Workshop Manuel explains – the difference between supercars and hypercars

The term supercar gets thrown around a lot today (yes, I'm talking about you and your Golf, MOOG), but what makes a supercar super over a regular car? And what makes a hypercar better than a supercar? And why hasn't anyone brought me that sandwich I asked for 10 minutes ago? Today, I'll try to answer all those questions for you.

The first car to be tagged a "supercar" was Lamborghini's Miura, which debuted in the mid-1960s. With its transverse-mounted V12, low-slung styling and howling performance, it embodied a car with far higher performance, engineering, and more performance-based intent than regular cars of the day.  

With a booming economy driving personal wealth, "Supercars" really took off through the 1980s. Basically, rich people wanted go-fast cars and were happy to pay for them as improving electronics, aerodynamics, composite technologies, and engineering nous saw the fastest limited-production cars all chase the magical 200mph (321km/h) barrier. 

Cars like Ferrari's twin-turbo V8 288 GTO and later F40, Lamborghini's Countach and Porsche's 930 Turbo and later 959 models had speed and price tags few could touch, but were all regarded as being incredibly difficult to drive. Many wealthy people who tried to drive them fast died in terrible crashes, or sold them after they broke down while being paraded around cafes in first gear - these cars are thoroughbreds that needed to be exercised.

By the late 1980s there were dozens of limited-edition, mega-powered land rockets being offered. In the mid-1990s Jaguar's twin-turbo V6-powered XJ220 pushed past 200mph (217mph, or 349km/h) only to be beaten by the naturally aspirated V12 McLaren F1 going even faster in 1998.

The "Big Mac" set an utterly insane speed record of 240mph (386km/h), just 3 years after winning the Le Mans 24-Hour race outright. It was these performances, as well as its ultra-limited availability and most expensive RRP for a production car in the world at the time, and its reputation for being incredibly difficult to drive fast, which led to it being referred to as a "hypercar" - something even more crazy than a garden variety "supercar"!

Following an economic collapse in the early 1990s most car manufacturers shelved their supercars - mega-expensive, limited-edition cars weren't selling and thanks to how fast they'd become these speed machines cost an absolute bomb to develop. It wasn't until the early 2000s when we saw a raft of new go-fast machinery.

Cars like Porsche's V10 Carrera GT, Ferrari's V12 Enzo, the supercharged V8 Ford GT and the Mercedes-McLaren SLR were the fastest new model exotics on sale, but they still couldn't catch a McLaren F1. And then Volkswagen announced the return of famed French marque Bugatti, with an 8-litre quad-turbo model called the Veyron which was claimed to crack 400km/h.

While the supercar war of the '80s had been about who could break 200mph, the first hypercar war was all about how far past the 400km/h (250mph) barrier you could go. Upstart new companies like Koenigsegg and Pagani were churning out handfuls of maniacally fast, super-limited-edition road rockets that cost in the millions per-example, and thus the hypercar market was born. 

By 2013 electrification had arrived on the scene as the top-of-the-tree models from McLaren (P1), Porsche (918 Spyder) and Ferrari (LaFerrari) all showcased hybrid powertrains to push the performance barriers on.

As these hypercars continued to drive the top end of the market, their lesser brethren were also getting faster and so the regular 911 models, Nissan R35 GT-R and even some models of the Chevy Corvette and Dodge Viper can now legitimately claim to be supercars.  

As Bugatti's Chiron has now broken the 300mph (482km/h) barrier, and cars like Koenigsegg's 1600hp Jesko and SSC Tuatara strive to beat its record, we might have to come up with a new term for these hyper-expensive, ultra-limited machines...

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