The supercar is one of the most precious and desired objects in the automotive world, and indeed, the world in general. Their amazing speeds, incredible acceleration, and striking designs make them the Holy Grail of motoring. As the times have changed, so has the supercar, reflecting the attitude and perspective of the era in which it was made.
A journey of how the supercar has changed over the years is also a journey of how the world has changed over the years. So, let us take a look at how the supercar has reflected the world in which we live.
Supercars of the ’60s
The 1960s were a time of change and upheaval: America put a man on the moon; the Beatles took over the world; there were cultural movements occurring nearly everywhere you looked. In the automotive world, muscle cars were the name of the game in America. In Europe, however, sleeker,low-slung vehicles dominated the automotive landscape.
The 1960s were the time of legendary icons, like Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol, Steve McQueen, and James Bond. It was also the time of legendary vehicles, like the Ferrari 250 GTO, the Lamborghini Miura, and the Porsche 911. In terms of performance, few of the vehicles from this era would be considered super by today’s standards. However, their unique style and charisma has endured even as the times and the fashions change.
Supercars of the '70s
The oil crisis of the 1970s had a direct impact on vehicular development and sales across the world. Gas guzzling road hogs were out: smaller, more fuel efficient Japanese and European cars were in. This meant that the ‘70s saw a huge increase in the import of foreign vehicles to the US. American automakers tried to counteract this wave of imports with their own small cars. However, those vehicles all suffered from a rushed development; they were mostly terrible and are deservedly forgotten.
Supercar development was also affected by the fuel crisis as there were fewer supercars produced during this period. Despite all of this, the '70s were an important time for the supercar as the designs became more wild and exotic. The perfect example is the Lamborghini Countach; it was impractical in practically every way but, nonetheless, was one of the most desirable vehicles of the era.
Wedge shaped design and folding headlights were emblematic of the time. The Countach was the most famous vehicle with that design, but it was sported by nearly every supercar of the '70s. The BMW M1, the Ferrari 365 GT Berlinetta Boxer, and the Lotus Esprit are all popular supercars that feature that prominent design. That design was not the only legacy of the '70s, the fuel crisis forced automotive innovations like turbocharging, the use of lightweight materials, direct fuel injection, catalytic converters, and more. They say that necessity is the mother invention, and the oil crisis of the '70s proved that to be true.
Supercars of the '80s
The 1980s were an economic boomtime, it was the decade of excess and naturally, the automotive world reflected that. Supercars were more popular than ever, more were being produced and purchased and they became the ultimate status symbol for the moneyed classes.
It wasn’t just money that was fuelling the supercar boom, pop culture played a big part as well. The most famous example is the time-travelling DeLorean from “Back to the Future”; the Ferrari 308 driven by Magnum P.I. and his mustache, as well as the parade of '80s excess that was “Miami Vice,” also played a role.
The Ferrari Testarossa prominently featured in the latter show became the symbolic supercar of the '80s; everybody wanted one and everybody wanted to be seen in one. Ferrari also produced the F40; regarded by many as the ultimate Ferrari because of its lightweight body, 202 MPH top speed, and incredible handling. It is still highly desired to this day. The '80s were good for Ferrari, as the gorgeous 288 GTO was also popular during this time.
Not to be outdone, Porsche produced the 959, a technological masterpiece. It is one of the most influential cars of all time because of its pioneering use of computerized driving assistance. A 959 in good condition can fetch over four times the price of the original today. There are many, many things people would like to forget about the '80s, but the supercars are not one of them.
Supercars of the '90s
If the '80’s were about excess, the '90s were all about power; if a car didn’t top 200 MPH then it was barely worth mentioning. Technological breakthroughs in engine management and traction control drove supercars to new heights. That was necessary, because the '90s introduced tougher emissions regulations. That meant manufacturers needed to come up with creative solutions to play by the rules while delivering mind-blowing performance.
Many gearheads consider this decade to be the last hurrah of the true supercar. Supercars produced in the '90s were mostly about raw power; they had none of the amenities expected in regular cars and they were unapologetically impractical. Most of them were only suitable for the track, in fact many of them were race cars that were adapted to be (barely) street legal.
