The fastest production cars of every decade 1896-2018

Which were the fastest sports cars, supercars and hypercars. Here's your decade-by-decade guide

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The top speed wars

From the very beginning of the motor car, manufacturers have competed to develop the fastest cars in the world. The speeds have risen and the stakes may be higher than ever, but the sense of competition has always been there. Check out the fastest production cars of every decade!

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1890s: Stanley Steamer

One of the fastest petrol-engined production cars of the 1890s was the Mercedes Velo, which could reach 12mph. But the steam-powered Stanley Steamers of the late 1890s were much faster and quieter, though took more work to fire up. The best ones could achieve 35mph.

Picture courtesy of Orcas Island, which runs Stanley Steamer tours.

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1900s: Mercedes-Simplex 60hp

Within the first ten years of motoring came this, a 9-litre, four-cylinder monster capable of 73mph. No wonder motor cars scared the general public at the time! A higher-power, lightweight one-off version of the model broke the land speed record in 1904, making 97mph.

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1910s: Austro-Daimler Prince Henry

The Prinz Heinrich, to give the model its proper name, was developed by none other than the then-young engineer Ferdinand Porsche. It had an overhead-cam 6-litre engine developing 95bhp at just 2100rpm – and it was capable of 85mph. Impressive!

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1920s: Duesenberg Model J

The straight-eight, 7-litre Model J was America’s answer to the luxury performance cars from the likes of Rolls-Royce and Hispano-Suiza. Beautifully made, with a choice of coachbuilt bodies, they were seriously fast cars, capable of well over 100mph – at least one was known to have achieved 119mph.

Picture courtesy of Mecum Auctions.

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1930s: Duesenberg Model SJ

Take a Model J and add a supercharger… and Duesenberg consequently retain the production car top speed record. An SJ could reach 135-140mph, and manage a 0-60mph time of around 8 seconds. Not bad for a car that weighed at least 2.5 tons... There were also two even faster Duesenberg SSJs built as well, though they don't count as production cars).

Picture courtesy of RM Sotheby's.

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1940s: Jaguar XK120

In the years after World War 2, the majority of cars were designed for functionality alone. Amid the grey, there was a shining star: the sleek, curvy and fast six-cylinder, 160bhp Jaguar XK120. A standard XK120 achieved 124.6mph. A few years later a tuned, streamlined version hit a remarkable 172mph.

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1950s: Aston Martin DB4 GT

Things hotted up again in the 1950s, and it looked as though the exotic 150mph Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing would take the crown. But right at the end of the decade came the short-wheelbase, 302bhp version of Aston Martin’s DB4, which achieved 152mph.

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1960s: Lamborghini Miura P400S

The decade started with the Iso Grifo adding 10mph to the existing record, but that was beaten by the Cobra 427, only for the new Lamborghini Miura P400 to trounce that. Then the record switched to the Ferrari 365 GTB Daytona – which was subsequently beaten by Lamborghini again! The 370bhp Miura P400S reached 179.3mph, and that was that.

Picture courtesy of Mecum Auctions.

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1970s: Ferrari 512BB

You’d think the Lamborghini Countach LP400 would have taken the crown here, or maybe the Ferrari 288 GTO – but in fact it’s reckoned that the flat-12-engined 512 Berlienetta Boxer was quicker, achieving 188mph. Its predecessor, the 365GTB BB achieved similar speeds – sadly, for the 1970s the record isn’t 100% definitive.

Picture courtesy of RM Sotheby's.

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1980s: RUF CTR

Most people assume that the 204mph Ferrari F40 was the fastest car of the 1980s. But that’s forgetting the remarkable performance put in by the Ruf CTR. The re-engineered, lighter, more aerodynamic twin-turbo Porsche 911 conversion from the small Munich-based company had been granted genuine production car status. It topped out at 213mph.

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1990s: McLaren F1

No surprises here. The McLaren F1 is perhaps still the ultimate supercar to many of us, for its pure, no-compromise approach to achieving maximum road car performance. With rev limiter removed it was said to have achieved 221mph at the redline, going on to 240.3mph. However, with rev limiter in place, there’s no record of any standard F1 topping 211mph.

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2000s SSC Ultimate Aero TT

Despite the technological might of the Bugatti Veyron, it was the SSC Ultimate Aero TT that held the production car top speed record for the last three years of the 2000s. It’s powered by a good ol’ Chevrolet Corvette C5 V8, tuned to give 1183bhp, and it’s cut back to basics, doing without traction control or even ABS. Thanks to that, and extensive use of carbon fibre and titanium, it weighs just 2750lb (1247kg). And that made for 256mph.

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2010s Koenigsegg Agera RS

Sure, we’ve not done yet, but so far it’s the Swedish Koenigsegg that has the highest top speed, having taken if away from the 258mph Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport to achieve 278 mph. Its in-house developed 5.0-litre V8 develops 1160bhp and it weighs just 3075lb (1395kg).

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Fast cars – and music!

For decades, music stars have chosen fast cars (and a few slow ones) to liven up their videos. Here are ten of the best classic cars in music videos.

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