Editor’s Note: Are we at “peak supercar?” Leading industry voices think so. If the current Holy Trinity — Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren P1, and Porsche 918 — are indeed the peak, it’s time to look back down at base camp, and see how far we’ve come. This limited series will take a brief look at the supercars that defined each era, one decade at a time, beginning with the birth of the supercar in the ’50s.
The ’80s are considered the dawn of the modern supercar. The ’90s hopped out of bed, skipped breakfast and lunch and went straight to Happy Hour. Power, price and design all mutated into the incredibly ambitious supercar characteristics we’ve now grown accustomed to. New and refined engine management and traction control technologies were available, and manufacturers were emboldened.
Enzo Ferrari was once afraid his customers wouldn’t be able to handle a car like the F40, but in the ’90s his company was putting re-engineered F1 engines into its supercars. The increase in power and more aerodynamic, forward-thinking designs naturally led to incredible performance and top speeds — numbers once thought impossible. ’90s supercars set the tone for the upper echelon of automobiles for decades to come.
Next to its predecessor, the F40, Ferrari’s F50 was actually considered a flop. But the F50 was an incredible car in its own right. Ferrari bolted a Formula 1–derived engine in the middle and designed a more refined cabin; the idea was to make an F1 car for the road. To that end, Ferrari was successful, and the company entered a new era in which it continued to marry race-proven technology to its road cars with resounding success.
Engine: 4.7-liter V12
Top Speed: 202 mph
Original MSRP: 480,000
Current Estimated Value: $1,200,000+
Notable Owners: Jay Leno, Sultan of Brunei
1992 Jaguar XJ220
As a nod to the XK120 of the late ’40s, which topped out at 120 mph, Jaguar set out to make its ’90s supercar capable of a 220 mph top speed. The XK220 was originally meant to be powered by a V12. But when it finally went to production, customers were extremely disappointed to learn it had a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6. Even though the XJ220 “only” reached 217 mph, in 1992 it held the record for the fastest production car ever. (Just not for very long.)
Engine: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6
Top Speed: 217 mph
Original MSRP: $587,000
Current Estimated Value: $360,000+
Notable Owners: $310,000+
1992 McLaren F1
Hailed at the time as one of the best cars ever made (some say it still is), the McLaren F1 was designed with ultimate performance in mind. The F1 utilized space-age materials: carbon fiber, titanium, gold, magnesium and kevlar — and it was the first production car ever to have a carbon fiber monocoque chassis (instead of the more popular aluminum framing construction of the time). It stole the record of fastest production car from the Jaguar XJ220 with a top speed of 241 mph — a record that remained unbroken until 2005.
Engine: 6.1-liter V12
Top Speed: 241 mph
Original MSRP: $815,000
Current Estimated Value: $10,000,000+
Notable Owners: Nick Mason, Rowan Atkinson, Jay Leno, Ralph Lauren, Sultan of Brunei
The Dawn of the Modern Supercar
Raw power and mechanical simplicity versus svelte design and intelligent electronics. Read the Story
1997 Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR
The ’90s saw a resurgence in the homologation racing of the decades past, namely in the FIA GT Championship. In that series, Mercedes saw an opportunity to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Porsche and Ferrari. In order to compete, Mercedes need to produce 25 road-legal versions of its CLK GTR race car. When the first road-legal CLK GTRs were sold, Mercedes made it clear it wanted to give customers a true race car experience. This meant customers were delivered a car that was essentially identical to the race version — the only exceptions being the leather seats, A/C and traction control.
Engine: 6.0-liter V12
Top Speed: 214 mph
Original MSRP: $1,547,620
Current Estimated Value: $2,80,000+
Notable Owners: Sultan of Brunei
1990 Lamborghini Diablo
When Lamborghini set out to build a replacement for the Countach, the engineers and designers were given a design brief with one main goal: the new car must have a top speed higher than 196 mph. The team met the challenge and put out a final product that topped out at 202 mph. And though Jeremy Clarkson once described the Diablo as designed “solely to be the biggest head-turner in the world,” the car was originally penned to have a much more radical design. Chrysler, who owned Lamborghini at the time, told the lead designer to tone it down; the Diablo was one of the most extreme-looking cars on the road.
Engine: 5.7-liter V12
Top Speed: 202 mph
Original MSRP: $239,000
Current Estimated Value: $80,900+
Notable Owners: Jay Kay, Dennis Rodman, Mike Tyson, Emmit Smith, Missy Elliot, Busta Rhymes, Swizz Beats, Rod Stewart
1991 Honda NSX
Developed to compete with the Ferraris and Porsches, but cost a fraction of their prices, the Honda NSX was one of the first cars to prove high performance didn’t have to demand a high markup. Like Ferrari, Honda was able to draw on its Formula 1 team for engineering inspiration — but, unlike Ferrari, Honda had the inimitable Ayrton Senna as a development driver.
Engine: 3.0-liter V6
Top Speed: 168
Original MSRP: $60,600
Current Estimated Value: 30,000+
Notable Owners: Ayrton Senna, Jenson Button, Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas, Steve Wozniak, Robert Van Winkle (Vanilla Ice), Boomer Esiason, Harrison Ford, Alice Cooper, Bill Gates, Elton John, Michael Keaton, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, George Lucas, Jack Nicholson,
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