Have we reached supercar saturation point? Or should we enjoy the glut whilst we can? It's Craig v Chris, soapboxes at the ready...
The argument against - by Craig Toone
In our modern world, speed matters. Every new computer must be faster and contain more memory. The latest phone must have a sharper camera, 5G internet connection and more apps. A new TV must have a bigger screen and better definition. And the same is true for any vehicle omitting the sweetest odour known to man – new car smell.
The consumer has been conditioned because the majority see a car as a piece of technology, a means to an end. They demand the latest and greatest and considering a car is likely the second most expensive purchase a fellow could have after four brick walls and a roof, it must be up to snuff. The thing is – Carl Benz applied for a patent on his ‘vehicle powered by a gas engine’ in 1886. The PC was domesticated in 1974 and the mobile phone became the yuppie yardstick in the 1980's. The motor car has had a huge head start, and I think it’s already hit its apex unlike the other essential devices we take for granted in the developed world. Caught in the web, each new generation of car must be faster, more powerful, cleaner and safer. The latter two points cannot be argued – you want your family to be secure and you want them to breathe clean air. But the first two, are they really necessary?
This egotistical desire for superior performance and quicker lap times has led to hot hatchbacks and EV’s that can make mincemeat out of yesterday's performance hero’s. The pressure to stay on top ripples all the way up the food chain and no-body is feeling the heat more than Supercar manufacturers - unfortunately in 2021 performance has evolved to the point of irrelevance, and we are now in danger of supercar saturation.
Why is this so? Well, despite all the doom & gloom in the news about the world’s economy due to the Corona-virus pandemic, the rich continue to get richer. In 2018 alone Forbes added 221 new billionaires to its rich list, in 2019 they chalked up another 195 and despite the pandemic their wealth swelled by an estimated $1.9 trillion last year.
And any ambitious CEO worth his salt wants a slice of the money pie. Consequently, it doesn’t seem like seven days pass before a new ultra-expensive, invite-only addition to the unobtanium club debuts. Manufacturers are offering what is essentially one car underneath, just with a different skin, all under the premise of bespoke exclusivity. You might argue that these multi-million pound machines are a necessary evil to the likes of McLaren and Aston Martin - they add much needed cash flow to the bottom line. Yet car companies these days aren’t owned by maverick CEOs who march to their own beat and who’s cars reflect their personality. They are multinational behemoths with shareholders holding them accountable. Margins, not motorsport are the lifeblood of today’s supercar manufacturer.
This means their constant stream of hypercars feels cynical, a method of relieving billionaires of their millions. Hypercars are now conceived in a marketing meeting and signed off by the accounting department - only then are the engineers tasked with delivering. Gone are the days of the skunkworks projects, machines that exist because a passionate group of employees gave up their Saturdays just for the hell of it. Because of this, the greatest supercars of all time all lost money. It wasn’t about improving finances; they wanted to be the best.
When the Ferrari F40 cracked 200mph it felt like a monumental achievement. Now Koenigsegg and Hennessey are knocking on the door of 300mph. It feels inevitable rather than a new line in the sand, and surely a car with the aerodynamics and tyres to be stable at that speed will be inherently compromised everywhere else? Bugatti has already done 305mph in a specially modified Chiron. The Ehra Lessien test track had to be cleaned with special matts before it was declared safe enough, whilst Michelin insisted on X-raying the specially developed tyres to satisfy their insurers.
Boundaries need to be pushed, but when you get ten new cars that can-do X or Y it desensitises the achievement. One is ground-breaking, special. Five at the same time brings on an onset of fatigue. Ideas are running so low that some manufacturers have resorted to offering customers an opportunity to buy even more extreme versions of the extreme car, one so nutty it can’t even be legally driven on the road. The party piece of the Lotus Evija is its acceleration – 0-186mph in under nine seconds is undoubtedly impressive, but sheer speed alone doesn’t make a car better. I cannot imagine using 2,000bhp on British roads - by the time you’d find enough space you’ll probably be out of range. It sounds as frustrating as it will be engaging, and that defeats the point. Give me the set of keys to a Carrera GT any day of the week, because with a ‘mere’ 612bhp I could actually contemplate using full throttle where conditions permitted.
Perhaps it’s me taking my first bitter steps into middle aged mean-spiritedness. But it comes down to this - a Diablo causes a primal injection of fight or flight adrenaline into my bloodstream just thinking about it. Another 1,500bhp hypercar? That just causes my eyes to roll.
