The 20th century was a golden era for automotive enthusiasts. It was a century of revolutions, from the rise of mass-produced vehicles to the birth of the supercar (which is believed to be the Lamborghini Miura) —a breed of machines that seemed to defy the laws of physics and aesthetics alike. These cars weren’t just modes of transportation; they were rolling pieces of art, expressions of human ingenuity, ambition, and the never-ending quest for speed. As roads improved and technologies advanced, so did the cars that graced them, culminating in breathtaking speeds previously thought impossible. In this article, I’ll list the 10 fastest cars of the 20th century.
10 Fastest Cars of the 20th Century:
10. 1968 Ford GT40
- Top Speed: 185 mph (297 km/h)
- Engine: 4.9-liter V8, 425 hp
The Ford GT40 was not just a car but a symbol of American determination. Born from a fiery rivalry with Ferrari for dominance at Le Mans, the GT40’s design ethos was purely racing-driven. It wasn’t just its speed that made it remarkable, but its back-to-back Le Mans victories, ensuring its place in automotive lore. Its aerodynamic shape, combined with its powerful V8, made it a force to be reckoned with on the race track.
9. 1971 Lamborghini Miura P400 SV
- Top Speed: 186 mph (299km/h)
- Engine: 4.0-liter V12, 385 hp
As I believe, the world’s first supercar, the Miura is a testament to Italian design and engineering. Birthed from the minds of Lamborghini’s young engineers working after hours, its introduction shocked even Ferruccio Lamborghini himself. With its eyelash headlamps, sensuous curves, and roaring V12 placed transversely, it reshaped the concept of sports cars and remains an eternal icon of 20th-century automotive art.
8. 1986 Porsche 959
- Top Speed: 197 mph (317 km/h)
- Engine: 2.8-liter twin-turbocharged flat-6, 444 hp
The Porsche 959 redefined what was possible in the realm of automotive engineering. Conceived during the Group B rally era, it boasted adaptive four-wheel drive, twin-turbocharging, and an aerodynamic body that was ahead of its time. It wasn’t just its speed that amazed but its versatility, from winning Paris-Dakar to dominating tracks.
7. 1991 Lamborghini Diablo
- Top Speed: 200mph (321)
- Engine: 5.7-liter V12, 492 hp
Carrying the torch from the Miura and Countach, the Diablo was flamboyance on wheels. With a name inspired by a ferocious bull, it lived up to its moniker with aggressive aerodynamics and a monstrous V12. Over its production life, it saw multiple iterations, each refining its performance and enhancing its status as a 20th-century supercar icon.
6. 1990 Ferrari F40
- Top Speed: 201 mph (324 km/h)
- Engine: 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V8, 471 hp
Celebrating 40 years of Ferrari, the F40 was Enzo Ferrari’s parting gift to the world. Stripped down and devoid of luxury, its essence was raw power. The F40 showcased a tubular steel frame, carbon-fibre bodywork, and a large rear wing. It was the first production car to breach the 200 mph mark, blending racing pedigree with road legality.
5. 1996 Jaguar XJ220
- Top Speed: 212 mph (341 km/h)
- Engine: 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged V6, 540 hp
The XJ220 was Jaguar’s masterpiece of 90s performance. While originally conceived with a V12 and all-wheel drive, the final iteration featured a twin-turbo V6. Despite this down-tuning of the concept, it shattered speed records. Its sleek, flowing design combined with its riveting performance to make it a true landmark of British automotive achievement.
4. 1992 Bugatti EB110 SS
- Top Speed: 220 mph (355 km/h)
- Engine: 3.5-liter quad-turbocharged V12, 552 hp
Rebirthed under Romano Artioli, Bugatti’s EB110 was a fusion of luxury and performance. A carbon-fiber chassis, scissor doors, and a quad-turbo V12 made it an icon of its time. Its name, “EB110,” celebrated Ettore Bugatti’s 110th birthday, and the car stood as a tribute to the brand’s glorious past while signalling a promising future. The Super Sport version was an absolute killer in terms of top speed.
3. 1987 Ruf CTR “Yellow Bird”
- Top Speed: 213 mph
- Engine: 3.2-liter twin-turbocharged flat-6, 469 hp
No, this is not just a tuned Porsche 911 but a legend in its own right, the “Yellow Bird” earned its name from its striking color and supercar performance. While many people initially recognize RUF for its Porsche modifications, it’s essential to understand that RUF is recognized as a manufacturer in its own right with its own chassis numbers, so not just a tuner. Its fame skyrocketed after a gripping performance at the Nürburgring, highlighting its capability. It remains a testament to German tuning mastery.
2. 1993 McLaren F1
- Top Speed: 240 mph (387 km/h)
- Engine: 6.1-liter V12, 627 hp
Gordon Murray’s brainchild, the McLaren F1, was pure and unmatched. With a central driver position, gold-lined engine bay, and a naturally aspirated V12 designed by BMW, it was nothing short of an engineering piece of art. It reigned supreme as the fastest for years and remains a yardstick for automotive performance.
1. 1999 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Concept
- Top Speed: 253 mph (407 km/h) (although achieved in its 21st-century production form)
- Engine: 8.0-liter quad-turbocharged W16, 987 hp (in its eventual production form)
The Veyron’s inception marked the zenith of 20th-century automotive ambition. Although it achieved its top speed in the 2000s, its late 20th-century concept was a harbinger of things to come. Promising unparalleled speeds using a W16 engine, the Veyron set the stage for Bugatti’s domination in the next century.
Which of the fastest cars would you pick?
While some race versions of production cars might have a higher top speed, this is the top 10 of the fastest cars of the previous century, based on top speed. What would be your pick?