Throughout this period, the supercar daddy was the Lamborghini Countach, but once you got past the hype, preposterous appearance, wailing V12 soundtrack and a penchant for beating Ferraris in magazine group tests, the truth was that it advanced the art only slightly. By the mid-1980s, it was time for the next big leap, but it was neither Lamborghini nor Ferrari that made it.
It was Porsche. The 959 broke all the supercar rules. It was based on a lesser machine. It had four-wheel drive. It even had rear seats, for heaven’s sake. But in an era when most supercars struggled to break a true 180mph, the 450bhp 959 would absolutely, positively reach 197mph.
Ferrari’s answer to this technological tour de force was to approach the problem from the diametrically opposed direction, its F40 being the simplest, sparest supercar ever seen. But it was also the lightest and, at the time, the fastest, becoming the first road car capable of reaching a genuine 200mph. To this day, there are journalists who will tell you the F40 is the greatest road car ever made, and until the LaFerrari came along, I was one of them.
And then all hell broke loose. The world was in the tertiary stage of a rampant bull market and suddenly anything seemed possible. Plans for supercars more exotic than ever seen before came from all directions save the expected: Jaguar showed a monstrous supercar called the XJ220 and promised to put it into production. A man called Romano Artioli bought the rights to the Bugatti name and built an entire new company around it to deliver what he believed would be the ultimate street car. And while waiting in the departure lounge of Linate airport after the 1988 Italian Grand Prix for a delayed flight home, McLaren men Ron Dennis and Gordon Murray had a conversation that would, in time, change everything.
But although all these cars were conceived in a world that had never been more receptive to such ideas, they were born into one that could scarcely have been more hostile. The global economy had turned and suddenly the idea of dropping a fortune into what shareholders and employees would likely regard as an unacceptably ostentatious wealth statement didn’t seem so clever after all. The £403,000 XJ220 flopped, as did the £285,500 Bugatti EB110 GT, and they were not alone.
But the small, subtle, practical and usable McLaren F1 would be all right, surely? Not even that. Even as it raised the bar of road car performance higher than any other car before or since, so, too, did McLaren struggle to find homes for arguably the most radical, innovative supercar of them all. Just 64 standard road cars were built, and McLaren lost money on every one of them.