The Next Generation Hyper & Supercars

I wrote the article on the bottom about 6 years ago. Since it was written, McLaren, Ferrari, & Porsche have all released the latest generation of their “Ultimate Series”, “Special Series”, and “Limited Series” cars to various levels of acclaim and criticism. We have been fortunate to own one of these, a McLaren P1. The P1 was awesome on the road but had one major challenge that eventually lead to its departure .

In the original article, I had three rules to judge potential long-term greatness:

  • Rule #1: the performance needs to be delivered both with a bit of drama and at least mostly mechanically.
  • Rule #2: visually it needs to have a real “wow” factor.
  • Rule #3: it needs to age gracefully.

Of the last generation, at this point, I would grade both the McLaren P1 and Ferrari LaFerrari very highly on Rules #1 and #2. On Rule #3, high for design, but the jury is very still much out on the hybrid system. I would give the Porsche 918 lower marks across the board as it comes up a bit short on the wow factor and the 918 needs to go on a diet.

I have heard that at least 2 of the 3 manufacturers listed above are already developing the next generation of their limited edition supercars so I thought I would pull together an updated list of suggestions, wishes, and pleas.

  1. No more hybrid systems. The batteries are a major liability. Just ignoring the weight the batteries add, the roughly $100k+ bill to replace the batteries if they go dead is just not a risk I want to have every time I park a car and leave it sitting for a couple of weeks. In addition, the life expectancy on the batteries is not unlimited so you are going to be faced with the major replacement bill (or several) if you are planning on long term ownership. This falls squarely into the bucket of technology that will not age well. I can’t even imagine the cost and complexity of trying to find a replacement battery for a LaFerrari, or P1, twenty years from now.
  3. A bit of luggage room. One of the reasons our Ferrari F40 has quite a few miles under its wheels is the fact that it can be used for long multi-day road trips. There is enough room under the front clamshell to hold two medium size duffle bags plus a few other items if you pack creatively. This is enough luggage for two people for a weeklong road trip. The basically non-existent luggage space in the Ferrari F50 and McLaren P1 resulted in these cars being much more limited in their usage and versatility. In both cases we only ever did single day trips. The McLaren Senna is even worse with no room for any luggage other than a racing helmet.

A removable roof. One of my favorite features of the Ferrari F50 was the fact that you could set the car up as either a Berlinetta (coupe) or a Barchetta (open top). As all these types of cars use carbon fiber tubs, removing the roof has little to no impact on the handling of the car. Driving one on a clear crisp spring or fall day with the roof off is one of life’s great pleasures.  

An old school manual transmission with a proper 6 speed gearshift protruding between the driver’s and passenger’s seat. For driver engagement, nothing beats a manual transmission. The fact that it takes a bit of work to master I see as an enormous plus. A car in this category should take skill to drive.

While it isn’t a long wish list, there is a common theme, engagement and usability. I often hear complaints about owners who buy the limited-edition cars and then just stash them away in their own private collections. While true, and there will always be a few who do this, many don’t get driven often as they have very limited usability. A car with no luggage space can’t be taken on a road trip. A car that doesn’t engage and excite no matter how blindly fast it is will not be the first choice for a drive after the initial novelty of ownership wears off. So, for the next generation, please make them stunning to see, engaging to drive, open to the elements, but with performance and soundtrack coming solely from an internal combustion engine.

(The Original Blogs written for the EVO Magazine Website in 2012)


Ferrari, McLaren, Porsche, and Jaguar have all announced that they will be introducing new hypercars over the next 24 months. As someone with more than a passing interest in these types of cars, this is a very exciting time and I hope they all get it right. This last point has been one of keen discussion at the SSO dinner table recently. The crux of it is, what makes a great supercar? Personally, I don’t think it has much to do with the performance numbers. They are basically a given. All these supercars will have performance figures well beyond anything you can use in the real world while staying out of jail. It is all about how that performance is delivered that separates the great from the good. Pagani seems to understand this well, Koenigsegg less so. I have been to a few supercar events, track days, and on a tour recently. During these events, the concept of “emotionally engaging performance delivery” being what makes a great car great really struck me.

