on my screenplays, TV shows, and a book or two. Stay tuned to when I'm really famous and even more awesome.

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