The first car to officially break the 300 km/h speed barrier was called the Slug, because it looked like a giant red slug. Built in Britain by the now-defunct automaker Sunbeam, it had roughly 1,000 horsepower from two 22.4-litre V-12 aircraft engines.
That was 1927, but it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that you could go into a dealership and buy a 300 km/h car. Porsche tuner/automaker Ruf made the first one, but Porsche’s own 959 was capable of 319 km/h in 1987, according to a Road & Track magazine test. Unlike the Slug, the 959 managed to hit that top speed with only one engine, a comparatively dainty twin-turbo flat-six.
Today, it’s easier to hit 300 km/h than ever before, but doing so still puts you in a rarefied club.
With a day to kill in southern Germany, land of the speed-limitless Autobahn, I figured I’d try for my own personal land-speed record. This place is Mecca for speed demons.
You don’t need an exotic supercar to hit 300 km/h any more. The blunt-force Dodge Challenger Hellcat will do 320 km/h. The luxurious four-door Mercedes-AMG E63 S will do 305.
My car for the job is Porsche’s new stealth ship, the 911 GT3 Touring. It’ll fly fast and stay under the radar. Top speed: 315 km/h. The non-turbocharged flat-six engine makes 500 horsepower at a sky-high 8,250 rpm, a speed at which most engines would explode into a metal mushroom cloud. And it’s not even Porsche’s fastest or most powerful car, not by a long shot.
The new touring package, a zero-cost option, strips the track-focused 911 GT3 of its Fast and Furious wing and makes it look essentially like any other Porsche 911, a ubiquitous sight in any city.
It’s what’s known as a sleeper, a fast car that doesn’t look like one. Examples include the Volvo V70 R, GMC Syclone, Volkswagen Golf R, Chevrolet SS, BMW M5, Saab 9-2X Aero and the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8. The GT3 Touring might just be the king of them all.
Because of how raw and tactile it is – the way it feels hard-wired into your brain – the GT3 has become a perennial favourite of car critics worldwide. But this group of people is not known for its fine aesthetic sense. As good as it may be, driving a normal GT3 on city streets is like wearing a spandex cycling onesie for a walk around town. However, driving a GT3 Touring on city streets is like putting a grey suit over that onesie. You feel just as sporty, but far less embarrassed.
Even better: the GT3 Touring comes with a six-speed manual gearbox that shifts with the smooth mechanical tick-tock of a fine Swiss watch.
It’s about as close to driving nirvana as it is possible to get.
The A92 from Munich to Deggendorf, near the Czech border, is an 134-kilometre stretch of unrestricted Autobahn. With only two lanes in each direction, it’s not ideal. Flying past a little Peugeot doing 150 km/h at double its speed is neither safe nor good Autobahn etiquette. I’ll have to slow down to pass anyone.
Trying to hit 300 km/h is about being patient and waiting for gaps in the traffic where the road is clear to the horizon.
There are no left-lane hogs here; drivers move out to pass and then move back to the right. In the left lane it feels like you’re parting the sea as cars magically get out of your way.
A few big gaps in traffic open up – 220 km/h, 240, 260 – but then a truck invariably appears on the horizon.
At this speed, bugs leave long slimy streaks on the windshield. Unseen bumps cause you to bounce in the seat. The steering wheels jerks violently left or right. You grip it tighter, but not too tight. The idea is not to fight it, but to let the car flow with the road while keeping it straight. The lane feels narrow at more than 250 km/h, as if you’re threading a needle. You start to think about the tires, about what would happen if ones blows out.
Rounding a corner at 200-something km/h, a rare sight: straight unrestricted Autobahn with not a car or truck in sight. Accelerator to the floor, and then wait. The cabin fills with a sound like white noise that gets deafeningly loud. Clutch in, shift up to sixth just above 8,200 rpm. The digital speed readout ticks up slower: 278, 284, 290 – a car appears ahead – 293 – it’s a row of cars – 296 – they’re right in front – and it’s over.
It takes what feels like a long time to bring the car back down to 140 km/h.
Did I chicken out? Yes. Could I have held the pedal to the floor longer? Probably for a couple more seconds. Would it have been enough to get to 300 km/h? I don’t think so. There was just too much traffic.
Two-hundred-and-ninety-six. It’s frustrating, so tantalizingly close to the magic number, but I’d rather have that as a new personal-best than end up in a crumpled fireball.
The GT3 Touring did its part. Pulled into an Autobahn rest stop, nobody gives it a glance.
Going fast in a car is pointless, we all know that, but it’s pointless in the same way most enjoyable things are pointless. It’s an exciting, all-encompassing, brain-sizzling experience that, yes, is also a little bit dangerous. Autobahn: I’ll be back.