For most car buyers, price is almost always one of the most important factors of consideration. But for a very few lucky drivers, status is everything, price is no object and car shopping is a completely different endeavor.
These drivers bypass Ford and Chevy dealerships en route to the Ferrari showroom, or maybe even to the airport for a trip to the Ferrari factory. And there’s no haggling. The hottest of hot rods are made in such limited quantities, yet are in such demand — especially among the newly-moneyed — that buyers often pay a premium rather than dicker for a discount.
There is some good news for mega-wealthy motorists: They now have many more stylish rides from which to choose. Race-bred road rockets and imposing land yachts are rolling off the production lines of prestige carmakers such as Mercedes-Benz and specialty shops such as Saleen at prices as low as $150,000 to almost 10 times that amount.
Here, in alphabetical order, are 10 models on our highly subjective supercar shopping list. They’re all guaranteed to attract plenty of envious stares and speeding tickets. But, hey, you’ll look fantastic sitting there on the side of the road explaining to the officer that you were doing 185 in that 55 mile-per-hour zone simply because you could.
Bentley Continental GT
When most car nuts think Bentley, they think of the square, stately auto of Grey Poupon fame. But the Bentley Continental GT, the first new Bentley introduced since Volkswagen bought the luxury carmaker, is out to change that perception in a big way. Listed at $149,990 (a bargain-basement price by Bentley standards), the Continental GT is a two-door coupe with a sweeping hatchback-like roof and rear deck that gives it something of a Porsche look. It has some bulk to it, though, weighing in at 5,258 pounds, is taller and wider than many of its sports car counterparts, and its 15.9-inch front disc brakes are the largest on any road car. The twin-turbocharged W12 engine boosts the GT from 0 to 60 in 4.7 seconds and to a top speed close to 200 mph. And while the exterior might not be typical Bentley, the interior surely is. Company officials say it takes 28 hours to produce the wood trim for one Continental GT interior, 10 more hours than it takes to assemble an entire Volkswagen Golf.
Bugatti 16.4 Veyron
Say “European sports car” and muscular German Porsches or sexy Italian Ferraris immediately come to mind. But the continent’s newest challenger for the title of world’s coolest car comes from France. The new Bugatti 16.4 Veyron also is contending for most expensive car, with a price tag of a cool 1 million euros (about $1.2 million). But that princely sum gets you a car that just might be the world’s fastest non-race car. The folks at Bugatti say their new buggy aims for a top speed of more than 250 mph, thanks to its 8.0-liter W16 engine (essentially a pair of V-8 engines mounted side by side) that produces a whopping 987 horsepower. (A NASCAR Winston Cup stock car produces about 750 horsepower). The Veyron is almost the same size as the Lamborghini Murcielago, but its exterior is much rounder and softer, and is set off by a love-it-or-hate-it black shell that covers much of the hood, roof and trunk area.
If any super sports car looks familiar to most drivers, it is the Callaway C12. No wonder. The C12 starts out as a store-bought Corvette that is then deconstructed down to the bare-bones chassis and frame rails at the Old Lyme, Conn., home of Callaway Cars. Callaway engineers and technicians fabricate virtually everything else; all the new parts, from the driveshaft to the heavy-duty shocks and springs, are added to the Corvette skeleton. Even the car’s exterior is replaced with a skin of carbon fiber and Kevlar. When completely reworked, the C12 is about six inches wider than a traditional Corvette. The base ‘Vette power plant also is completely reworked into a 6.2-liter V-8 that produces 482 horsepower, enough to propel the 3,295-pound car from 0 to 60 in four seconds. Prices range from around $170,000 to around $250,000, depending on how much additional tuning is done on the engine.
Many high-dollar sports cars look like aircraft in need of wings, but the Ferrari Enzo looks like it could just take off with no help at all. With its jet-like scoop nose and intake vents on the rocker panels just in front of the rear wheels, the Enzo, named after legendary Ferrari founder Enzo Ferrari, is styled to the extreme. The jet-like look also is matched under the hood. This road rocket boasts a 6.0-liter V-12 that company officials say can go from 0 to 60 in 3.5 seconds and top out at around 220 mph. The Enzo is the closest you can come to driving a Formula 1 race car, Ferrari says, and is outfitted with many features typically found on open-wheel race cars, from its single-nut wheels to its paddle-shift transmission system. Buyers get to customize the Enzo by selecting from four seatbacks, four seat widths and 16 pedal positions. At a list price of about $670,000 the Enzo is far from cheap, but jump at one if you can get it for that price. They already are selling for more than $1 million in America.
