Gas prices are up. The economy is down. For some, neither matters--all they want is to be able to drive faster than anyone else on the road, whatever the cost.
And the cars that can deliver that promise are built solely for speed. They're not the kinds of cars that are particularly good for anything else, such as dropping off the kids at school (unless they're running exceptionally late that day) or picking up a carton of milk on the way home from work. These cars reach obscene speeds in mere seconds, the same amount of time that normal cars need just to warm up. Just ask Tom duPont, publisher of duPont Registry, a gallery of fine automobiles.
"A Bugatti test driver took a $100 bill and plastered it on the dashboard," recalls duPont, who was invited to strap into the passenger seat for a demonstration drive. "He told me I could have it if I could grab it once we took off."
The French-made Bugatti Veyron races from 0 to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds and effortlessly cruises to a top speed of 253 mph. Most probably can't imagine what that feels like, but duPont learned firsthand.
"The car accelerates so fast that you can't touch (the $100 bill)," he said. "You can't move your hands."
Even if duPont had managed to defy the laws of physics and become $100 richer, that wouldn't have afforded him a Bugatti Veyron or any of the other nine vehicles that made our list of the fastest cars in the world. DuPont cautions that superfast cars "aren't for the faint of heart financially or physically." The Veyron is the most expensive ultra-fast car on our list, with a price tag starting at $1.5 million.
But the Veyron is not the fastest car on the road, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. In March 2007 it tested the American-made SSC (Shelby Super Cars) Ultimate Aero and crowned it the Fastest Production Car in the world. The $654,400 twin-turbocharged car boasts a top speed of 257 mph and goes from 0 to 60 in 2.78 seconds. Snagging this title marked a first for a US auto manufacturer since the Ford GT40 claimed the Guinness record in 1967 with a top speed of 167 mph.
Rounding out the top five fastest cars are the $695,000 Swedish-made Koenigsegg CCX, top speed 250 mph; $595,450 American-made Saleen S7 Twin Turbo, top speed 248 mph; and the $700,000 British-made Bristol Fighter T, top speed 225 mph.
There are only a handful of these vehicles available in the world. Bugatti has said it will build a total of only 300 Veyrons since the model was introduced in 2005; Bristol custom-builds 20 Fighters each year. Buyers who want these cars are placing their orders two years in advance, says Bassam Al-Farraj, founder and publisher of Rich Guy magazine. People who just can't wait that long will pay a premium, he says.
He adds, "I've seen people pay a million for the Ferrari Enzo," which is no longer in production but has a base manufacturer's suggested retail price of $670,000.
All of the cars on our list are street legal. So if you really do want to use one of them to cruise around town (or test the limits of how late in the morning you can leave for work), that's up to you. When researching which cars truly go fastest--with the automakers themselves as well as data available at www.thesupercars.org--we excluded cars that are built and equipped for the sole purpose of racing on a track. We also excluded vehicles that are no longer in production.
If the wait is a bit too much to bear for one of the aforementioned cars and you are on a slightly tighter budget, you could check the second half of our fastest-cars list--some no less expensive, or more available. But you might get lucky. They're the $741,000 Italian-made Pagani Zonda F, top speed 215 mph; $325,560 Netherlands-made Spyker C8 Double 12 S, top speed 215 mph; the $430,000 Italian-made Lamborghini Murcielago LP640, top speed 213 mph; $497,750 UK-made McLaren Mercedes SLR, top speed 206 mph; and the US-made Silva GT3, which clocks in at 205 mph and sells for $75,000.
Despite the high prices and lack of local roads on which one can actually drive these cars at their maximum speeds, demand for these luxury treats is heating up, says DuPont. Wealthy buyers in new markets like China are searching for expensive rewards for their newfound riches.
"Only the top 2 per cent of the economic pyramid of the world are buying these cars," says duPont. "It is a reward for achieving personal success in life. There is new wealth emerging in developing countries, and they want the same luxury rewards."
And if any of those people happen to take you for a test drive, they may, with luck, put a $100 bill on the dashboard. Good luck grabbing it, but you're probably best off just enjoying the ride.