Can We Talk About Speed?

Our obsession with speed isn’t anything new.

Since the inception of motorised transport humans have chased down the dream of going as fast as possible on land, on water and in the air. The first officially-recorded land speed record was set in 1898, by France’s Jeantaud Duc at 39.24mph. It’s a number that is almost laughable by today’s standards, but at the time I’d imagine it was a terrifying pace.

2019 Bugatti 300MPH Speedhunters-02

If you were to retrospectively give the 20th Century a theme, then ‘speed’ would be a fitting one. The past 100+ years have been spent not only chasing down records set by any and all forms of transport, but have also brought with them the ethos that faster equals better. All around us, in our day-to-day lives, we’re surrounded by inventions that exist purely because they get the job done quicker.

Faster is more convenient because it gives us the gift of time.

But we aren’t Speedhunters because of the convenience; speed also equals thrills. If it didn’t, none of us would go fast – let’s face it, would you still risk your life, car, or driving license and/or job if the convenience of arriving quicker, or recording a slightly faster lap was the only reward? The last part is important if you’re seeking bragging rights, but a huge part of why we go fast is because the endorphins that are released when we do motivate us to do so.

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If the progressions in automotive technology over the past century-and-a-bit have taught us anything, it’s that we can always go faster. In fact, in recent years I’d say we’ve become a bit numb to the leaps that are made. Barely a month or two goes by without a new Nürburgring lap record being set, under varying categories or guidelines, we’re used to the idea that 1,000hp is a fairly reasonable figure for a modern hypercar, or that your showroom-bought performance sedan can be tweaked to produce 800hp+ and hit over 200mph without breaking a sweat.

Those are all insane statements, but I doubt you’re surprised by any of them.

What did surprise me, was the most recent news that Andy Wallace had taken a Bugatti Chiron past the staggering 300mph mark, hitting 304.77mph on the 5.4-mile straight at Volkswagen’s Ehra-Lessien testing facility in Germany. This blows the previous hypercar record of 284mph set by the Koenigsegg Agera RS completely out of the water and ticks that vital 300mph barrier off the checklist.

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The Chiron was modified significantly to reach this mark, being elongated and lowered with some very trick laser-controller suspension. Other tweaks to the bodywork, exhaust, interior and overall mass were needed, as well as specially-developed tyres and a somewhat-fettled W16 8-litre engine with four turbos strapped to it, producing over 1,500hp. Impressively, the OEM Chiron drivetrain was retained.

Bugatti have confirmed that their latest achievement sees them withdraw from the hypercar top speed race, having achieved what they set out to do. Unfortunately, their achievement (and one that we should celebrate) has been overshadowed this week after we saw the tragic passing of two figureheads in the world of speed. ‘The fastest woman on four wheels’, Jessi Combs, died in a terrible accident in Alvord Desert in Oregon while attempting to break her own land speed record of 398mph. She was gunning for 619mph.

Just a few days later race driver Anthoine Hubert perished at the infamous Eau Rouge at Spa following a horrific crash during the F2 race. Fellow driver Juan Manuel Correa was also involved in the accident, breaking both legs and suffering a spinal injury, but is said to be recovering.

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As the pursuit of speed grows exponentially more successfully, the price we pay when it doesn’t go to plan increases significantly. It could be argued that Jessie and Anthoine died doing what they loved, which is as good as we can all hope for.But have we reached the point at which we’re just chasing numbers? And at what point is our addiction to speed, and hearing about the new heights we’ve reached no longer satisfying?

Where do we draw the line? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts below.

Jordan Butters
Instagram: jordanbutters



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I knew this was coming...


Wow a Bugatti that is not only not pig-ugly but that I actually enjoy looking at?!

As for the topic, I've never been interested in speed, be it land speed records or the more common drag racing (track or street). It's pointless to me: there's always going to be someone faster, and straight lines don't excite me anyway. Plenty of fun can be had even at 'just' 200hp, and the risk is far lower. 619 mph on the inherently imperfect surface that is land? I'll never understand that mentality.



"All around us, in our day-to-day lives, we’re surrounded by inventions that exist purely because they get the job done quicker."

And yet I always hear/read that in the 'old days' life was so much more relaxed, yet now with all this convenience we're more busy and stressed out than ever. "Who has time these days?" Why is that? Why do people try to cram more in?


Well, I do understand where you are coming from. I can't help but think your point is more geared towards a topic as simple as a bunch of engineers bough some ore from the ground and made travel at 300+ mph.

They could have just as well put a 1.4L motor in it and used wagon wheels, but didn't seem to be the vision they had in mind.