Koenigsegg CC S8
Scandinavia is best known for its solid Volvos and quirky Saabs, but Christian von Koenigsegg is putting the speedin’ in Sweden. Koenigsegg got his start in the sports car business thanks to a grant from the Swedish Industrial Development Agency, and his new CC S8 (which stands for Competition Coupe with Supercharged V-8) easily ranks among the world’s fastest cars. Company officials say the speedster can go from 0 to 60 in 3.1 seconds. Perhaps owing to Koenigsegg’s Scandinavian heritage, the CC S8 is conservative in appearance by super sports car standards, with no big wings or swoops. The car weighs only 2,580 pounds, lighter than many of its competitors, thanks largely to a body made of Kevlar and hard foam and a cockpit constructed of carbon fiber sandwiched with aluminum honeycomb. It comes with a highly tuned 4.6-liter supercharged Ford SVT Cobra V-8 engine.
Lamborghini might be one of the biggest names in sports cars, but its newest model is its smallest. The Gallardo, nicknamed the baby bull, is a foot shorter and six inches narrower than the full-size Murcielago, the current Lamborghini flagship. It’s also less expensive, coming in at about $165,900 compared to the $288,000 price tag on the Murcielago. But in terms of looks and performance, the Gallardo is every bit a Lamborghini. In true Lambo fashion, the Gallardo’s aluminum body is all lines, angles and sharp edges, looking as if it were carved with a knife rather than crafted. The Gallardo is powered by a 5.0-liter V-10 that cranks out 500 horsepower and goes from 0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds. The four-wheel-drive speedster comes with your choice of either a standard six-speed manual transmission or a race-style paddle-shift system.
Few things in life are more exhilarating than whipping around in a souped-up sports car. But sometimes it’s nice to break up your driving pace by stylin’ in a roomier, but just as extravagant, auto. The new king of the ultra-luxury heap is the Maybach 62, the bigger of the two new supermodels from Mercedes-Benz that are considered so upper-crust that they carry the historic Maybach nameplate instead of the mere Mercedes moniker. The Maybach 62 is so named because it is almost 6.2 meters long (more than 20 feet), even longer than monster SUVs like the Ford Excursion. It’s a behemoth, too, weighing in at a whopping three tons. Even so, the Maybach gets around thanks to its 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-12 that boosts it from 0 to 60 in just over five seconds. The 62 is more of a cruiser than a racer, though, meant to swaddle its occupants with almost every luxury imaginable. When completely decked out, the 62 features include TV screens in the backs of both front-seat headrests, a motorized cell phone holder in the dashboard and a small refrigerator between La-Z-Boy-like rear seats that recline almost completely.
Pagani Zonda S
If anyone has the credentials to build a top-end sports car, it is Horacio Pagani, who befriended legendary Formula 1 champion Juan Manuel Fangio in his native Argentina, then emigrated to Italy and spent several years as a designer at Lamborghini. He eventually set up his own shop and this year is rolling out his latest model, the Zonda S. It takes Zonda’s 30-man staff between six months and a year to build each $387,000 car, but each is crafted with painstaking care. Owners get to personalize their vehicles by choosing everything from the color of the interior to the types of wheels and tires, along with a pair of custom driving shoes in exactly the same color and pattern as your leather interior. The Zonda S is powered by a 7.3-liter, AMG V-12 engine from Mercedes-Benz that produces 555 horsepower and can propel the 2,756-pound vehicle from 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds, and ultimately to a top speed of 205 mph.
Porsche Carrera GT
Just as no super sports car list is final without a Ferrari, neither it is legit without a Porsche. The German automaker has just come out with a brand-new contestant in the high-stakes, and high-dollar, luxury auto competition. The $440,000 Porsche Carrera GT is a direct descendant of the Porsche GT1 that won its class in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1998. It looks the part and acts it, too. Boasting a 5.7-liter, 605-horsepower V-10, Porsche officials say the 3,043-pound Carrera GT can rocket from 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds, and can top out at around 210 mph. Where this car stands out, though, is in its racing-car stability, thanks to such features as a rear wing that pops up at 75 mph and a suspension that sucks the car lower to the ground at higher speeds. The car is also state-of-the-art in its construction, with an unprecedented full carbon fiber chassis and seats, ceramic brakes and clutch, and a perforated rear deck lid to help the engine’s heat escape as efficiently as possible.
Most super sports cars feel like race cars, but none more so than the Saleen S7. It is, in fact, essentially a slightly detuned and more luxurious version of the Saleen 7R that has been running in the GTS Class of the American Le Mans Series for the past several years. But even in street clothes, the latest product of the Irvine, Calif.-based carmaker is a true American gem. With its low and wide stance — the car only has a four-inch ground clearance — and gills on its frontpiece and just in front of the rear wheels, the S7 looks like a very impressive cross between a Dodge Viper and a Ferrari Testa Rossa. It drives like it, too. Its 7.0-liter V-8 engine packs 550 horsepower and jolts the car from 0 to 60 in under four seconds. The car weighs a mere 2,750 pounds (only 220 pounds more than the race version), thanks to its carbon fiber body panels and an alloy steel space-frame chassis with honeycomb composite panels. Its price tag is a bit heavier, though: about $395,000.
John P. Holmes is a freelance writer based in Florida.