On one recent track day, I gave a friend a ride in the F50. There were a mix of other supercars out on the track that morning including a few McLaren MP4-12Cs, a pair of Porsche GT3s, plus Ferrari 458s, 430s, and a 360. During one of the sessions I ended up running with one of the 12cs. At the end of the long straight, the 12C driver out braked me going into a corner, was able to duck under, and pass on the inside. In the battle of mid 90s steel brembos vs 2012 carbon rotors, the CCMs are always going to win. What did surprise me was my passengers comment about how wonderfully the F50 turned into the corner and the level of grip. I don’t think he even noticed the bright orange thing that went whistling past. I know he certainly did hear it over the F50 V12 screaming enthusiastically at 7000 rpm. Later on I got a quick ride in the 12C. Performance was incredibly impressive, so was the complete lack of drama. The whole experience felt very digital and left me a bit flat. Hence SSO Rule #1, for a supercar to be great, the performance needs to be delivered both with a bit of drama and at least mostly mechanically. It needs to be the driver that keeps the car on the road or track, not the cars computer.

I was introduced to a gentleman at another event recently who has a collection of cars that is incredibly impressive. He is one of the very fortunate who has the financial capability to acquire anything that catches his eye. We were standing behind a Zonda and a Koenigsegg Agera with a F40 and a 959 off to the side about 50 yards away. I asked him if he owned either of the two in front of us. He said not yet, but had driven both. He then smiled and indicated that he would likely be acquiring a Zonda shortly. At this point I asked him why he preferred the Zonda. He just said that the Koenigsegg left him cold. After a pause of a few seconds he then said “well, just look at them.” I then happened to glance over at the F40 and 959. From 50 or 500 yards, a F40 is a F40. The 959 from a distance is very easily to confuse with being a 911. Message was very clear and we were completely aligned. So SSO Rule #2, for a supercar to be great, visually it needs to have a real “wow” factor.

This brings us to the third and final SSO supercar rule for now. Rule #3 is for a supercar to be truly great, it needs to age gracefully. In the digital age this is becoming more and more of a challenge as today’s great technology will just feel old and dated 10 years from now. A good example of this is the gearbox in the Ferrari Enzo vs. the Ferrari F50. The 6 speed gated gearbox in the F50 is a work of high engineering art. It is just wonderful to use. Compare it to the manual boxes fitted in either the much later Ferrari 430s or a 612 and the F50 gearbox comes out well ahead. However, drive a 430 Scuderia and then drive an Enzo. After the 430 Scuderia, the F1 gearbox in the Enzo just feels old and slow. All the tech crammed into the 959 has the same challenge. From what I have heard to date about the 918, it seems Porsche is heading very much down the technology showcase route again. How this plays out in terms of both driver engagement and time will be interesting. How the VWs tech showcase, i.e. the Veyron, will be judged longer term currently doesn’t look to promising. Looking at the current prices for used Veyrons, it seems that the votes are already starting to come in.
In summary, it will be an exciting couple of years. Let’s hope that Ferrari, McLaren, Porsche, and Jaguar get the balance right between form, function, and soul.

Update #1
Rule #1, for a supercar to be great, the performance needs to be delivered both with a bit of drama and at least mostly mechanically.

Rule #2, for a supercar to be great, visually it needs to have a real “wow” factor.

Rule #3 is for a supercar to be truly great, it needs to age gracefully.

