It’s a question people have been asking basically since the horseless carriage took over as a form of transport: What’s the fastest car? As early as 1914, speed freaks took to venues like the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah to definitively find an answer. Then, pioneering performance driver Teddy Tetzlaff pushed a custom Benz racecar to a respectable 141 miles per hour (227 kilometers) in 1914. Around the same time, rules began to be established around the sport of land speed racing.
The most important of these rules standardized by the Federation Internationale de L’Automobile (FiA) is that a driver must make a high speed run in one direction, turn around and make it again in the opposite direction. The two speeds are then averaged together to account for slight variations in wind resistance and road surface.
Fastest Land Speed
Going by FiA judgement, the “Outright World Land Speed Record” achieved by any wheeled vehicle over 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) with a rolling start, is currently held by a racecar called the ThrustSSC. It achieved a speed of 763.035 miles per hour (1,227.985 kilometers per hour) in October 1997 and has gone unchallenged for nearly 25 years. ThrustSSC was also the first recorded land vehicle to ever break the sound barrier, at Mach 1.016.
Looking at this thing, you can hardly call it a car, right? It’s powered by two massive jet engines, so it’s more like a plane without wings. So what’s the fastest vehicle a person can actually go out and buy? That’s a trickier question to answer.
Fastest Production Car
In 2017, the 1,400-horsepower Koenigsegg Agera RS took to the Nevada desert and averaged 277.9 miles per hour (447 kilometers per hour). Motor sports data company RaceLogic also attested to that run’s results. In 2019, Bugatti riposted with a Chiron SS driving 304 miles per hour (489 kilometers per hour). That run can hardly be counted, though, as the car was outfitted with nonproduction aerodynamic mods specifically tailored to hit that 300 miles per hour mark, and only drove one direction.
Automaker SSC (no relation to ThrustSSC) then hit the world stage in 2020, with a new Tuatara hypercar. In a video released by the company, the car appeared to hit a blazing 331 miles per hour (532.6 kilometers per hour) one way, with a two-way average of 317 miles per hour (510 kilometers per hour). However, there were no independent sources to verify the data, and many viewers were skeptical that the cockpit footage was doctored or otherwise inaccurate.
SSC also claimed that Guinness World Record officials were there to witness the run, but Guinness would later tell CNBC that they were “not present in any capacity, and have not verified this as a new record.” There is also currently only one Tuatara prototype in existence, though the company says another 100 are being produced.
To quell all doubt SSC soon scheduled another run, this time with the verification of Racelogic. The Tuatara was then able to squeeze out a 282.9 miles per hour (455 kilometers per hour) average top speed. That’s an impressive number, but still a moonshot away from SSC’s prior claim. The company then promised it would soon break the 300-barrier once again. In May 2021, the Tuatara was in transit to a testing site in Florida when its cargo trailer flipped and caused the car to become damaged. SSC states the car is in reparable condition and would be road-worthy again in a matter of weeks, but no third attempt is currently announced.
Although certain cars may physically be able to go faster, we are still going to consider the Koenigsegg Agera RS as the current fastest production car. This is based on the criteria that the company has actually sold multiple road-legal copies of the car used in the run, used the correct two-pass procedure, and had an independent data collector on-site.