The mind passes in an instant from east to west; and all the great incorporeal things resemble these very closely in speed. - Leonardo Da Vinci


Go faster.
Build cars differently, larger and safer; that's just another engineering challenge. But once that's done, keep going faster. The only reason it hasn't been done yet is because the status quo allows it - if enough people died for a while, things would change as mentioned. But that would just be a detour until going faster yet again.

We'll never have enough speed. Far enough in the future, people will race at speeds that make today look like 1898's 40mph. Racing around rocks at x thousands of MPH thru Saturn's A/B rings with pit stops in the Cassini Division. Or whatever.

Barring genetic editing to excise the need for speed, or some seriously stupidly prohibitive dystopian turn for the worse, the itch for more speed and power is not going to just stop. Even if it becomes as niche as something like motorcycle road racing is today.


i feel like anything way past ordinary limitations of human senses is kind of strange - 300mph is pretty comparable to 3,000 or 30,000 in the sense that if something jumps in front the vehicle, our dumb monkey brains won't realize until that something is halfway through the car.

i get that speed is addicting - adrenaline is, almost by definition, exciting - but at what point do you concede that there is an unreasonably high risk to reward ratio? i tend to think we've passed that point with production car top speeds, though i'm not suggesting there's a right or wrong answer, this is just how i feel.

maybe my confusion is about the reward in this scenario. i understand the appeal of engineering problems, trying to make structures and systems that can withstand increasingly insane stress conditions. the reward tends to be testing the limits of your ingenuity or craftsmanship.

what's in it for the pilot though? even in the chiron - a production car made to be used by normal people in everyday circumstances - at increasingly higher speeds the number of critical operations that you can afford to entrust to humans has to decrease accordingly, so what is the interest in going even more mind-bogglingly quickly?

the motorcycle road racing makes more sense to me as a niche because it strikes a balance between awesome feats of engineering and tests of skill, but as you keep moving further from what our brains can react to, it would seem to me that the balance gets skewed and it becomes more and more just a test of your engineers.


One of the best responses to a speedhunters article... ever. Humans are going to go bigger/faster/stronger, to deny this is to castrate part of our humanity. Will we be the generation that gives up on progress in the name of safety or some other hollow fallacy? Or... will we be the ones who embrace the cost of risk and strive for the stars? At what point in the history of mobility were we not "just" chasing the numbers? Progress and hope have never been birthed from a womb of sensibility.


grammar - *even if scratching it becomes as niche


I just today heard today that Jessi Combs died, and that's a terrible shame.
I fear that speed has become superficial due to the chase, and maybe it's not entirely worth it.
Speedhunters has always embodied way more than just speed, and that's certainly part of the appeal. I'm constantly learning about the enjoyment people get from their cars, and often speed doesn't factor into the equation.
I don't know.. just be safe. I rely on this media to strap me to the culture in ways that I can't. People dying isn't worth 300mph. That's just me though.


Chiron "LongTail".


RIP to Jessie and Anthoine. Unfortunately our passion comes with a very high risk. That being said, I believe that we, as human beings with a passion for speed will continue to push the envelope. Honestly, it is sad that Bugatti decided to withdraw. But at least they went out on top.


Bugatti may be first to 300mph, but it's not an official record until they do it both directions within an hour. I'm guessing the Chiron is modified more than would be allowed to qualify as a production car. Hell, they had to get Dallara to help them.


Here is an extract from a Top Gear article I read this morning:

"...after decades of cars pounding over Ehra-Lessien’s surface in the clockwise direction, the tarmac structure has rolled that way. Run it in the opposite direction, and you’re working against the grain, causing huge heat build up in the tyres (which ends badly). A two-lane highway doesn’t have this issue. But it also has no safety barriers, which presents another challenge."

So, there is that. It still is quite a stupendous technological achievement.


As true as that may be, that doesn't change the fact that it leaves the record unofficial. Hennessey Venom record was unofficial because they couldn't run in both directions on the Kennedy airstrip (and the production quantity).
Remember that these rules exist for a reason. Look at Koenigsegg Agera RS record run. The difference between the 2 directions was 14mph.
I personally don't see the point in this 'record'. If they're goal was to prove that a modified version of a Chiron hit 300mph, then good for them and its a smashing success. If they're goal was to say a Chiron set a 300+mph record than they're just masquerading this as a success. I'm not saying that its not impressive, but a highly modifies version running in only 1 direction doesn't constitute a speed record and it undermines the hard work of all the other manufacturers who put in the efforts of doing it correctly and by the official standards.

