Once a vehicle’s purchase price breaks into the seven digits, it’s no longer about the car, but rather the story behind it. For example, anyone with a YouTube channel can go out and lease a McLaren, but real wealth buys a McLaren F1 owned by Gordon Murray. Or the Ford GT that beat Ferrari at Le Mans. Or, in this case, it buys the fastest production car in the world.
This “fastest production car in the world” is the $1.9MM Shelby Supercars (SSC) Tuatara, and if you’ve followed any bit of car news lately, you’ll know that its claimed 331.15 mph top speed is highly – and we mean highly – contested.
What we do know: SSC made this high-speed run with a professional racing driver, seven miles of wide-open Nevada highway, a GPS data logger, and some video cameras. Oh, and did we mention that this high-speed run was made with a private, customer-owned vehicle?
There were no independent third parties on hand to verify the speeds, so rival manufacturers and internet sleuths alike have set about the task of analyzing everything from each frame of video to the estimated barometric pressure of each square foot of road. To this day, no one is 100% sure that the Tuatara actually hit 331.15 mph, but when the car looks this good, who cares?
With a shape penned by famed car designer Jason Castriota, the SSC Tuatara is an elegant expression of essentialism. Its body and chassis are constructed of lightweight carbon fiber. And to further keep weight down, surfaces are only there if they need to be, with each curve shaped solely to optimize the way air flows around the vehicle. Aesthetics, Castriota claims, in no way informed the design. That the car is rather nice to look at is just a nice bonus.
In this class of vehicle, it’s the engine that helps tell the story – or in this case, further adds to the bragging rights. And the story here is good. Powering the Tuatara is a twin-turbo, flat-plane V8, mounted mid-ship, just like a proper racecar. This engine was designed in-house by SSC, with construction duties being handled by Nelson Racing Engines. On E85 fuel, this engine is rated at a mighty 1750 horsepower. But if standard 91 octane is more your speed, the engine still puts out a more-than-respectable 1350 horsepower.
In a move uncharacteristic of most hypercars, SSC opted to make the Tuatara’s cockpit feel as large as possible. A whole lotta glass keeps things feeling open and airy, and the interior was shaped to help provide as much head, shoulder and hip room as possible. The Tuatara was designed to be more than a one-trick pony – it was designed to be useable. Speed is great and all, but if normal people can’t comfortably drive the thing, then what exactly is the point?
So when it came time to once again prove the Tuatara’s performance prowess, SSC didn’t opt for a professional racing driver – it had the Tuatara’s private owner attempt a second high-speed run.
Beyond the driver change, this new run was made on a much shorter stretch of pavement, the Johnny Bohmer Proving Grounds at Kennedy Space Center. Renowned data logging company Racelogic USA was also on hand to independently verify and validate all data from the runs.
And the result? The Tuatara hit a top speed of 286.1 mph in just 2.3 miles of road – on standard Michelin Pilot Cup Sport 2 tires, no less. The car’s two-way average –considered the “official” speed for this sort of thing – was a still-impressive 282.9 mph. Who knows how much faster this car could have gone had there been a few extra miles of road?
So controversy or not, the SSC Tuatara remains an awesome machine, especially if you’ve got an extra $2MM and a serious need for speed. And the stories this car can tell? Well, that’s up to you.