Why stop at taking off the top when you can also take off the windshield, right? We are, of course, talking about ‘speedsters’ sports cars that arguably offer the purest, most visceral driving experience ever. While drop-top convertibles do provide a fun experience, speedsters ratchet up involvement levels to a different plane altogether; with the windshield gone, the gloves come well and truly off, and its man vs elements, no holds barred.
With most regular convertibles, the driver can expect a bit of buffeting, a bit of noise, yes. With a speedster, it’s almost like being on a motorcycle. Indeed, drivers often have to wear a full-face helmet or at least a pair of wraparound glasses to save their faces from being shredded by the wind. Not a very practical arrangement and not one that’s particularly convenient for high-speed driving. But if it’s the dramatic impact you’re after, it’s hard to beat a speedster. With the move towards hybrids, electric cars, and a newfound eco-consciousness that decries the pursuit of tyre-smoking velocity, petrolheads may well be staring at a bleak future. Sure, electric cars also have the potential to offer terrific performance, but they cannot match the aural experience of internal combustion engines; a whining electric motor is a poor substitute for the sheer concert of 8- and 12-cylinder engines with screaming superchargers and howling turbochargers.
The reality, of course, is that speedsters have been losing their popularity over the years. Even in the West, with their much lower levels of heat, dust, and pollution etc., only a small handful of manufacturers make a few hundred speedsters every year, since there aren’t too many takers. In India, road and climate conditions make these cars completely useless, as you risk being drenched in the rain, choked by diesel fumes, or swamped in the dust if you drive one.
No wonder the number of speedsters that made its way to India over the years is probably in single or double digits. Among the more famous ones was the Porsche 356, imported by the Maharaja of Sawantwadi many decades ago. Similarly, a few other royal families were known to own old Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz speedsters in the 1950s and 1960s. These have long been consigned to the annals of history. Chinkara, a small company based near Mumbai, built an Indian version of the Caterham roadster until a few years ago, which never really caught on.
Globally, though, car companies know that the internal combustion engine may well be on its last leg, and electric mobility will lead the way in the coming years. Perhaps that is the reason why many of them are making high performance speedsters, which offer the purest, most intense form of motoring as we’ve known it for the last 100 years. Think of these cars as the farewell, the going away party, for the glory that was the IC engine. This is the MW list of the best speedsters ever built, and are still being sold.
FERRARI MONZA SP1 AND SP2
Let loose upon an unsuspecting world back in 2018, the Ferrari Monza SP2 and SP1 (single-seater variant, for those who are unwilling to share their car with a passenger) are limited-edition, special series super-speedsters from the iconic Italian carmaker. Stylistically based on Ferrari’s racing barchettas of the past — cars like the late-1940s 166 MM and the mid-1950s 860 Monza — the new SP1 and SP2 are designed to provide a unique driving experience. With no top and no windshield, these cars let their occupants experience the animalistic fury of their 6.5-litre V12 engines; with 810 horsepower going to the rear wheels, these Ferraris can accelerate from zero to 100kph in 2.9 seconds, and 200kph in an incredible 7.9 seconds. ‘The complete absence of a roof and windscreen gave the designers the freedom to create unique proportions that would not have been possible on a traditional spider,’ says Ferrari about the SP1 and SP2. ‘The result is the feeling of blistering speed normally only experienced by Formula 1 drivers, which derives from a cockpit that wraps around the driver.’ With carbon fibre bodywork, swing-up doors for maximum dramatic effect, and a selection of apparel and accessories (created in collaboration with leading luxury brands, Loro Piana and Berluti), including racing overalls, jersey, helmet, gloves, scarf, and driving shoes, everything about the Ferrari Monza SP1 and SP2 has been designed to provide an unmatched driver-centric experience. Ferrari will build only 499 units of this speedster duo, with each car costing upwards of US$1.8 million (Rs 13.18 crore). But what the heck, it’s just money, right?
MERCEDES-BENZ SLR STIRLING MOSS
British racing driver Sir Stirling Moss OBE (who passed away in April last year at the age of 90) won the 1955 Mille Miglia and Targa Florio in a Mercedes Benz 300 SLR. More than half a century later, in 2008, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the SLR Stirling Moss, a tribute to the great racer and his many on-track achievements. While the car was based on the Mercedes SLR McLaren, the top and the windshield were left out in a nod to the rather more spartan cars that Moss raced in his time. There was no dearth of power or performance, though; the SLR Stirling Moss was fitted with a 5.5-litre, 650bhp supercharged V8, which pushed the car from zero to 100kph in less than 3.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 350kph. Production of this car was limited to a mere 75 units, each with a price tag of 750,000 euros (Rs 6.67 crore). Designed and built for Mercedes-Benz purists, the SLR Stirling Moss was dripping with exotica, featuring extensive use of carbon fibre, aluminium, and high-grade leather in its construction. Its advanced aerodynamics are optimised for minimum wind resistance and maximum road grip. Safety features include rollover protection bars, and an airbrake that deploys automatically while braking hard beyond a speed of more than 120kph. The SLR Stirling Moss is an all-around capable supercar that could keep up with the best of them. These cars still come up for auction once in a rare while, so if you have a few crores to spare and if you’ve always wanted a very, very fast Mercedes, now might be the time to speak to your connections at RM Sotheby’s and Bonhams.