Christian Schimmrick

Breaking speed ecords will always be part of car culture - or at the very least part of any marketing team of a car manufacturer. Hey However, I don’t believe it will be as important as it has been in the past.

To be honest, I rather see more interesting records on the horizon... with different propulsion technologies.


How very poetic of everyone . People die all day, every day. Badness is happening right now. Just because there is more money involved... gotta keep going faster


"Non-smokers die every day" - Bill Hicks

May as well...


my thoughts are its in our nature to achieve what seems to be the achievable ..... so leave us be. kind of a silly article.




A website about cars called Speedhunters with an article questioning speed in cars....


Accurate! They hardly report on anything speed oriented. Hilarious comment that is going to piss people off because it is ACCURATE. Expect SH to take this comment down or remove it. This comment made my day.


The title of a website is hardly something to get a fuss over... Speedhunters has always been showcasing car culture and the events that go along with it. Do you expect a company like Apple to only sell fruits?


While both accidents are tragic, I think Jessi Combs' death was more on the preventable side. 619mph? I don't even understand how this is possible, but I am sure they did everything they could for safety. Sometimes things just go wrong.
I live in Germany and I am used to driving on the Autobahn where I see Mercedes-Benzes, BMWs and Audis shooting by at well above 200 km/h and it gets tedious. Driving fast for the sake of driving fast is not what the community should strive after.
I am sure both accidents were just bad luck as safety standards today are quite high, but maybe we should focus on something else. What is the point in all these 1000hp hypercars, when you can literally never drive them at that speed. Even at tracks, those speeds are rarely even close.


When you strap yourself into the cockpit of what used to be a jet fighter used for many years as flying test bed at Area 51 and was piloted by many astronauts back in late 50's-60's, attached to steel wheels and its modified jet engine, you never know what'll happen even if you accounted for everything.

That being said people just don't understand that asking "why you need a car with a 330, 400 kph top speed or whatever, you will never reach it anyway?" Is just wrong and ignorant. Top speed is not a purpose of performance car, it's not that car made to do so, it's just a proof it can do so. Most of supercars weren't actually tested at their max speed and their top speed written in specs is only theoretical, calculated from other specs. The top speed is just a matter of achievements in streamlining the aero, making stable and efficient drivetrain etc. Sure there are hypercars, which are created as an engineering statement and speed record is one of obvious staples of technological success. Remem how Jaguar creates a car they intended to go 220 mph but stock XJ220 just couldn't achieve more than 216. Because it didn't had enough power, aero couldn't be made more efficient, it was not light enough and many other reasons. While german engineer Dauer modified a race car Porsche 962C to be a useable road supercar, and it happened to be light, powerful and streamlined enough to reach 400 kph.


It's an absolutely remarkable achievement, and not something I ever thought would be possible as a kid watching manufacturers & tuners crack 200MPH. The 'double-ton' was always the benchmark growing up and to think it's now 300+MPH? Madness.

I love that there are people out there always trying to push the envelop, whether it's land speed records or trying to put us further into space than we've ever been before. It's progress and we always end up reaping the benefits of these people's efforts as a species.

However, I do agree that it is bittersweet. Anyone whom has lost a friend or family member to motorsport or speed will always have a different perspective on these kinds of things. There's then the question of what's the point in building a 300+MPH car when it can never be realistically used anywhere? I doubt there's even a derestricted section of autobahn anywhere suitable, regardless of how irresponsible it would be to do that kind of speed past regular traffic. It's one thing to put your own life at risk, but it's another to jeopardise others who want no part of your actions.

It would be bloody great though if this is the end of the production car horsepower wars, and that car companies start focusing on building affordable, fun cars to drive again. Lightweight, relatively low power cars whose performance is accessible by the masses. It's no wonder so many kids these days have no interest in cars, when they don't have access to anything that ticks these boxes.

So, yes 300+MPH is awesome and all, but I really hope that's the end of the matter.


As I've gotten older and record speeds have gone WELL over that previous "barrier" speed of 200 mph+, I have found myself in the same place as many others here in that Top Speed has become realistically irrelevant in many ways, mostly due to the same comments regarding safety, viability to do so, and why to do so.
As mentioned below by Alister Law, I've found that my modified Z32 has FAR more ability than I can generally use around others, and surely within the confines of speed and safety laws. And Jessi Combs shows what can and does happen at times when chasing that ultimate speed, which then raises the "why" question.
So as Paddy says, enough is enough with the "let's go even FASTER" (in a stupid-expensive, specially prepared vehicle few if any will ever own or surely use) mentality and start building good-looking cars again that people can relate to and love, instead of Terminator-style everything that has no soul, and functions that are really not useful in normal life.


