I have spent most of the last week flat on my tush with COVID (I am double vaccinated and double boosted). After that rather unpleasant experience, like a bad case of man-flu, something a bit lighter was what the Doctor ordered. The following is meant to be taken with at least a grain of salt.
With not a lot to do this past week other than flip through news feeds and stare at the ceiling, two items caught my eye. The first was a cocaine kingpin white on white 1989 Lamborghini Countach on Bring-A-Trailer, and the second was the press release on the Mercedes-AMG ONE. Both are positioned as Supercars but could not be more different. So, it got me thinking what really is the definition of a supercar? The Cambridge Dictionary defines a supercar as: “a very fast car, usually one that is an unusual or rare type”. This just seems very broad and open to a lot of creative interpretations. So, I came up with a bit of a different definition that’s more constrained. For me, to qualify as a Supercar, it first and foremost needs to be a:
Add in fairly limited build numbers (no more than several thousand a year) and these are the key boxes a car must check to earn a “Supercar” designation.
Starting with the “Scarface” spec Countach, does it qualify as a Supercar under the SSO rules? I would argue it does not. The Countach is about as out of place on a track as an early Koenigsegg CC8S. The thought of driving a Countach up an alpine pass causes cold sweats just based on side visibility and its performance stats pale in comparison to a Porsche 911 Turbo from the same era. If a Countach isn’t a supercar, then what is it? If you look at the last two Supercar criteria, limited build numbers, and road presence, it absolutely ticks the boxes in both these areas. Net net, what a Countach does exceed at delivering is rarity, and extraordinary looks. Essentially this makes it a Supermodel, and like all Supermodels, it excels on both the runway and in photographs.
If the Countach is the 1st automotive Supermodel, the “Lauren Hutton” (for the slightly younger generation “Kate Moss”, for those born in this century, “Gigi Hadid”), of the car world, then what others should fall into this category? My initial nominees include the Lamborghini Diablo, for all the same reasons as the Countach, the Pagani Zonda, the Pagani Huayra, and the quite delayed DeTomaso P72. This group of Lambos and Paganis should not be a surprise as Horacio Pagani worked on both the Countach and Diablo during his time at Lamborghini. In support of the Zonda’s nomination, this is how Pagani describes the original Zonda C12 on its website:
The bodywork, inspired to the Silver arrows of the Mercedes C group, encloses the essence of an unmistakable wind, where art and science beautifully combine to create a unique symphony, fascinating and bewildering at the same time. And like a passionate lover, the melodious performance arises from the engine and gradually grows to a fascinating and vertiginous crescendo until blazing bright blue flames come spurting out from the 4 – stroke exhaust system.
That is rather long on the soft core auto porn and rather limited on the anything related to performance. It is all automotive high fashion, the car as art and an object of desire.
Going back to the Mercedes-AMG ONE, this is another multi-million dollar limited edition technology showcase that is years behind in its development. It originally was slated for a 2019 production start and the current claim is deliveries will now start later this year. Taking advantage of the extra development time given the delay, Mercedes-AMG will be able to give you a car that is heavier than a decade old McLaren P1, costs twice as much, is beaten by the P1 on the key performance stats, and comes with a $900,000 engine rebuild bill after every 31k miles. I never thought I would see a car that would make McLaren P1 maintenance costs look pretty reasonable. In fact, the AMG One on paper might not even be able to beat a McLaren 765LT around a track as their performance stats are very similar. The AMG One is scheduled to make its public debut at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in late June. If it doesn’t break down on the hill, the AMG One should be able to exceed the expectation benchmark set by the Aston Martin Valkyrie last year. Given the AMG One isn’t exactly setting any new performance benchmarks and looks like it misses on most of the original internal one’s AMG set back in 2017, how should it be classified? While the Cambridge Dictionary would define it technically as a Supercar, it really is something a bit different and it certainly wouldn’t fall under the Supermodel label.