ASTON MARTIN V12 SPEEDSTER
Built in homage to Aston Martin’s late-1950s Le Mans-winning DBR1, the new V12 Speedster is a limited-edition supercar — only 88 units will ever be produced, making it one of the most exclusive cars produced by the British marque. Taking design cues from its 1950s ancestor, the V12 Speedster gets a British racing green paint job with white pinstripe and roundels, a silver-anodised grille, and leather interiors. Subtle use of carbon fibre and brushed aluminium trim provides a modern touch. The car comes with special Aston Martin helmets for the driver and passenger as the Speedster doesn’t have a windshield. The AM Speedster looks incredible and has the power to match the show; it’s propelled by a 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12 that produces 700 horsepower and 753 Nm of torque, which gives it tarmac-shredding performance. With power going to the rear wheels via an 8-speed ZF automatic, zero to 100kph comes up in just 3.4 seconds, while the car is capable of hitting a top speed of close to 320kph. ‘A rare and exceptional Aston Martin, it has been engineered to offer a visceral driving experience that belies its elegant, artistic shape,’ says Aston Martin Chief Creative Officer, Marek Reichman. ‘I very much look forward to seeing these cars being driven with the same enthusiasm that we have applied to their design,’ he adds. Priced at US$950,000 (Rs 6.95 crore), the Aston V12 Speedster is quite simply in a league of its own.
KTM X-BOW RR
The X-Bow pushes the definition of what we’d typically call a ‘car’. But, well, it does have four wheels and an engine — no top or windscreen, though — and it’s fast, so we can safely call it a speedster, right? It is, perhaps, the speedster for those who want a motorcycle, but with the added safety and stability that four wheels can bring. KTM is known for its hard-edged, hardcore motorcycles, and the Austrian company brings the same performance ethos to its four-wheeler, the X-Bow. ‘We wanted to take Colin Chapman’s idea of a spartan, lightweight sports car reduced to the bare essentials, and transfer it into the new millennium, with as many technological innovations as possible,’ says KTM CEO Stefan Pierer.
The X-Bow is indeed stripped down to the bare essentials, and weighs a mere 810 kilos. With more than 300 horsepower from its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine (sourced from Audi), the X-Bow can accelerate from zero to 100kph in less than 3.5 seconds, and hit a top speed of more than 230kph. With its carbon fibre construction, stiffly sprung pushrod-actuated double wishbone suspension, wide and sticky tyres and communicative steering, the X-Bow RR is a full-on weapon for the road and the track, one that refuses to be intimidated by conventional supercars. With a price tag of around Rs 1.10 crore, the RR is insanely expensive and isn’t, perhaps, the most practical car one can get for everyday use. And yet, for those who seek the thrill of piloting a four-wheeled bare-knuckle streetfighter, the X-Bow RR might be the best speedster you can buy.
McLaren is known for its high-tech, ultra-high-performance supercars, which the British company manufactures in small volumes. Unveiled last year, the McLaren Elva is the company’s first open-cockpit car. It is a limited edition vehicle, with only 399 units scheduled for production. With the new Elva, McLaren pays tribute to the 1960s McLaren Elva M1A race car, which was designed by Bruce McLaren, the brilliant Kiwi engineer who founded McLaren Automotive in 1963. ‘McLaren continues to push the boundaries of supercar development in pursuit of unparalleled driving experiences. It’s fitting that the new McLaren speedster — a car that delivers the ultimate connection between driver, car, and the elements — acknowledges our heritage with the Elva name,’ says McLaren Automotive CEO Mike Flewitt. The Elva, built for extreme performance, is clad in a carbon fibre chassis and bodywork, and is powered by a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 that produces an awe-inspiring 815 horsepower. The car is stunning to look at, and the fact that there’s no windshield creates added visual impact. Of course, the performance is no less impressive — zero to 100kph comes up in under three seconds, 200kph takes a mere 6.7 seconds and a top speed of more than 330kph. According to McLaren, Elva’s cabin has been designed to provide some wind protection, further enhanced by the Active Air Management System used on the car. Still, helmets can be worn by those who intend to make full use of Elva’s high-speed capabilities. The car’s active hydraulic suspension has been optimised for twisty roads, so the Elva is equally at home on German autobahns, as well as Swiss Alpine passes. It does cost all of Rs 14.66 crore, though, which puts paid to our dreams of ever owning one.