The 'accessible' performance is there. At least going off US prices, the MX-5/124, 86/BRZ, and 4-cyl Camaro start at about $25k, another grand with get you into a 4-cyl Mustang (let's be honest, these eco pony cars aren't bad performers, they're just overshadowed), and still another grand will. I think the problem is more that all this speed and horsepower on the internet has jaded the younger crowd.


God-damned touch screen, I wasn't done with that comment!

Anyway, I was going to add the WRX in there after the Mustang.

The 86/BRZ is an especially confusing car for me, because to me that car is today's 240SX/Silvia. Pretty much the same power-to-weight if you compare stock cars (I think the newer car, rightly, edges it even), same classic front-engine, rear-drive layout. It even looks fantastic. And yet all I hear is that it's so underpowered. Meanwhile, the S-chassis is an untouchable icon. The accessible - and realistic - performance is definitely there, people just don't seem to want it.


I have to say that I think most of the "underpowered" complaints directed towards the GT86 are from people jaded by higher HP cars, people who have never actually driven one and people who entirely miss the point of the 86. It was never designed or intended to go blisteringly fast, it was built from the ground up to put a smile on the drivers face! I never felt that I was lacking in speed or power in the 86's I've driven and that's after spending the last 3 years daily-ing my built STI.


I agree with this.
I think the future will treat the 86 very well. People won't get bent over it until it's out of production lol. Then they'll want one.


My hope is to grab a BRZ as soon as I get my STI paid off. There's my perfect 2 car garage :D. Unfortunately the 86 falls apart as a daily driver for me as I can technically fit my kids car seats in the back but there is no headroom at all and no safety margin for the kids. Strange the that the STI is my perfect family car? I also find it satisfying that I have no desire for any more power than what I currently get from it too, right around 300 hp for that car and I'm good.


Damn Subarus are too practical lol.


There's always a statement car that is a measure of achievement, but I've always questioned the speed one like many others below. First world citizens are caught up in an ever growing and ageing population that doesn't support such needs. At some point a virtual reality machine/experience will perhaps remove/reduce the risk of such fatalities. Until then, my humble Z33 is more than I could ever ask for in terms of power. I honestly don't know what to do with more than 300 bhp on public roads when I rarely ever get it past 4000 RPM!


"I honestly don't know what to do with more than 300 bhp on public roads when I rarely ever get it past 4000 RPM!"

Come on dude...That's probably true under commute driving manners. If you don't step outside the lines when you drive your car, and you don't get excited by doing so, you need a mentor.

I'm not talking about speed record attempts on the freeway, or swinging your car around in a side show, I mean just having good spirited fun here and there.


I get excited driving the Z33 period. I commute to work by train most days of the week, else I'm rolling in a utility truck. Slow or fast, I just appreciate it for what it is. With stiffer transmission and differential mounts, stiffer springs and dampers, and minimal electronics, it's a quite a raw feeling with a lot of direct feedback, relatively speaking. With regards to driving hard, I still think an underpowered car with tuned suspension is more fun to drive everyday than an overpowered one because you have to really work the car to get it moving - it's so much more engaging. Even on winding stretches like the Great Ocean Road, with the reduced speed limits, traffic, early cyclists, and the police, it's a real struggle to wind the engine up.


I get what he's saying, TBH. On my favorite 'fun' roads, I can rarely stretch out the top of third gear. Imagine how little of the performance someone would use in something like the Chiron?


What if I told you that it's not the car that is incapable of going beyond third, but you're driving?

*shock* *gasp* can't be! You're not a racing driver! Definitely not the reason.


Correct, I'm not a racing driver. Also, the public road isn't a racetrack. Great contribution to the conversation, though.


The point is what you are capable of is not a representation of what is reality. What benefit did going to the moon have? Oh wait, that's how we got microwaves, microprocessors and pretty much every single thing that exists in the modern world.

One person who "doesn't know what to do with 300bhp" is not a good reason to stop pushing boundaries. This is literally how the human race works. It's a bell curve and most people live in the middle which is why we are getting middle of the road responses here.

Thank God for people who left the cave so others can yap about how great they are at cooking with fire.


I think you've just completely made up my standpoint in your own head, despite my actual view being already written in the comments a few days ago.


How many "drivers" own cars like that? I have no clue, but I bet people who enjoy touring, driving in rallies, and wake up early to enjoy city streets before the hustle would much rather choose something else, even if that absurdity was parked right next to it in their garage.

