|Supercars are not just derided by killjoy nannies. They are held in contempt by motor racing types because they are not much cop on circuits|
And supercars are not just derided by killjoy nannies. They are held in contempt by motor racing types because they are not much cop on circuits. They are designed as road cars, set up for fast road use and are invariably too big and heavy for tracks. With the recent launch of the awesome Veyron Super Sport, Bugatti refused – rightly – to let motoring journalists loose on a circuit for this reason. And the SS was so much more impressive on the road.
The usual question regarding supercars is: ‘Where on earth can you drive them at high speed?’ As the late, great, Rt Hon Alan Clark MP sharply responded: ‘You let me worry about that!’
And there’s the rub: supercars are not café racers but seriously rapid ground coverers. Released from the confines of posing in the city, their characters morph. Since the inception of the first supercar in 1966 with the shock launch of the otherworldly Lamborghini Miura P400, the best engineers have been striving for ultimate performance. From the Miura to the Ferrari Boxer, Lamborghini Countach, Porsche 911 Turbo, Jaguar XJ220, McLaren F1 and Bugatti Veyron, supercars have aimed for v-max; admittedly some with more success than others.
In this month’s cover feature, our man Keith Adams made an epic 1100-mile road trip in a Lamborghini Countach 5000QV from Oxford, England, to Sant’Agata, Italy, via arm-aching Alpine passes. The Countach’s owner, Harry Metcalfe of evo magazine, then took the driver’s seat and motored to Monaco. He did the 900-mile blast back from Monte Carlo in one stint, taking in the superb Route Napoleon. Now both Keith and Harry are on a high after exploiting some of Europe’s best roads in a 455bhp, 180mph road rocket.
Incredibly, Keith and Harry were most impressed with the Lambo’s comfort and GT ability. Far from being a snorting monster, it behaved impeccably. But I am not particularly surprised, having had the opportunity to drive some supposedly ‘hairy’ supercars in the past. I’d thought the Miura was a bit of a beast, then piloted a beautiful example from Gstaad to Monte Carlo a few years back. Through the mountains the Miura came alive. The rear/mid-mounted engine gave it great traction through switchbacks and the sound of its magnificent V12 engine through the tunnels and along the cols is something I will always remember.
The maligned Jaguar XJ220 is too wide, but refined and incredibly fast. Sure, its turbocharged Metro 6R4-derived V6 sounds like a bucket of nails at idle but, once on the move, the 220 comes over all Jaguar: quiet and effortless to 200mph. The 627bhp McLaren F1 can be driven with similar ease. You pull away simply by lifting your foot off the clutch and letting the torque do the job without worrying the accelerator pedal one jot. It is civilised and discreet at the legal limit but, when you want to play, its sonorous V12 engine sings as the Mac warps into supercar mode.
As tested elsewhere in this issue, the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport is the best supercar yet. Impossibly fast with a top speed of 268mph (it’s electronically limited to 257!), the Veyron flatters the driver at serious speeds yet is as easy to drive as a Golf TDI. In comparison, classic supercars can be hard work in the wrong conditions. But get them out onto a decent road and they really gel. A supercar deserves to be unleashed on long, fast runs. Hauling to the South of France along endless motorways in a diesel is dull – better by easyJet. In a supercar it is still an adventure and, even today, can be conducted at remarkable average speeds.
The trick to enjoying a classic supercar on a lengthy trip (unless you are as committed as the Octane and evo scribes) is to drive as you would any other classic car: plan to go off-piste but with enough motorway links to allow you to cover ground fast, then find a good restaurant and hotel en route. Your supercar journey will be as pleasurable as your superstar destination.
Robert has grown up with classic cars, having owned a Lancia Aurelia B20GT, Alfa Romeo Giulietta and a Porsche 356C. He currently uses his 1955 Jaguar XK140 as his daily driver, and is a founding editor of this magazine.