More than any other part of the automotive industry, the supercar market is littered with the financial bodies of slick-talking but overly ambitious vanity chasers, all attempting to stamp their name in the annals of high-performance history alongside the likes of Enzo Ferrari and Ferrucio Lamborghini. There’s a reason for that: building a zero-compromise, limited-production vehicle is a cheaper and simpler process than building a mass-market commuter car, but it’s still a long way from being cheap or easy. Every day, it seems like the automotive tabloids are extolling the virtues of an angularly-styled wheeled doorstop, usually bankrolled by an oil-rich sheik or Baltic billionaire and powered by a Chevy small block of dubious potency, only to have the entire affair quietly disappear a couple of months later.
No, this list is all about the success stories, at least relative to the graveyard that is the supercar industry. "Big" companies like Koenigsegg and Pagani are exceptional cases: I’ll consider any start-up that managed to build even a single fully-functional car (that matches their original design brief, at least) to be a winner in my book. There’s plenty to choose from: the number of companies that managed to crank out at least one working prototype before shuffling off to the mortal coil is honestly quite surprising. And don’t think a single country has a patent on near-success in this industry: entries on this list come from all around the world, from verdant industrial parks in the UK to neon-lit industrial parks in Japan.
20 Ken Okuyama K07
Ken Okuyama is a Japanese product designer with a portfolio that’s pretty hard to beat: he was one of the lead designers on the first-gen Honda NSX as well as the Porsche Boxster, and worked his way through the ranks of Italian coachbuilding icon Pininfirina to become the company’s Creative Director, overseeing projects like the Ferrari Enzo, Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, and Maserati Birdcage 75th concept. The K07, the first car to bear his own name, has a body made from carbon fiber and polished aluminum, inspired by Okuyama’s beloved TAG Heuer Grand Carrera chronograph. The watch-inspired exterior conceals a Lotus Elise-sourced chassis and engine, though the latter is bored-out from 1.8 to 2.0 liters and produces 210 hp, enough to haul the 1,784 lb K07 to 60 MPH in about five seconds.
19 Kodiak F1
In a seemingly unlikely set of circumstances, a German company called Speed & Sports, which specialized in building roof mechanisms for convertibles, decided to try their hand at building their own car.
True to form, the 1983 Kodiak F1, designed with the aid of the University of Munich and their revolutionary CAD software, had a pretty nifty (closed) roof fitted with gullwing doors.
However, Speed and Sports managed to impress by getting the other supercar fundamentals right: the F1 employed a tubular space frame structure and body made from a mix of hyper-strong composites, Brembo brakes, Koni dampers, as well as a Corvette-sourced 5.7 liter V8 hooked up to a ZF five-speed manual transmission.
18 Bugatti Edonis
Most people forget that the Veyron wasn’t the start of Bugatti’s revival. That honor belongs to the wedge-shaped 1991 EB110, designed during a time in which the company was owned entirely by Italian entrepreneur Romano Artioli. Unfortunately, the battered economy of the nineties, combined with Artioli’s financial overreach (somehow, he thought that buying Lotus while developing a brand-new car was a sensible decision), meant that the Italian incarnation of Bugatti went bust in 1995.
This led a small group of former Bugatti engineers to form B Engineering. Their first (and only) car, the Edonis, used leftover EB110 carbon-fibre chassis and turbocharged V12s.
Mind you, that’s not to say it was merely a reskinned version of an antiquated model. The Edonis junked the EB110’s quad-turbo forced induction setup (in favor of two big turbos) and AWD system, and also enlarged the capacity of its V12 from 3.5 to 3.8 liters. B Engineering claimed a total output of 680 hp and a top speed of 227 MPH. Just 21 were built before the company disintegrated.
17 Bristol Fighter
Britain has a pretty established pedigree in building both long-nosed grand-tourers and warplanes. What happens when you mash those two seemingly unrelated disciplines together? Well, you get Bristol Cars, an offshoot of the Bristol Aeroplane Company. The latter, founded in 1910, built the aircraft that formed the backbone of England’s Royal Air Force. The Fighter, introduced in 2004, pays homage to that illustrious legacy not only in name (the F.2 Fighter was a WW1-era biplane introduced back in 1916) but in detailing: the interior plays host to an array of instruments mounted overhead, while the side windows feature sliding openings. Drama comes courtesy of an 8.0 liter Chrysler V10, shared with the Dodge Viper but massaged to crank out 525 hp, gullwing doors, a bespoke leather-lined cockpit, and a high-tech aluminum and carbon fiber construction. If you’re looking to buy one, good luck: manufacturing stopped in 2011, after an alleged production run of a mere 13 units.