Besides, I'd much rather crash a $30,000, or $150,000 car rather than a million dollar car.


Surely on an everyday basis the thrill of speed is different to the thrill of going faster than anybody else? If you’ve got to own a car which is faster than somebody else’s that’s different to being secure enough in yourself to enjoy a ride at a speed that gives you a thrill. Satisfy yourself rather than having to beat/dominate others and the world will be a better place. That’s not how it works though is it?!


As amazing of an achievement this is. The Bugatti fanboy base on youtube and social media has seriously blown this apart. They seem to not realize that this is a non-production model of the car, actually pre-production derivative as the Top Gear article clearly states, with a lot of modifications made from factory spec to make this happen. It's an amazing achievement. And rightfully so they should bow-out now. It's dangerous.

Now Koenigsegg will come out to play, remove the speed-limiter on the Agera-RS and possibly make some modifications as well and it'll be another 300mph run. However they don't get access to VWs fancy facility. Making it infinitely more dangerous and leaving more room for a fatal error.


A modified Ford GT went over 300 mph in the standing mile this April.


Also highly modified but still very cool nonetheless. As a big Ford GT fan I definitely enjoy knowing that.


One thing you should note when talking about that Ford GT is there was actually very little done to the aerodynamics of it. IIRC it only had a flat floor installed and a mildly shaped rear diffuser.

Bugatti is a bit of a joke to anyone in the industry who really knows cars and modifying things. The guy who built that GT was a fighter pilot who did it out of a hanger in Texas. No millions spent in R&D and a private test facility.


"As the pursuit of speed grows exponentially more successfully, the price we pay when it doesn’t go to plan increases significantly."
I disagree. I think crashing at 400km/h isn't much different from crashing at 800km/h. You'll die regardless. :^)


yes, but two tons of car crashing at 800km/h can cause significantly more damage to things /outside/ the cabin than one moving at 400km/h.


Neither of these speeds are achievable where you can cause major damage to anything else than yourself, your vehicle, the surface you drive on, maybe some barriers and trees if it's not in the desert or salt lake.


I'm surprised at some of the responses I'm seeing here. I think the point was missed, or, some are just so used to surfing the internet that this achievement seems mundane. Indeed, Bugatti might be sending a message to it's own clients, and we just happen to be in the room.


Motorsports have often been justified by the trickle down effect of the technology gained through competition eventually being useful on an every day basis, and this is how I want to look at top speed runs.

For all the danger that is present, we can't forget the amounts of R/D put into these projects and how this can improve every day living. The tyres example just so recently were said to be incapable of withstanding such strains, imagine if the same was said for the Ferrari F40 and no one ever tried to go 200mph ?

In a similar way space travel, with all its dangers is still something pushed for and will continue to do so until we learn how to safely do it... so perhaps we either continue pushing into the unknown and risk the terrors which are truly unfortunate, or we accept that we are happy where we are. Problem is man is never content with what he has and will continue to suffer because of it, but he'll also continue to learn from it.


What is the point of going +200 km/h if its feels like going 60? I mean, the build quality of today's cars its amazing and almost you dont feel much except the (none) visibility or sensitive of other cars/things (dangerous). On the other hand you can bet that those first 40mph will scare the shit out of everyone in the room, and you need to find that kind of experience, something that gives you chills or feelings (even fear of death) at 80km/h after you drive it to the absolute maximum
Even if it's a POS you enjoy the full car experiencie with rattles, moves and the personality of the car, not just a plain fast turn-less ride with AC and background music, like a quick Uber.


It’ll never stop.


let's keep chasing speed until we can hit lightspeed in a taped-up Honda Insight. because whoever makes it happen is gonna get one hell of an endorphin high


Fly to a planet with gravity but no atmosphere, build a miles-long strip of smooth tarmac, and you're golden.


As wise man once said: "To infinity and beyond."
The world is not enough and you can't stop rock'n'roll, so the race will continue on forever.


is it really worth dying for though? tragedies like this are reminders to think about what's really important, and i think that's the question here - is this constant pursuit of higher speeds actually worth the risk, or is it just meaningless? just because it hasn't ended yet doesn't mean it can't. just because there isn't some well-defined boundary past which we cannot go doesn't mean we should pretend like there will never be a reason to stop. why /should/ the race continue on forever?


If no one left the cave we wouldn't be having this conversation and a lot of people died when they left the cave. It's called progress. Takes a lot of sacrifice.


I drive a 2000 Saturn SL2; speed does not even enter the conversation with me. Lol