Porsche, Mercedes, and even Nissan all produced a limited number of road versions of their race cars. The Porsche 911 GT1 Straßenversion, the Mercedes CLK GTR, and Nissan R390 GT1 all looked and performed like low flying spaceships. Everyone wanted to jump on the MPH bandwagon. Jaguar took a rare foray into the supercar world with the XJ220, a car capable of going 213 MPH.
Of course, the big guns of the supercar world did not take the '90s off from work. The Lamborghini Diablo symbolized the '90s supercar and is one of their most popular models. The Ferrari F50 was the successor to the F40, but like many sequels, it was considered to be a disappointment. However, the king of the '90s supercar was undoubtedly the Mclaren F1. At the time it was the fastest street car ever made, capable of an eyeball watering 231 MPH. To this day it is considered to be one of the all time best supercars.
Supercars of the 2000s
Supercar enthusiasts were spoiled for choice at the turn of the century as more and more supercars entered the market. These vehicles were all about a combination of high technology and sheer brute force. There is no point in belaboring the obvious, the undisputed lord and master of the decade is the illustrious Bugatti Veyron. It was capable of a face peeling 253 MPH, but the street legal version was limited to a vaguely sane 237 MPH. For safety.
The 2000s were all about top speed and horsepower oneupmanship, and while the Veyron one-upped everyone, the other supercar makers made a good showing. The legends were in full force: Ferrari regained their former glory with the sporty 430 and the amazing Enzo, at the time, the most powerful Ferrari ever built. Lamborghini debuted the best selling Gallardo and the exciting, yet civilized, Murcielago. Porsche introduced the Carrera GT, a supercar that eschewed many driver’s assists, like traction control and an automatic gearbox, to deliver a more old-school driving experience.
There were also several upstarts challenging the established kingpins for supercar supremacy. It seems strange to call Mercedes-Benz an upstart, but it is when it comes to supercars. The company teamed up with McLaren to produce the Mercedes McLaren SLR, a supercar that combined the power and luxury of Mercedes with the detail oriented engineering acumen of McLaren. Ford also had a surprising, but welcome, entrant in the supercar sweepstakes with the racecar derived Ford GT, and Maserati re-emerged with the impressive MC12.
The difficult to pronounce Koenigsegg descended onto the supercar scene with the looks, speed, and handling that demanded (and received) respect from the motoring cognoscenti. The same could be said for the head turning Pagani Zonda. The 2000s reached peak supercar with one-off entrants like the Gumpert Apollo, Saleen S7, and Ascari KZ-1. The 2000s were definitely the years of supercar saturation and there will probably never be another one like it, for better or for worse.
Supercars of the 2010s
Finally, we get to the present, and the focus this time is on fuel efficiency and lower emissions. As a result, this decade witnessed the emergence of the hybrid supercar, two words few ever expected to go together. Amazingly, they do go together, as proven by three of the most important supercars of the decade: the McLaren P1, the Porsche 918 Spyder, and the Ferrari LaFerrari. All of these vehicles use hybrid technology to power them to new heights. In a sign of the times, this decade also had the emergence of the first electric supercar, the Rimac Concept One.
Koenigsegg proved that it was here to stay with the hybrid powered Regera; they also had more traditional entrants with the Agera and the One:1. Pagani also stuck around, introducing the much lusted after, limited edition Huayra. BMW was not to be outdone by rival Mercedes, and so they introduced their own supercar, the hybrid powered i8.
Lamborghini is noticeably missing from this list of hybrid supercars, but they have one in the works. Until it arrives, you will have to make do with the jaw-dropping Aventador and the world-beating Huracan. Bugatti also came roaring back with the Chiron, a vehicle with nearly 1500 horsepower and a top speed estimated to be at 288 MPH, though it is limited to 261 MPH. For safety.
Supercars of the Future
Where do supercars go next? There is a good chance that one will eventually crack the 300 MPH limit and there is a decent chance that it could be hybrid or electric powered. That is because more of those types of supercar are on the way. The reason is that supercars always adapt to fit the changing world. So no matter where the motoring world goes, there will always be supercars ready to capture the hearts and minds of a new generation of gearheads.