16 Cizeta-Moroder V16T
It’s hard to get more eighties-cyberpunk chic then the outrageous Cizeta-Moroder V16T. It comes from the find of former Lamborghini test driver Claudio Zampolli, revolutionary car designer Marcelo Gandini, and musical pioneer Giorgio Moroder, AKA the father of electronic music. An odd mix of people, sure, but one ideally suited to the challenges of envisioning a car that would make every other road-going vehicle look about as dull as a clapped-out Chevy Cavalier.
Obviously, the star of the show is the 6.0 liter V16 engine.
How couldn’t it be? However, somehow, the ludicrous cylinder count plays second fiddle to the motor’s positioning. Rather than mounting it in the conventional longitudinal manner (having the cylinder banks run parallel to the length of the car), Zampolli insisted outfitting it transversely, necessitating the Cizeta-Moroder’s enormous girth (for reference, it’s about an inch wider than a Lamborghini Aventador). The 540 hp V16T was built on a tubular space frame chassis, and featured a sophisticated double wishbone suspension setup mated to inboard Koni dampers.
15 Covini C6W
There isn’t exactly a surplus of six-wheeled performance cars on the market right now, so I should give credit to Covini for tapping into this woefully under-explored niche. If you’re a Formula 1 fan like I am, the first car to come to mind after seeing the C6W is the similarly six-wheeled Tyrell P34. That resemblance isn’t accidental, as the P34 played a large part in influencing the Covini’s mechanical layout. Like that bizarre F1 car, the front two pairs of wheels turn in unison, the theory being that more rubber equals a larger contact patch, which in turn yields improved traction.
According to Jalopnik’s Bill Caswell, that design philosophy holds water, claiming that “[when] I drove it into the corner it felt like I dropped my entire forearm through the wheel down to the road to support the weight of the cornering.” The C6W’s sextet of wheels are indecently sprung using an F1-inspired pushrod setup, but power from the 4.2-liter Audi-sourced V8, rated at 433 hp, is only sent to the rear axle through a six-speed manual.
14 De Tomaso Longchamps
Italian sports car builder De Tomaso is best known for two models: the gorgeous Ford-powered Pantera and the earlier, even more gorgeous Mangusta. The brutish Longchamps, introduced in 1972, towers over its svelte mid-engine siblings in much the same way that Arnold Schwarzenegger does over Danny Devito (sorry folks, I watched Twins last night, so my pop-culture references today are probably going to be firmly rooted in mid-nineties family movies).
Its blocky styling comes courtesy of the closely related De Tomaso Deauville luxury sedan, another name that’s not quite household, though power was sourced from the far better-recognized Pantera: the Ford-sourced Cleveland V8 made up to 355 hp, enough for a top speed of just under 150 MPH. Despite its sizeable footprint, the Longchamps could corner too, thanks to front double wishbones and a coil spring suspension setup out rear, with braking duties handled via all-around vented disc brakes.
13 De Tomaso Guarà
Introduced in 1993, the Guarà was De Tomaso’s most recent model. It broke tradition by initially foregoing Ford-sourced power in favor of a far more cosmopolitan 4.0 liter BMW M60 V8, made from lightweight alloy and capable of producing almost 280 hp, though later versions of the model did use a Ford-sourced powertrain in the form of 4.6 liter V8, co-developed with Michigan-based tech firm Visteon. The Guarà’s sleek body, made from a lightweight mix of Kevlar, fiberglass and other exotic composites, sits on top of a bespoke backbone chassis. Despite an 11-year production run, only 50 cars were ever completed before the company went into liquidation in 2004.
12 Grinnall Scorpion S-IV
Grinnall Specialist Cars, based out of Worcestershire, UK, isn’t exactly a super well-known name even in the hyper-niche world of lightweight track cars. Odd, considering how appealing the Scorpion S-IV seems to be.
Weighing in at a mere 1,436 lbs, in no small part thanks to its fiberglass body and lightweight space frame structure, it wouldn’t take much power to make the Scorpion really fly.
Thankfully, it seems the British firm is a strong believer in not doing things halfway, as the most recent versions of the car are powered by a heavily fortified version of Audi’s 1.8 liter inline-four, capable of producing anywhere between 250 and 440 hp, channeled to the rear axle via a six-speed Getrag gearbox.
11 Jiotto Caspita
Borne of the late eighties Japan economic boom, the Jiotto Caspita could have been one of the true hypercar greats, a neck-snapping mission statement showcasing the depth of the engineering talent in the Land of the Rising Sun. Today, it's seen as little more than an interesting footnote in Japan’s wildly fascinating auto industry. The Caspita was designed by racing engineering firm Dome, who also built Toyota’s Le Mans prototypes through much of the nineties.
