Our global love affair with the automobile dates back to the late 19th Century, when inventors from Germany, France and North America began updating steam-powered buggies into four-wheel, petrol-powered cars.
Naturally, all manner of motorsport contests sprung up soon thereafter. In July 1894, French magazine Le Petit Journal organized a “Competition for Horseless Carriages” from Paris to Rouen. Thirty drivers competed to cover the 79-mile distance. The winning time was six hours and 48 minutes, with an average speed a riveting 11.8 miles per hour.
Fast forward 40 years, and cars started gaining considerable speed. By the 1930s, organizers would host races exclusively on closed courses, to prevent roadside accidents. Automobile companies like Bugatti, Alfa Romeo, Delahaye and Mercedes-Benz began transforming their top-tier road cars into high-speed racers, with multiple-stage supercharging, massive horsepower and speeds over 100 miles per hour.
These days, premier racing events span Abu Dhabi’s Formula One on Yas Island, the legendary Grand Prix of Monaco and Le Mans’ 24 Heures du Mans. These races bring together scores of fans, award-winning drivers from across the globe and what are inarguably the world’s most technologically advanced vehicles.
And the industry continues to evolve. Now, top manufacturers from Sweden to Southern California build vehicles that are never meant to be driven by mere mortals — or on the roads at all. This new breed of supercars is constructed with the sole intention of shattering records. Visionary manufacturers like Bugatti and Koenigsegg create these superpowered instruments for their superlative horsepower, acceleration and, of course, speed.
The competition is fierce. For proof, look no further than the April 2013 automotive controversy in The Guinness Book of World Records. A challenger threatened to dethrone the vehicle Guinness had crowned the world’s fastest car for three years running, providing seemingly unimpeachable numbers. It was a veritable record scratch of statistical records, and one heard across the industry.
After two weeks of careful deliberation, Guinness deemed the challenge invalid due to a technicality. The reigning champion remained, and auto enthusiasts everywhere breathed a sigh of relief.
With the number one spot firmly in place, read on for our ranking of the world’s fastest cars. The list ranges from Danish design stars, to Swedish eco-wonders, to pavement-burning Italian racers. Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.