The defence - by Chris Tsoi
“If you are not moving forward, you are moving backward” is the famous line by Mikhail Gorbachev. I’m sure motor car engineering was the last thing on his mind at the time – something about the trivial matter of preventing a nuclear holocaust – but his words rang true for a greater meaning, summing up the pioneering human spirit to push boundaries. It's part of our nature and a part of what separates us from the apes. In many arenas however, moving backwards is exactly what we seem to be doing. Passenger aviation has called time on the Concorde and our greatest accomplishment – landing a man on the moon – happened in 1969.
But it has not occurred in the world of cars. Bloodhound SSC is on the verge of breaking the land speed record, potentially passing 1,000mph in the process. Despite all the environmental bashing of the combustion engine, the supercar has never been more popular and EV’s will only hurl us down the road faster than ever before. Clever engineers will devise hardware and software that’ll mask the inevitable weight penalty and emotional deficit. Charging times will fall, the future is inevitable.
Competition improves the breed. All these new start-up EV hypercars manufacturers emerging from all four corners of the globe are evoking the traditional spirit of a Enzo Ferrari, Ettoire Bugatti or WO Bentley. The majority will fail before even making it to the prototype stage, but those that make it have the power to change the landscape.
Imagine a world without Pagani. A former employee of Lamborghini, founder Horacio took his P45 and showed Sant’agata how it should be done. The Zonda and Huayra brought proper craftsmanship and obsessive attention to detail back to the forefront. Swedish entrepreneur Christian Koenigsegg pushed the Veyron so hard Bugatti introduced the Grand Sport just to remain the Top Trump. The Noble M600 is the spiritual successor to the F40 and every bit as mad, all for the price of a well spec’d 911 Carrera. Shouldn’t that be celebrated? The world is brighter for these cars, they push supercar royalty harder. The astonishing story of Rimac buying Bugatti proves similar waves can still be made today.
Progress is essential, the market demands it. The SF90 Stradale will show a La Ferrari a clean pair of heels for a third of the outlay. A McLaren 720S can get close enough to a P1 to be its shadow. The cars of today always get overtaken by those of tomorrow. Supercars need to maintain their edge, which means they need to take advantage of or develop new technology themselves, which eventually filters down. But the supercar of each generation drives completely differently – an F40, F1 and Veyron all have their distinct personalities making them worthy. It’s the character, not the numbers that makes them memorable.
Supercars also play an important role far into the future. Car enthusiasm is declining, passing the driving test is no longer a rite of passage for young people as sky high insurance costs keep them off the road. Supercars provide the hook to impressionable children – I’d put good money on the first toy car you pushed around being a Ferrari or Lamborghini of some sort. Nothing will grow if the seed isn’t planted. If the mission statement of this magazine is to try and whet the appetite for car enthusiasm, why should we argue against anything that lights a new fire?
We are also set to see them go racing too, unlike in the past. The new Hypercar class is set to become the most exciting endurance series on the planet. As impressive as the LMP1 prototype cars have been at Le Mans, they bear no resemblance to road cars and budgets have escalated to unpalatable levels – estimated at £180 million a season. Manufactures have been flocking to the on-trend Formula E, and the hyper car class is aiming to be the antidote – bringing back screaming V12’s to Circuit de la Sarthe. Le Mans is going to get its mojo back.
The road tests are set to be classics. It’s going to be the only opportunity for traditional, over the top piston engine cars to face progressive hybrids and the clean-cut electric future. Two of the greatest ever Formula One designers are set to face off, using the dark art of aerodynamics and stratospheric naturally aspirated V12’s – I’m relishing the head to head between the Gordon Murray T.50 and Aston Martin Valkyrie, designed by Adrian Newey.
Does it matter that most will hardly rotate their vast tyres? It is a shame, but if it’s already happening with a 911 GT3 then it’s a fact of life we will have to accept. The charge more for less game isn’t just reserved for the supercar – look at the Mercedes AMG GTR, then the GTR Pro, now it’s the GTR Black Series. As long as there is demand, they will keep coming. All 63 of the Aventador based Lamborghini Sians’ are accounted for, with similar projects in the pipeline. Why should the manufacturers listen to the rant of someone who will never be able to afford their product when there is a cheque waiting with several zeros on it?
The Elva and Speedtail may share their basic architecture with a lesser 570S, and use a development of the same V8, but it allows a healthy profit margin which cycles back into the company. Put it this way - would you rather McLaren make the Elva or be forced to go down the dreaded SUV route?
I guarantee one day we'll look back on this era with affection in the same way we do the 959 v F40, or P1 v La Ferrari & 918. The government has just moved forwards the ban on producing internal combustion engine cars from 2040 to 2035, and the EU is pressing ahead with mandatory GPS speed limiters on all cars produced from 2022. In fifteen years’ time, it won't be the lack of ferocious supercars you’ll be mourning, it’ll be performance driving as we know it, full stop. Enjoy it while you can, you’ll miss it when it’s gone.