Its first iteration was unveiled at the 1989 Tokyo Auto Show, powered by a 450 hp flat-12 from Subaru’s doomed Formula 1 effort. However, the recession that followed the Caspita’s reveal meant that it was put on the backburner for a couple of years. Thankfully, Dome didn’t abandon the project, revealing a refreshed car in 1993 that was powered by another F1-sourced engine, this time a far more potent Judd V10 that cranked out 585 hp and revved to 10,500 RPM.
10 Lister Storm
Lister is a hugely well-respected name in the motorsports world, having built Le Mans-ready race cars since the mid-1950s. They cut their teeth in the road-legal sports car market of the mid-eighties with a limited run of extensively modified Jaguar XJSs capable of cracking 200 MPH.
The Storm, unveiled in 1993, was a far different beast. More than a glorified tuner special, it was built from the ground up to challenge the established supercar hierarchy.
To that end, Lister stuffed what was at the time the largest V12 engine ever fitted to a production car under the Storm’s hood: the naturally-aspirated 7.0 liter unit, sourced from the Le Mans-winning Jaguar XJR-9 Group C car, made over 550 hp and could propel the car to 211 MPH.
9 Lotec Mercedes C1000
In 1994, a fabulously wealthy United Arab Emirates oil tycoon (probably the only type of person who could afford to bankroll this sort of project) commissioned Mercedes-Benz to build the world’s fastest street-legal car. The fact that an automaker with an R&D budget equivalent to the GDP of a small country enlisted the aid of a small German motorsports engineering specialist called Lotec is a pretty big endorsement for the latter.
They were in charge of the stunning exterior, built from a mix of carbon-fiber and aerospace-grade composites, while Mercedes took care of the engine. Curb weight was a mere 2,380 lbs while power from the twin-turbocharged 5.6 liter V8, running on a mix of unleaded gas and aviation fuel, eclipsed the 1,000 hp mark. The performance figures certainly match those outrageous claims: 0-60 MPH in 3.2 seconds, 0-125 mph in 8.08 seconds, and a top speed of 268 MPH.
8 Marussia B1
Moscow-based Marussia was a pioneer in the desolate wastes of the Russian supercar industry, with the first, and probably best, lineup of Russian-engineered high-performance offerings. Not exactly a headline-worthy boast, considering how slim the competition is in that particular niche, but cars like B1 deserve to be compared to the competition from outside the country, because they really were quite good.
The B1 utilized a semi-monocoque structure made of aluminum, and was offered with a trio of Cosworth-tuned V6 engines, the most potent of which cranked out 420 hp.
With a curb weight of just 2,425 lbs, its power-to-weight ratio of 388 hp/ton eclipses that of a Ferrari 458 Italia. Unfortunately, the company went bust in 2014.
7 Mosler Consulier GTP LX
This ungainly mess of right angles is actually one of the most cleverly-designed supercars to come out of the 1980s. Unlikely, I know, given the fact that it looks like the result of cross-breeding a kit car and a tissue box, but not so surprising if you take a closer look at the details: Consulier Industries (now known as Mosler Automotive), an engineering firm based out Riviera Beach, Florida, based the GTP’s design on that of contemporary race cars.
Its exotic construction, comprised of a composite monocoque chassis mated to a carbon-kevlar body, kept weight under 2200 lbs.
That figure was also a consequence of Consulier’s choice of engine; rather than using a cast-iron V8, the GTP employed a Chrysler-sourced 2.2-liter turbocharged inline-four that kicked out 175 hp. Not a lot certainly, but enough to allow race-prepped versions of the car to dominate IMSA races at Lime Rock and Laguna Seca before being banned from competition.
6 Panoz AIV Roadster
Braselton, Georgia-based Panoz, LLC is an offshoot of domestic motorsports dynasty Panoz Motor Sports Group, which founded the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), the International Motor Sports Association, and owns the Road Atlanta circuit as well as a long-term lease on the legendary Sebring International Raceway. Long story short, they’ve probably got access to above average engineering talent.
The new-for-1996 AIV (Aluminum-Intensive Vehicle) is a tangible testament to that. While its quasi-open-wheel design pays homage to the roadsters of the early 1950s, this two-seater is thoroughly modern underneath: running gear is sourced from a 1996 Ford Mustang Cobra, which means an all-aluminum quad-cam V8 pumping out 305 hp, which yields a 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds and the possibility of 13.5 second quarter-mile sprints.
