The Fastest Car In The World: An Explainer

Just what is the fastest car in the world? Over the last few days, no one seems especially sure anymore. The Bugatti Veyron Super Sport had held that record since 2010, but it was revoked over the weekend. Now the official title has reverted to the SSC Ultimate Aero — and SSC says their forthcoming Tuatra will be even better. But Hennessey Performance says that the Venom GT is faster still, and don't forget the Koenigsegg Agera R. What gives?

(Update: On Friday afternoon, Guinness decided to give the "world's fastest" title back to the Bugatti Veyron Super Sports. For now, at least, it's back to being the current official king of speed.)

Right now there are about half a dozen cars vying for the "world's fastest" title. All of them are insanely powerful, obscenely expensive and ridiculously exclusive. You probably have a better chance at getting hit by lightning than encountering any of them on the road. They represent the current pinnacle of automotive performance.

And the funny thing is that the manufacturers of these cars have all claimed that theirs is fastest, even if the cars haven't been officially certified as such. What we'll do today is attempt to sort through the noise and see where each one stands.

First and foremost, it's important to define the title these cars are after. For one, it's not just "world's fastest car," it's "world's fastest production car." This definition excludes tuner cars like that crazy Nissan GT-R AMS Alpha 12+ we saw hitting 233 mph just this week.

So what exactly is a production car? At the time of the Bugatti's win in 2010, it was defined thusly:

“…one which is in exactly the same state as it was when it rolled off the production line. It may have no modifications, additions or adjustments of any kind, other than those which are offered as factory options to the general public by the original vehicle manufacturer. The vehicle should preferably be sourced directly from the manufacturer or an authorized dealer. In either case, a signed statement should be provided by the manufacturer or dealer confirming that the vehicle is entirely standard. If the car is not obtained from one of these sources, it must be inspected prior to the attempt by a qualified engineer. They must certify the vehicle is in its original condition.”

Notice that Guinness doesn't seem to qualify how many cars are actually made.

But Guinness told Jalopnik that in light of the revocation of the Bugatti's title, it is reviewing its definition of what a "production car" is "to ensure our records fairly reflect achievements in this field." In other words, the definition could change.

So right now, we don't really know what it takes to be a production car. It's also important to note that when companies talk about making "the fastest car in the world," they are almost always talking about top speed records, not zero to 60 mph or quarter miles times. This is about speed, not acceleration.

Without further ado, let's look at some of the contenders and where they stand on the race to the top.

The Fastest Car In The World: An Explainer

Bugatti Veyron Super Sport

Engine: 8.0-liter, 1,200 hp quad-turbo W16

How Fast? 267.8 mph certified by Guinness in 2010

It's not the prettiest thing on four wheels, but in the last decade the Veyron has come to dominate the automotive world with its astronomical horsepower rating and price tag. It was officially the fastest car in the world for three years until about a week ago.

However, Guinness decided that since the Veyron SS they tested had a deactivated speed limiter not present on cars sold to the public, it no longer qualifies as a production car. With the limiter activated the Veyron SS can only achieve 258 mph.

With the Bugatti losing its title, the record went back to this guy...

The Fastest Car In The World: An Explainer

SSC Ultimate Aero

Engine: 6.3-liter, 1,287-hp twin-turbo V8

How Fast? 256.14 mph certified by Guinness in 2007

With the Veyron's title vacated, SSC reclaimed the record they set on a public highway in Washington State six years ago. This led to more than a little bit of Internet humblebragging from the folks at SSC.

Of course, SSC says it's nowhere near as fast as the car they have up their sleeve...

The Fastest Car In The World: An Explainer

SSC Tuatara

Engine: 6.9-liter, 1,350-hp twin-turbo V8

How Fast? 276 mph projected top speed claimed by SSC

Yes, the Tuatara is the bad boy that SSC says will obliterate the Bugatti's reign as the speed king once and for all... even if they've already technically done that.

It is important here to note that the Tuatara isn't out yet, and we're coming up on two years since the car was first announced, so some critics have already labeled it vaporware. In the meantime SSC says the Ultimate Aero's record will hold things over until it comes out.

SSC isn't the only group of Americans who want the title, though...

The Fastest Car In The World: An Explainer

Hennessey Venom GT

Engine: 7.0-liter 1,244 hp twin-turbo V8

How Fast? 265.7 mph claimed by Hennessey and certified by VBOX

And here's the reason we're all here. Hennessey Performance in Texas got their Venom GT to 265.7 mph, which they claim makes it the fastest production car in the world due to the Bugatti's use of a speed limiter. Note that this is Hennessey's claim, and it has not been certified by Guinness or some other record keeping body. But it did lead Guinness to reevaluate Bugatti's record and ultimately revoke their title.

While no will argue that the Venom GT is an insanely fast and amazing car, there has been some debate over to whether it should be considered a "production car." After all, it's built on a stretched and extremely modified Lotus Exige, and only 29 are planned for production; Hennessey has reported sold just 10.

But Guinness gave Venom GT the world record for fastest zero to 300 km/h (186 MPH) time for production cars. The Venom GT did that in just 13.63 seconds. Presumably this means that if the Venom GT could claim the world's fastest title if such a run were scrutinized by Guinness. After all, their "production car" guidelines don't seem to deal with numbers.

Don't feel too bad for Bugatti, they still have this...

The Fastest Car In The World: An Explainer

Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse

Engine: 8.0-liter, 1,200 hp quad-turbo W16

How Fast? 254.04 mph claimed by Bugatti

As Bugatti lost one record, they gained another, this time for world's fastest convertible after their roofless Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse hit 254 mph at a Volkswagen test track. That's not certified by Guinness or anything, so we'll have to see if someone steps up to challenge it.

And then there's the wild card from Sweden...

The Fastest Car In The World: An Explainer

Koenigsegg Agera R

Engine: 5.0-liter, 1,140 hp twin-turbo V8

How Fast? 273 mph top speed claimed by Koenigsegg

The Agera R is obscenely fast. It held the Guinness record for fastest zero to 300 kph sprint until that was obliterated by the Venom GT.

The car does not appear to have been Guinness-tested for a top speed. It's also unknown whether Koenigsegg's claimed 273 mph top speed has been verified, so we can only speculate whether it can reach the lofty heights set by the Bugatti and the Hennessey. Maybe this one will come back and surprise us one day.

What's your favorite among the current contenders for the "world's fastest" title?