Dr. Carbon McCoy
Volume 47 Issue 13
Jun 25, 2022
Carbon McCoy delves into what is a Supercar? What about a Hypercar? Is it all just hyperbole?
I asked Cathy and Jim to list this article as having been authored by a Dr. McCoy, because, like a doctor, I’m here to bring you uncomfortable, immutable truths.
Hard-pill-to-swallow truths; difficult-to-stomach truths. The kind of truths that make you throw this magazine down in disgust while saying, “This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about!”
First of all, ‘about’ is a preposition, and you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition. So not only do I know what I’m talking about, I’m also an annoying pedant; now let’s have some fun - the doctor is in, people!
I’ve run some tests and I’ve had a chance to review the results, and, after a long and thorough differential diagnosis, I can confidently assert the following pronouncement: The term ‘supercar’ is being grossly overused, and the term ‘hypercar’ is a made-up word!
Now I know what you’re thinking (“they’re all made up!”) but these terms are being bandied about in an out-of-control fashion; everyone’s doing it, and now manufacturers have started referring to some of their own offerings as supercars - even when they’re not supercars.
First, some background. The Dictionary app - a free app - defines a supercar as, “a very expensive fast or powerful car with a centrally located engine,” which is almost no help at all, so now we know why that app is free.
But Wikipedia, another free app, does a pretty good job documenting the history of the supercar term. It offers the following as the word’s history and origin in Europe:
“The Lamborghini Miura, produced from 1966–1973, is often said to be the first supercar. By the 1970s and 1980s the term was in regular use, if not precisely defined.
One interpretation up until the 1990s was to use it for mid-engine two-seat cars with at least eight cylinders (but typically a V12 engine), a power output of at least 400 bhp (298 kW) and a top speed of at least 180 mph (290 km/h).
Other interpretations state that “it must be very fast, with sporting handling to match”, “it should be sleek and eye-catching” and its price should be “one in a rarefied atmosphere of its own” or regard exclusivity (i.e. limited production volumes) as an important characteristic.”
If not the Miura, then Lamborghini’s first supercar - perhaps the first official supercar the world has ever known - was the Countach.
A supercar is a car that, when it debuts, is ahead of its time. Not merely a concept or a prototype, but an actual car, however limited in production, that’s ahead of its time, and far exceeds the capabilities of any other car in its genre during that era. The Countach embodies exactly that definition of a supercar, and it’s also a supercar as per Wikipedia’s European definition.
The successor to the Countach, the Lamborghini Diablo, is not a supercar, because when it debuted, it posted performance numbers similar to other exotic sports cars from other exotic sports car manufacturers. And that’s exactly what it is; an exotic sports car.
I think that’s where the line is most often blurred; people equate an exotic sports car to being a supercar, even if it doesn’t meet the requirements of a supercar.
Mainly, a supercar, when it’s first introduced to the world, has no or few equals; a sports car - even an exotic sports car - is still “just” a(n exotic) sports car, and not a supercar, if it has peers. Between 1990 and 2001, the Diablo had to contend with Ferrari’s Testarossa, and then, two years later, the 512 TR, and that’s not all...
The exotic sports car scene only continued to explode, with the F355, Porsche’s 993 and 996, the Lotus Esprit V8, and Aston Martin’s V8 Vantage. These are all cars that were on par with the likes of Lamborghini’s Diablo.
But the supercars of the 1990s were entirely different…
Ferrari’s F40 and F50 were 1990s supercars; the RUF CTR-2 was the 1990s replacement for the infamous Yellowbird; Jaguar’s XJ220, Bugatti’s EB110, Pagani’s Zonda, Gordon Murray’s McLaren F1(!) - those are all supercars from the 1990s.
All limited in production, all peerless in performance, and they were all a cut above the already avant-garde exotic sports cars from that same period from some of those same manufacturers.
In the last 20 years, “supercar” has become unctuously ubiquitous, a term that became so common that someone decided another, better, fancier, more luxurious and rarefied word was required: Hypercar.
But there is no such thing as a hypercar, such a concept doesn’t exist beyond our own imaginations. To embrace this reality, you need to accept how “supercar” has been grossly and irresponsibly used.
As technology excels - seemingly in tandem with the demand for better, faster, more powerful sports cars - sports car manufacturers are all pursuing cutting-edge everything, and there’s no shortage of competition.
These days, if you don’t like a particular manufacturer, there are half a dozen others who are offering a similar car at a similar price with similar performance numbers - in that scenario, there are no supercars, because you can have your pick from every (exotic) sports car manufacturer!
Now when Volkswagen presented the Veyron under the Bugatti name, that was a supercar. The Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren is a supercar. The Ford GT, the Aston Martin One-77, the McLaren Senna, the Porsche Carrera GT, the Lexus LFA, the Lamborghinis Veneno and Sesto Elemento are supercars; the Enzo and the LaFerrari - those are supercars!
But all of those manufacturers also make “ordinary” sports cars and, in some cases, exotic sports cars. So it seems that some people have taken it upon themselves to misinform the masses that they own a “supercar” simply because they purchased a(n exotic) sports car from a manufacturer that also occasionally produces a supercar.
The owners of LaFerraris and LaFerrari Apertas don’t feel cheated because 488 owners have started referring to their 488s as supercars - and it’s also not the owners of the likes of LaFerraris who coined the phrase hypercar.
…that word was coined by the same people who refer to their exotic sports cars as supercars, so that supercar owners could have a newer, better word to describe their supercars. Those people are nuts, and I’m not that kind of doctor.
(…technically, not even the other kind).