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A supercar — also called exotic car — is a loosely defined description of certain high-performance street-legal sportscars. Since the 1990s or 2000s, the term hypercar has come into use for the highest performing supercars.

In the United States in the 1940s and 1950s, the term was used at times for technologies that were expected to appear on cars in the near future.


United Kingdom[edit]

An early usage for the term super-car was in an advertisement in The Motor magazine dated 3 November 1920 which claimed an unnamed car to be "the Supreme development of the British super-car".[1] Shortly after, an advertisement for the 'Ensign 6' (high-performance car similar to the Bentley Speed Six) appeared in The Times newspaper on 11 November 1920 with the phrase "If you are interested in a supercar, you cannot afford to ignore the claims of the Ensign 6".[2]

The Lamborghini Miura, produced from 1966–1973, is often said to be the first supercar.[3] By the 1970s and 1980s the term was in regular use, if not precisely defined.[4][5] One interpretation up until the 1990s was to use it for mid-engine two-seat cars with at least eight cylinders (but typically a V12 engine), a power output of at least 400 bhp (298 kW) and a top speed of at least 180 mph (290 km/h).[6] Other interpretations state that "it must be very fast, with sporting handling to match", "it should be sleek and eye-catching" and its price should be "one in a rarefied atmosphere of its own".[7] or regard exclusivity (i.e. limited production volumes) as an important characteristic.[3]

It is also claimed that the definition of a supercar has always been subjective and a matter of blind prejudice.[6]

United States[edit]

An early usage of the term supercar was a 1944 book forecasting the upcoming changes in car design. The term "supercar" was used (with quotes) to describe predicted future automobiles incorporating advances in design and technology such as rear-engine layouts and automatic transmissions.[8]

During the 1960s, cars that are now considered to be muscle cars were then referred to as supercars.[9][10](p8) The term was often (though not always) spelled with a capital S.[11] In 1966 the sixties supercar became an official industry trend.[9](p8) For example, the May 1965 issue of the American magazine Car Life includes multiple references to supercars and "the supercar club"[12] and a 1968 issue of Car & Driver magazine refers to "the Supercar street racer gang" market segment.[13] In the model name of the AMC S/C Rambler, the "S/C" is an abbreviation for "SuperCar".[14]

Since the decline of the muscle car in the 1970s, the word supercar came to mean a car in the mold of a Lamborghini or Ferrari.[9](p5) Other interpretations of the term are for limited-production models produced by small manufacturers for enthusiasts, and standard-looking cars modified for increased performance.[15]

The 1993–2001 Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, a research and development program by the U.S. Department of Commerce to develop an 80 mpg‑US (2.9 L/100 km; 96 mpg‑imp) family-sized sedan, was unofficially known as the "supercar" program.[16]


A more recent term for high-performance sportscars is "hypercar", which is sometimes used to describe the highest performing supercars.[17] As per supercars, there is no set definition for what constitutes a hypercar. One interpretation is a limited-production, range-topping model priced above US$1,000,000.[18]

Some people consider the 1993 McLaren F1 to be the first hypercar,[19] while others believe the 2005 Bugatti Veyron was the first hypercar.[20]

Many recent hypercars use a hybrid drivetrain, a trend started in 2013 by the McLaren P1, Porsche 918 Spyder and Ferrari LaFerrari. [21][22][23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "super-, prefix 6.c". Oxford English Dictionary. 1989. Archived from the original on June 22, 2011. Retrieved 27 December 2007.
  2. ^ "British Ensign Motors". The Times. 11 November 1920. p. 6.
  3. ^ a b "Supercars". Retrieved 10 March 2019.
  4. ^ Marshall, Stuart (4 September 1975). "Rewards and frustrations of the super cars". The Times. London. p. 23.
  5. ^ "Business Roundup; From the Land of the VW, a $35,000 Supercar". The New York Times. 21 September 1975. p. F15.
  6. ^ a b "Matt Prior's tester's notes - defining a supercar". Retrieved 10 March 2019.
  7. ^ Ward, Ian (1985), Secondhand Supercars, London Motor Show "Motorfair 1985" Official Catalogue
  8. ^ Cherne, Leo (1944). The Rest of Your Life. Doubleday, Doran and Co. pp. 216–217. Retrieved 11 September 2014.
  9. ^ a b c Harless, Robert (2004). Horsepower War: Our Way of Life. iUniverse. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-595-30296-3.
  10. ^ Gunnell, John (2001). Standard Guide to American Muscle Cars: A Supercar Source Book, 1960-2000. Krause. ISBN 9780873492621. Retrieved 16 January 2018. The term muscle car wasn't heard much hack when these vehicles were first hitting the market. In those days, the enthusiast magazines favored the term supercar.
  11. ^ Severson, Aaron (27 July 2009). "Super-iority: Defining the Supercar and Muscle Car". Retrieved 16 January 2018. what we now think of as muscle cars were more commonly called “Supercars,” often (though not always) spelled with a capital S.
  12. ^ "Rambler Scrambler". Car Life. 16: 33–36. 1969. Retrieved 11 September 2014.
  13. ^ "Rambler Scrambler". Car and Driver. 14: 84. 1968.
  14. ^ Lyons, Dan; Scott, Jason (2004). Muscle Car Milestones. MotorBooks/MBI Publishing. p. 89. ISBN 978-0-7603-0615-4. Retrieved 11 September 2014.
  15. ^ Cheetham, Craig (2006). Supercars. MotorBooks/MBI Publishing. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-7603-2565-0.
  16. ^ McCosh, Dan (June 1994). "Emerging Technologies for the Supercar". Popular Science. 244 (6): 95–100. Retrieved 11 September 2014.
  17. ^ "What's A Supercar? The Debate Rages On". The Drive. 27 February 2014. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  18. ^ "The Best and Worst Hypercars of 2017". Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  19. ^ "McLaren F1 - The First Hypercar?". 6 July 2018. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  20. ^ "The Bugatti Veyron: The original hypercar". Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  21. ^ "Top Gear mag's greatest cars - hypercars". Top Gear. 7 December 2017. Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  22. ^ "Holy Trinity Of Hypercars Is Up For Auction". Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  23. ^ "First hypercar 'holy trinity' boasted by RM Sotheby's". 17 April 2017. Retrieved 12 March 2019.