To paraphrase Vince Lombardi, death isn't everything; it's the only thing. Well, it's the only thing guaranteed to stop a supercar owner from enjoying their extreme machine. Okay, that and the IRS. And a messy divorce, which, believe me, makes death look like a pint of H agen-Dazs dulce de leche caramel. But then, the French call orgasm "the little death," and driving a supercar is one of the rare occasions where you can experience a proper orgasm without making a mess. Unless you crash and die in a mangled heap of metal, flesh, bone and blood. On we go...
Let's say you want to drive a car fast enough to finally catch that fucking Road Runner and skin the anorexic bird alive, but you know there's a good chance you'll end up like Wile E. Coyote. So what's the safest fast car a singularity of Benjamins can buy? What ultra-whip won't punish an amateur with the ultimate sanction, in terms of both active and passive safety (i.e. not hitting things and hitting things)?
[NB: this is no joke. I've lost friends to supercar "mishaps." There are plenty of cars with reputations for dubious high speed handling and questionable safety. You have been warned.]
Pagani Zonda F
Active safety: *****
Passive safety: ***
I've driven a great many cars whose performance capabilities make me feel like a two-year-old fondling a Rubik's cube. The Zonda is the easiest hyperextreme, way-the-fuck-out-there supercar a rookie can drive without playing nudge, nudge; wink, wink with The Grim Reaper. The Zonda may look like a '70's Group C race car, but it drives like a Lotus Elise — only bigger, safer, stronger and four thousand per cent faster. I'm sure it has something to do with the 7.3-liter 620-horse Mercedes V12 nestling in its doublewide rump (with vertical slide out), which offers the same linear throttle response as an S-Class 12-pot, cubed.
Equally important for the financial future of a wealthy driver's scions, the Zonda steers, handles and brakes more predictably than a Bruce Willis movie, at speeds guaranteed to make your eyes bleed. You can keep up with a Ferrari Enzo in this car without really having a clue how you're doing it, and not die once. And best of all, because the Zonda isn't US street legal, you don't have to worry about Boston drivers.
As for passive safety, who knows? I can only find one low-speed smash on www.wreckedexotics.com, and the aforementioned US prohibition means Pagani doesn't have to crash test the Zonda. (Three $741k cars into a wall? That has GOT to hurt.) Sr. Pagani claims up, down and sideways in Argentinean-accented Italian that his carbon fiber supercar is a paragon of passenger protection. Either that or he was saying he knows a great place for charasco in Milan.
Yes, well, it's important to note that carbon fiber may not be the passive safety panacea supercar makers claim. Yes, it absorbs huge forces. But one hit and the material's literally gone. On the race track, where major shunts usually involve a single impact, that's fine. Out in the real world, you do NOT want to hurtle towards a variety of stationary and moving objects in a one-hit wonder. It's something stupid rich people should think about, if they can be bothered.
The Ford GT
Price: $151,245 (and not a penny more)
Active safety: ***
Passive safety: *****
Here we have a supercar with 550hp and no traction control. I reckon that's a good thing: knowing that there's no electronic nanny to save your bacon when the pork hits the fan makes you drive more cautiously. Yes, the car has a Dave Edmunds philosophy — you got yourself in, get yourself out — but you CAN get yourself out of trouble with only a modicum of effort. The Ford GT is as benign at the limit as a symphony hall ticket taker.
Well, that's the theory. As Spinelli points out, I may be full of shit. Admittedly, stupid people generally need as much protection from themselves as a carmaker can give them. And yes, I've got a piece of a Ford GT's front spoiler leaning against my wall that says Spinelli has something of a point. But I didn't crash the thing and the guy who did never touched the brakes once.
Anyway, the Ford GT is a passive safety poster child. Its extruded aluminum space-frame chassis is stiffer than a porn star at a hen party, yet deforms with energy absorbing lan. Like all these hyperspeed sleds (and a Smart Fourtwo for that matter), the Ford GT cocoons its occupants in a good old-fashioned passenger safety cell.
Time will tell if the GT's drivers withstand the test of time, but I've seen enough speed-crazed nouveau riche GT owners emerge from a lunatic thrash intact to believe that the taste police will have their work cut out for them for some time to come.
Porsche 911 Turbo
$141,200 (with every box ticked)
Active Safety: *****
Passive Safety: *****
The Turbo is the stupid driver's supercar angel. When it comes to not hitting shit, it's peerless. Visibility: panoramic. Acceleration: linear. Steering: telekinetic. Handling: flawless. Brakes: as close as you'll ever get to an automotive pause button. Equally important, the Turbo integrates all these dynamic facets flawlessly, combining perfectly predictable mechanical harmony with a manageable stream of mission-critical feedback.
All this and the world's best four-wheel drive system. With PSM (Porsche Stability Management) replacing Jesus in the shotgun-riding department, the new 4WD Turbo can instantly send 100% of power to the front wheels when needed (up from 40%). That means the Turbo won't lose grip on the road even if its driver loses his grip on reality.
Driving the uber-Porker at mind-bending velocities is largely a matter of point and shoot. In the Zonda, the limits of adhesion can only be breached by truly determined hooniganism. In the Turbo, the limits aren't quite as astronomical, but the PSM constantly sorts out the dirty work of maintaining traction. You pretty much have to be blind-sided or aim at something to hit it.
If you're THAT stupid and/or unlucky, the Turbo's brick-shit-house construction may award a bonus life. Its highly evolved, crash-tested structure includes an occupant safety cell made of boron steel. Amazingly, the Turbo is one of the few supercars equipped with side impact airbags (which may have saved the victims of the GT crash linked above). When bad things happen to wealthy people, the Turbo is a relatively good place to be.
Ultimately, the safest supercar is the one that never moves. Consciously or not, that may be one reason why so many exotics are such garage queens. So before you laugh at people who buy a supercar for its safety — puffing your chest out at your machismo, self-restraint and skill — remember: stupid people who know their limitations are smarter than smart people who don't.
[by Robert Farago]