At its core, the AMG One is all about its propulsion system. It is a high revving 1.6-litre turbo V6 combined with four electric motors (MGUs) for a total of 1,063 bhp. They are a 163hp motor on the crank (MGU-K: Motor Generator Unit Kinetic), two front motors that make 326hp (MGU-FL & MGU-FR: Motor Generator Front Left and Motor Generator Front Right) plus another 122hp from the motor of the electric exhaust gas turbo (MGU-H: Motor Generator Unit Heat). Enormously complex doesn’t even begin to sum it up. This is a car Mercedes AMG decided to build to prove they could. Essentially, it’s a Megalomaniac car.
The AMG One is certainly not the first entry into the Megalomaniac segment nor is it likely to be the last. In fact, the segment was probably founded by the latest rebirth of Bugatti with the Veyron. The Veyron was the brainchild of Volkwagen Group Chairman Ferdinand Piëch. Piëch originally planned to drop a V18 engine in the back of the Veryron before finally settling for a W16 when the higher cylinder engine couldn’t deliver the mandated 1,000 bhp and 252 mph top speed. Having driven a few Veyrons, Piëch created a beautifully built engineering masterpiece that is totally devoid of soul.
In summary, the “Supercar” designation has become very broadly defined and almost generic to any car that is high horsepower and low build numbers. I believe we can create a few better, more tightly defined segments that more clearly identify the key attributes of the car. To start, a bit of flat on my ass COVID driven creativity has generated the Supermodels and Megalomaniacs segments. What other cars would you put in each segment and what other categories should be created?
Thoughts and comments? Please see the comments section below.
The sign up for new blog email notifications is at the bottom of the page.
A supercar should be a track god and a b road bandit.
Nimble, agile of low production volume.
Hope you are soon restored.
Every good wish.
Heal, rest and rebound.
I personally would tweak and order that criteria a bit differently…
In my judgement, from most important to least important, at least for any ‘super-car’ I would consider owning:
1. Back road/mountain pass driving brilliance (a characteristic that many so-called supercars actually lack).
2. World class handling and stopping ability.
3. Performance statistics across the board that will have needed to be outstanding in its era.
4. Serious presence on the road (is it art? eg F40 Does it completely lack visual art but is so purposeful it still qualifies it functional art? eg Senna)
5. Track god (Near bottom of list… Track cars are track cars… Great track cars usually make poor road cars and visa versa)
6. Fairly limited build numbers. I’ll take a super performing higher production ‘super-car’ any day over some rare but much lower performing alternative)
Capable of devouring back country roads and mountain passes for hours on end
Performance statistics across the board that will have needed to be outstanding in its era.
Serious presence on the road
Add in fairly limited build numbers
The “latest thing” segment. The endless variant and special editions that are meaningless variants, supposedly “limited” but are lipstick/body kit variants extracting price multiples, for de minimus if any gains in performance.
It’s the “instagram me” “look at meeeeee” “Im special, oh so special…did I mention, look at meeeeee….” squirrel!?! “I just sold it and got the latest new thing….weeeeeee…look at meeee….version”.
I like your Supercar definition, SSO. In particular the implication that a car is judged by the standards of its era. On that basis, it would appear that an E-type Jaguar would qualify, as would a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost.
Will be interested to see your thoughts on the AMG One now that production looks imminent.
I think it will end up in the same category as the recent NSX and SF90; in a few years you’ll forget they even existed.
Sorry to hear about your COVID infection. I’m double vaccinated and boosted yet got it too. I’m told it would have been worse had I not been vaccinated. As I was pretty rough with COVID I’m glad those vaccinations helped!
Someone from Mercedes said they must have been drunk when they signed off on the AMG One. I think they might just have been! F1 engines simply aren’t designed to be used on the road, ever, beyond demonstrations. And if it needs that much of a rebuild after 31k Merc have only proven it.
Seen a video of the T.50 driving in an Italian village as part of the McLaren F1 anniversay celebrations. It looked superb, but not as good as an F1 which still looks awesome. Somehow the F1’s design seems ageless. But where does the T.50 fit in Supercar classification? It’s a difficult one to answer as it seemed completely happy on roads, looks good, and is definitely rare. It’s the Supermodel with a Ph.D. in astrophysics!
I’m also guessing after the 3rd place and posdium finish Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus is going to get a lot more orders for their SCG004. Some people may be very happy they have one on order already…