Supercar History - The Birth of the Supercar
Sports cars started to appear in the late 40's with the introduction
of 'sporting' road cars from now famous marques such as Ferrari,
Jaguar, Lotus and Porsche. In those days, the ethos of the sports car
was a car designed not only for the road but for motorsport competition
Through the 50's and early 60's sports car performance progressed.
1954 saw the arrival of one of the all
time classics the Mercedes
300SL 'Gull Wing'. It's fuel injected 3 litre produced over
240bhp giving a claimed top speed of 165mph. Also, as far back as 1957, the
was capable of hitting 60mph in under 6 seconds, while the Z102 from
little known manufacturer Pegaso was rumoured to be good for 160mph!
the 60's dawned Aston Martin and Ferrari both offered 150mph plus
vehicles in the shape of the DB4GT Zagato and 400 Superamerica models
respectively, but it was Jaguar that stunned the world with the
introduction in 1961 of the legendary E-type.
Ferrari then created a limited number of what is now the world's most
the timeless 160mph 250 GTO. Lamborghini entered the fray in 1964 with the
joined by Iso with the Grifo and TVR with the original Griffith. But
it was to be Ford who would change the face of sports cars with what
many people believe to be the first supercar, the GT40.
wanted racing success and to that end tried to buy Ferrari in the
early 60's. Ferrari said no! Ford didn't take kindly to this and so
vowed to out-do Ferrari with their own racing car, so in 1965 the GT40
was born. To meet regulations Ford had to make a number of 'road
legal' versions of the GT40, hence its inclusion here as the first
supercar for the road. In the late 60's Ford went on to make seven
Mark III GT40's - 'softened' for road use (with a mere 310bhp!).
saw another candidate for the title world's first
the brutal AC
Cobra 427. American racer Caroll Shelby decided to shoe-horn a 427
cu in (hence the name) Ford V8 into a lightweight British sports car,
the AC Ace. The result was a car of astounding performance -
160mph, 0-60mph in 4.2 sec and 0-100mph in 10 (record acceleration
figures that would stand for over 20 years).
1966 was an eventful
year with the introduction of the 165mph Ferrari
275GTB, the 7 litre Corvette Sting Ray and the first 4-wheel drive
road car, the Jensen FF. However, overshadowing all these was, in my
opinion, the first true supercar for the road, the
Miura. The Miura was the first production car to feature a
mid-mounted engine and so its appearance was radically different to
any road car that had come before. Performance from the V12 was
equally radical, over 170mph was possible for those brave enough to
Just a few months after the launch of the Miura, Maserati
introduced the Ghibli.
More Gran Turismo that supercar, the Ghibli offered 160mph
performance but coupled with a luxurious environment (it even had air
con, rare at the time). This same year saw another Giugiaro styled
Italian supercar, the De
Tomaso Mangusta along with the Swiss made Monteverdi
saw the birth of a legend. Lamborghini had moved the goalposts with
the Miura so Ferrari hit back with their first entry into the supercar
league, the 365
GTB 'Daytona'. Although it still used the 'old-style' front engine
layout, with 175mph and 60mph in 5.5 sec the Daytona was a performance
match for its Modena rival.
Four years after the Mangusta, De Tomaso
launched what was to be their biggest selling car by far, the Pantera.
A purposeful Italian body housed the ubiquitous Ford V8. The Pantera
typified the 'wedge' style that was to become the trademark look of
the supercar throughout the 70's, bought to the fore by leading
stylists such as Bertone's Gandini and Ital Design's Giugiaro and
echoed in the Maserati
Bora of 1971. Porsche proved to be the exception to this rule with
their much sought after lightweight 911
2.7 RS of 1972.
In the early 70's the supercar was sent
reeling by the oil crisis. With petrol prices quadrupling, gas
guzzling performance cars were suddenly not an attractive proposition
- even more so when in a knee-jerk reaction the US established a
ridiculous 55mph speed limit! Thankfully there were still enough
people out there who couldn't do without the thrill of a powerful
engine, so the performance car was safe.
Ironically, in the face of the fuel
crisis, 1974 saw the introduction of two of the most powerful and
significant supercars to date, the beautiful Ferrari
365 BB and the 'King of Supercars' the astounding Lamborghini
Countach LP400. Following the new supercar trend, Ferrari decided
that the BB should be mid-engined (a first for the Ferrari flagship).
Performance was on a par with the outgoing Daytona, 175mph and 60mph
in 5.5sec, but handling was vastly improved. The
BB's perennial rival the Countach could be accurately described as the
most stunning shape to ever hit the road. Bertone's lines encompassed
a mighty V12 giving 170mph plus performance. The Countach would go on,
in all its incarnations, to be the definitive supercar for
another 15 years.
1975 was another important year in the supercar
world with the introduction of the original Porsche
911 Turbo. Although BMW gave us the first Turbo road car two years
earlier with the 2002, it was Porsche who would become known for
pioneering the technology.
The 12 year old design of the 911 was
augmented in the turbo by the use of aerodynamic spoilers, the first
road car to feature these now common styling features.
6 was undoubtedly one of the most bizarre entrants in the supercar
hall of fame.
Whether it can be classed as a production car is
debatable as only two were made, nevertheless this 8.2 litre
twin-turbo charged 6-wheeler may well have been the first road car to
be capable of 200mph (although this was never proven).
As the 70's
drew to a close we were greeted by two new supercars from established
names, both offering a different approach to high performance. The Aston
Martin V8 Vantage used the time proven big engine, big power
route. At 170mph it had a good claim for the title of world's fastest
production car. Meanwhile BMW's
M1 went the technology route. Designed to be the most efficient
supercar of it's day, it remains BMW's only mid-engined road car. As a
footnote, 1979 may have seen the world's first 200mph road car in the
form of the Koenig Ferrari Boxer. Not a production car in the
strictest sense but a significant milestone nevertheless.
1980's began with Lotus' entry into the premier league with the
Esprit. Although top speed was respectable at around 150mph, it
was acceleration and handling that defined it as a supercar. The early
80's also saw one of the most astonishing cars ever to come out of
Britain, the outrageous 192mph
Martin Bulldog. Although only one was ever made, for it's looks
and performance alone it deserves it's place in supercar history. The mid
80's also saw new competitors for the
ongoing battle for supremacy
between Ferrari and Lamborghini with the introduction of the 180mph Testarossa
and the 455bhp upgrade of the Lamborghini
The 80's, however, would be remembered for two
things - the financial boom that sent elite car values soaring and,
probably as a consequence of this, the birth of the hypercar! It all
started with the emergence of the Group B racing class. To be eligible
to compete, manufacturers had to produce at least 200 road going
version of their competition cars. While short lived it may have been,
Group B provided us with a selection of awesome road cars that moved
performance onto a new plane, the first of which was the sublime Ferrari
Click here to see
the rest of the supercar story, Part 2 - The Hypercar.