Some might be able to build cars that are capable of higher speeds than the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport’s 267.856 mph, but we will never know unless Volkswagen occasionally opens the doors to the only place on Earth where they can be pushed that far.
John Hennessey recently proved that his Venom GT supercar can go faster than 270 mph. What he couldn’t do was repeat the trick in the other direction for an average speed and the official Guinness record because the Kennedy Space Center only allowed one run on their holy tarmac.
You could try Bonneville, but running on salt is very different. Jet cars use special alloy wheels and even the much more traditional contenders redo their aero for the ultimate top speed. So while you can do 280 mph in a road-legal car at Bonneville, you won’t be able to repeat that on tarmac.
For that, you need something like Christian Von Koenigsegg’s latest creation, the One:1. He’s only making six (plus the prototype) of these with 1 megawatt of power (1,341 hp) and an equal amount of weight in kilograms thanks to almost every part being made of F1-grade carbon fiber.
I talked to Christian at the Geneva Motor Show who believes the One:1 could do as high as 280 mph, but they won’t be able to test that because the only suitable place is the Ehra-Lessien proving ground in Germany. We will see other impressive numbers instead as the car is designed to be the ultimate track machine anyway and can pull above 2 gs in the corners on street tires. Very special Michelins, but street tires nevertheless.
And that’s the thing. You can do well above 200 mph at the beautiful Nordò Ring in Italy just like the Jaguar XJ220 did back in the early nineties (with disconnected catalytic converters) or Top Gear with current supercars last year.
But if you want to go above that, it’s Ehra-Lessien or nothing.
Built in 1965 in a no-flight zone near the East German border to eliminate all prying eyes, it’s the world’s largest test facility and the only one with a high speed circuit that has a 5.4 mile straight. If you zoom in below, you can see Volkswagen taking advantage of that right when Google has snapped their shot.
The other option would be trying it on public roads, something that has been done before with great results and even greater casualties.
As a Hungarian, it makes me especially proud to know that in 1934, Rudolf Caracciola achieved managed do 196.721 mph in one mile on a 3.1 mile section of our Road 5 that was build dead straight in the thirties just for that purpose. Four years later, he reached 268 mph over a flying kilometer with his W125 Rekordwagen on the Bundesautobahn 5.
And that record will hold as there’s no way anybody could pull a stunt like that ever again. Humanity became more grown up than that, although let’s not forget that Shelby Supercars did their base Veyron-beating high-speed runs with the Ultimate Aero in Washington after their first attempts on a closed down 12-mile stretch of U.S. Route 93 in Nevada didn’t work out. But 256.18 mph is no 280, so we’re back to square one.
The last very fast car that had nothing to do with Volkswagen tested at Ehra-Lessien was the McLaren F1 in 1998. The than five years-old XP5 reached 243 mph with racer Andy Wallace behind the wheel. A BMW V12 screaming at 7,800 rpm.
At roughly the same time, Volkswagen purchased the rights from Bugatti’s liquidators and started to work on the world’s next speed king.
The Veyron project got a green light in 2001 and the first prototype was ready in 2003, powered by a W16 quad-turbo engine producing 1,001 horsepower. Two years later, Bugatti set a new record by blasting through Ehra-Lessien at 253.81 mph.
An additional 200 horsepower sent the Veyron Super Sport all the way to an average of 267.856 mph in 2010, but it hardly makes any difference since nobody can challenge Volkswagen in their home territory anymore.
The Cold War is over and a private playground is killing the game.
Photo credit: Bugatti and Volkswagen via Møllerarkivet