The List






Last of the Supercars


The supercar in its true format, (and by this I mean an enormous mid-mounted V12 engine, and aesthetics as subtle as a Peter Stringfellow swimwear collection), is an enigma to some car enthusiasts. Too expensive and heavy for track use, they say, yet too wide and unwieldy to really work on most roads, they view it as a type of car that, like the more hapless species of endangered animal, is not really adapted to its current environment.

For much of the 1990s and early 21st century, though, this didn't seem to bother those who patronised the primarily Italian grand marques; most bought supercars not to drive, but to show to the world their considerable wealth. It was of little consequence, then, that the clutch on their Lamborghini Diablo required them to take a course of anabolic steroids to operate it, or that they could buy a new Ford Focus for the cost of a wheelnut on their Enzo; they never drove them far enough to notice these problems anyway.

Fast forward to the present day, however, and the picture has changed somewhat. City bonuses, which must have almost singlehandedly supported the local economies of Modena and Sant'Agata at the start of the millenium, have all but disappeared and the prevailing mood of austerity has made the notion of spending a six figure sum on a new Lamborghini about as publicly acceptable as dressing in full Nazi regalia and loudly recreating one of Hitler's Nuremberg Rally addresses at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park.

So, what is the future for these machines? Will the combination of declining social acceptability, performance that is ever more unusable on our increasingly congested roads, and a rapidly dwindling client base finally spell the end for the supercar, as some have predicted? And if it does, what will future generations of teenage boys have posters of on their bedroom walls (apart from scantily clad women, of course)?

The answer, in my opinion, is that the supercar will live on, albeit in a significantly different format to what is available today. Expect to see smaller, forced induction engines with high cylinder counts, reminiscent in some ways of Ferrari's early small capacity F1 engines, extensive use of lightweight materials such as carbon fibre and composites, and a decrease in average size - see Ferrari's Millechili concept for an example of how this might look.

This new breed of supercar, and I place the forthcoming McLaren P11 in this category, will be more agile, fuel efficient and useable than the Leviathans of the past, but I can't help feeling that, despite these notable advantages, something will have been lost. Supercars shouldn't be driveable; they should have no visibility and be two motorway lanes wide. They should punish the ham-fisted with snappy on limit behaviour, and allow only the very best drivers to fully exploit their capabilities. And they should also, by any objective measure, look ridiculous.

I'm not suggesting that supercars should be this way in order that they are only ever driven for short distances in areas of maximum public visibility. No - I believe that they should be difficult to drive for exactly the opposite of this; to help to prevent them being driven in such a way.

Unfortunately, even today there are very few examples of this true type of supercar still being made: there is no mid-engined V12 in the current Ferrari range, and Lamborghini, once purveyors of cars so impractical that they made parallel parking seem like a task fit for the Labours of Hercules, now produces four wheel drive machines that could be easily driven by your grandmother. Hence perhaps, the number of Murcielagos that can be seen (or maybe that's 'used to be seen') crawling around the Square Mile at rush hour; do that in a proper, old school supercar and you would quickly see the clutch, and several thousand pounds, dissolve before your eyes in a cloud of smoke.

The Pagani Zonda is one of the few cars currently available that could be described as a supercar in the traditional mould, but even this has its flaws; namely predictable on-limit handling, and a reliable engine and drivetrain. And yes, I did mean to use the words 'predictable' and 'reliable' in a negative context - they have no place in a real supercar.

So, if nothing on the market today fits the bill, exactly how far back in time do we need to travel to find the last of the real supercars? I would suggest to 1990, which was the last year in which the be-winged, scissor-doored Lamborghini Countach was produced. With a V12 producing anything up to 448 bhp and a chassis that seems as keen on punishing minor indiscretions as an Alabama Baptist Judge, the Countach was and still is the definitive supercar.

It may have steering so heavy that you wonder whether it was designed to be used as one of the competitive elements of World's Strongest Man, and the brakes may feel just about up to stopping a hot hatch, rather than a one and a half tonne machine capable of nearly 200 MPH, but this is all part of its charm. And with values still rising, despite the current economic conditions, now has never been a better time to invest in a piece of motoring history.