When you think about the pinnacle of automotive engineering, you think speed. There may be other measures of a car's stature, like horsepower, aerodynamics, and quality, but let's be honest, how fast the car can go is what we all care about the most.
The current record holder for the world's fastest car is the Koenigsegg Agera RS, which clocked in at a top speed of 284.55 mph with an average run speed of 277.9 mph used for the record. That's half the speed that modern airliners cruise at and nearly triple the top speed of the Ford F-150, the most sold production vehicle of 2017.
Stepping back a little bit, let's take a brief look at the history of the world speed record for cars and just what it takes to set the record.
Production car speed record
In order to claim the world speed record for production cars, the car needs to be:
a) A production car, one primarily designated for sale to consumers and not be in limited production
b) Not be modified from manufacturer specification
c) Complete a 2-way run on a track, in both directions, where the average run speed will be used for the record
In 1998, the famed McLaren F1 set one of the most memorable records in history at 240.1 mph. The F1 held that record for seven years until, in 2005, the Bugatti Veyron trumped it with a speed of 253.81 mph. Then in 2010, Bugatti beat its own record with a Veyron Super Sport hitting 267.8 mph. The Super Sports Record held for seven long years until finally, in 2017, the Koenigsegg's Agera RS claimed the top spot, beating the Veyron by 10-miles per hour.
Now that we've got the background out of the way, let's take a closer look at the engineering behind the Agera RS.
What makes the Agera RS so fast?
Under the hood of the Koenigsegg Agera RS is a 5.0 L V8 capable of producing 1,341 bhp @ 7,800 rpm (1,000KW). It maxes out torque at 944 lb·ft @ 4,100 rpm, all coupled to a 7-speed automatic transmission. This modern hyper-car is manufactured in Sweden and has a price tag of 2.5 Million USD.
The car certainly has substantial power, but that's not enough to be the world's fastest production car. So, just what enabled Koenigsegg to take the coveted top spot?
Some of the details are unclear, as Koenigsegg would obviously want to keep how they did it a secret. That said, there's a formula they would've needed to follow to engineer their way to the top spot.
Power and air resistance
The first check mark in this expensive laundry list would be adding power. Having given the car more horsepower than 99% of all production cars, they've certainly done so. One of the main reasons that power is so important is to fight off air resistance.
Air resistance on a car goes up by the square of speed. That means in order to continually overcome the increasing air resistance, you have to increase your power by the cube of speed. That means exponential increases in power just to keep moving at a constant rate at such high speeds, nevermind accelerating. The top speed of any car when it's unregulated is essentially where the air resistance overcomes an engine's ability to produce power.
The next step in the equation is translating your power into forces on the pavement. That means you need high-quality tires. At close to 300 miles per hour, the average tire doesn't grip. Usually, that means 5% over-rotation of tires at high speeds, or wasted power and unnecessarily wasted rubber. Michelin engineers reportedly combed through Koenigsegg's data to make sure their high-performance tires were up to the task.
Power and traction allow the car to get up to speed, but at that point, the next concern is keeping the car under control. At lower speeds, our cars don't tend to flip out of control. However, once you get moving at near 300 miles per hour in a straight line, any deviation in forces could send the car flipping and hurdling down the road. Something as simple as a larger than average pebble could cause a catastrophic wreck.
To overcome this, engineers at Koenigsegg had to design the aerodynamics to provide substantial downforce. This means manipulating the air to provide a downward force to the tires.
Too much downforce though, and those high-speeds could've maxed out the Agera RS's suspension and made things worse. The record was set on a straight track, making the calculations easier, but Koenigsegg engineers likely perfectly tuned the suspension and downforce for handling such breakneck speeds.
Achieving such high speeds in the Agera RS can be chalked up to their engineer's ability to perfectly manipulate the laws of physics to their advantage.
As for now, the Agera RS remains the fastest production car in the world, but there's one car nipping on its heels: The Hennessy Venom F5.
The next top car?
Hennessy claims that the top speed of the Venom F5 is 301 mph, which would be quite the achievement. Not only because it would beat the Agera RS out for its top spot, but also because it would be the first production car to reach over 300 mph.
The F5 was created by custom making a 2,950-pound carbon fiber chassis based on the Lotus Exige. That is then bolted to a 1,600 hp, 7.4 liter twin-turbo V8. The power stats, if accurate, are certainly in the Venom F5's favor, but nothing has been externally verified yet. In 2014, the Venom GT, the F5's earlier variant hit a top speed of 270.4 mph, which would've set a record except the production numbers were too low, and that was only in one direction.
Hennessy still has some work to do, and there's likely a reason that the Venom F5's speed hasn't been independently verified yet.
For now, the Agera RS will remain the world's fastest production car, but the question will be... for how long?
Besides being the fastest production car, the Agera RS also holds the records of fastest 0-400 km/h run in 33.29 seconds. The highest average speed for a flying mile and kilometer on a public road at 276.36 mph and 445.63 km/h, respectively. Finally, it also holds the highest average speed on a public road at 284.55 mph.
So, next time you're speeding down the highway at 70 mph, imagine traveling at 4 times that speed and you'll get a grasp at just what the Agera RS is capable of. It takes some incredible engineering and a lot of money to create the world's fastest car, and at least for now, we can thank the brilliant Swedish engineers at Koenigsegg for their work in creating a machine capable of such performance.