I wrote the original blog right at the beginning of July and as the end of the year is fast approaching, it is quite interesting to see how things have developed regarding the next generation of Supercars over the last several months. First out of the blocks has been McLaren launching the P1 in Paris. It certainly has rule #2 covered and my feeling is it will age well so #3 is a yes as well. How the P1 will do on rule #1 is still very much a mystery. While there are several mules out and about, no details on the drivetrain have been released. Let’s hope it delivers a bit more on the drama front than the 12C. While Porsche has been very open on details the 918 for a while now, the most interesting rumor I have heard recently is that a light weight version, which dumps the batteries, is in development. While the 918 has rule #2 covered, not really sure how it will age. However, a 918 RS might just have rule #1 nailed. From Ferrari we have seen the new carbonfibre tub, a few spy shots of mules running around the Modenese countryside, and near confirmation that it will have a pair of electric motors which in conjunction with the V12 will produce over 800 bhp. Based on the spy shots, it will have the “wow” factor. Latest word is that a few of Ferrari’s best customers will get to see the car December for the first time. On the Jaguar C-X75, it has been radio silence. Hopefully Jaguar are reconsidering putting a 4 cylinder engine in a supercar.
In total the declared production goals for all four are over 2000 units. Given the state of the global economy, it will be interesting to see if all find homes quickly.

Update #2 – One Year On
In the interests of transparency, I have voted with my wallet and put a deposit down on the McLaren P1 so I do have a bit of bias. I did see three of the four contenders today and it only served to reinforce the decision. Seeing three of them within a few feet of each other was a unique and highly interesting experience.

So how do the four contenders stack up so far against the 3 SSO Rules:

Ferrari LaFerrari: not sure yet on Rule #1 as no one outside of Ferrari has been allowed to drive it but based on the specs the LaFerrari will probably do very well here. Ferrari always does drama and engagement extremely well. On Rule #2, the design certainly has the wow factor, whether or not you particularly like it. When I first saw it, I wasn’t so sure but I will reserve final judgment until I see one in the wild, not just on a display stand. The name certainly generates plenty of wow factor; as in wow, what were they thinking. Regarding Rule #3, the double clutch gearbox should age more gracefully than the Enzo’s single clutch system. The hybrid system is another matter; only history will tell but at least the system on the LaFerrari is less complex to that fitted on the 918.

McLaren P1: With all of its advanced aero, the P1 will likely stick to the road or track unlike any other car ever developed. McLaren has been a quick learner on some of the early criticisms on the 12C’s lack of drama and addressed these in a series of updates. As such I expect they will have the Rule #1 nailed on the P1. On Rule #2, I have now seen the car in four different colours and it looks great in all. This is normally the sign of a great design and one that will age well. The name, while fairly plain, does fit with the heritage started with the F1. Regarding Rule #3, very similar concerns as per the Ferrari, how the hybrid system ages only history will know.

Porsche 918: In my experience I have always felt that Porsche tend to put engineering over engagement. The 959 was the most advanced car of its day but just not that exciting to drive. My sense is the 918 is going down the same development path as the 959. It is a technical showcase but whether all this tech is able to deliver a high level of driver engagement, the jury is out. On the design, Porsche has done a good job. It checks the “wow” factor box but is still very much Porsche. It should age well so Porsche gets high marks on Rule #2 which brings us to Rule #3. I have serious doubt here. The 918 is too clever for it’s own good and has lots of technology which risks feeling very old, heavy and dated in 5-10 years.

Jaguar C-X75: For a dead project, the C-X75 is getting a lot of publicity these days including a great article in EVO Issue 186. Some companies learn from their past and others leave you scratching your head. In this case, Jaguar falls into the last category. Despite the grief they got for dropping a V6 into their last supercar, the XJ220, they decided to go even smaller with a 1.6 liter V4 for the C-X75. Not hard to imagine why they did not get a lot of interest. This is a bit tragic though as having now seen one up close, the C-X75 has to be the coolest looking Jaguar in a very long time. As it is dead (at least officially for now), the C-X75 gets an incomplete on all 3 rules. Having seen it up close, I hope a resurrection is in order.

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