5 Parradine 525S
Launched at the 2000 British Motor Show with an eye-watering inflation-adjusted price tag of $266,000, the Parradine 525S was billed by its British creator as being a 21st-century reincarnation of the legendary AC Cobra. Sticker shock aside, the formula kind of holds: built on a lightweight space frame chassis and cloaked in a carbon and glass-fiber body, the 525S is powered by a supercharged version of the Ford Mustang’s 4.6 liter modular V8, which cranked out, you guessed it, 525 hp.
Those stallions were routed to the rear axle via a suitably retro six-speed manual gearbox, and allowed the 525S to top out at 204 MPH. The most obvious (a bizarre) concession to modernity was the absence of traditional side mirrors, replaced instead by rear-facing cameras that would project their images onto a pair of small screens located on either side of the leather-lined cockpit.
4 Prodrive P2
Prodrive is a world-renowned engineering firm, best known in for their involvement with the professional rally circuit, having prepared WRC-winning Subaru Imprezas since the early 1990s. Safe to say they are most certainly not dummies. That explains the excitement surrounding their first stab at a sports car of their design.
Unveiled at the Autosport International show in 2006, the P2 concept was a fully-functional two-seater designed by Peter Stevens, better known as the guy who sketched up the McLaren F1.
It was based on a heavily modified platform from the Subaru R1 Kei car, which explains its diminutive size and 2,400 lb curb weight, achieved in spite of its heavy AWD system, computer-controlled differential and bulky WRX STi-sourced engine, which was fitted with a sophisticated anti-lag system and was capable of flinging the P2 to 60 MPH in under four seconds.
3 SARD MC8
Squint a little bit, and you might see shades to the second-generation Toyota MR2 sports car in the SARD MC8. Not coincidental, as SARD (an acronym for the suitably awesome-sounding Sigma Advanced Racing Development) was a high-end Japanese tuner with extremely close ties to Toyota. The MC8-R, built to do battle in the red-hot crucible of mid-nineties Le Mans GT1 racing, was essentially a heavily modified MR2 with a 600 hp V8 mounted behind the driver.
Unfortunately, it couldn’t mount a credible challenge against competition like the McLaren F1 GTR and Porsche 911 GT1, having retired early at the 1995 race and finishing second to last at the 1996 event. SARD redeemed themselves by building an achingly cool road-going version of the MC8-R, called the MC8, for homologation purposes. It might be a bit of a rare find, mind you, as only one was built.
2 Venturi 400 GT
Despite France’s thriving auto industry, there a conspicuous scarcity of purebred Gallic sports cars. Alpine A110 aside, it’s hard to think of a recent dedicated high-performance machine from the land of Bordeaux, Brie, and baguettes. Well, unless you’re a colossal nerd like yours truly, you probably won’t remember Venturi.
Founded in the early eighties, all of Venturi’s offering were similarly-styled mid-engined sports cars that belied their small company origins with an enormously high level of build quality, on par with the biggest of automakers.
The 1995 400 GT, built as a homologation version of the car used for a one-make racing series, was the fastest road car they ever made, and can still claim to be the fastest French production car ever built. Powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.0 liter V6 cranking out 408 hp and 384 lb ft of torque, this fiberglass-shelled bolide could accelerate to 60 MPH in about 4.5 seconds on to a top speed of 181 MPH. Fun fact: the 400 GT was the first production vehicle to be fitted with carbon brakes!
1 Yamaha OX99-11
The OX99-11 was borne of Yamaha’s late eighties involvement in Formula 1 as an engine supplier (remember, this was during the Japanese economic boom, when the country’s business leaders seemingly made their decisions with the aid baffling quantities of cocaine), serving as a showcase for their newly developed 3.5 liter V12, dubbed OX99. With the aid of British engineering firm IAD, engineers devised a lightweight carbon fiber monocoque chassis to serve as a suitable cradle for the F1-derived engine (detuned for road use from 560 to 400 hp, but still capable of revving to 10,000 RPM) clothing the entire shebang in a *ahem* distinctive all-aluminium body, supposedly inspired by Group C race cars.
Weighing in at a mere 2,500 lbs, the OX99-11 could sprint to 60 MPH in just 3.2 seconds and top out at an estimated 217 MPH.
Added awesomeness comes in the form of the forward-hinged, fighter-jet style glass canopy, which provided access to the centrally-mounted driver seat and the single passenger chair mounted right behind it. Unfortunately, due to disagreements over the project’s budget, just three fully functional prototypes were built before the project was called off.