If the intrusion of overall speed limits in the 1980s made testing a car’s top speed difficult on public roads, the restrictions did little to reduce readers’ interest in knowing the top speed of test cars, even those models (mostly German) supposedly electronically limited to 250km/h.
So began the Wheels top speed fest. With access to the Holden Lang Lang proving ground’s 4.7km banked circle and, later, the Avalon airstrip, we set out to establish the identity of the fastest cars in Australia. Through the 1990s the test occurred on an almost annual basis, perhaps most famously in 1995 with master driver Peter Brock at the wheel, and John Carey at the keyboard.
After two laps of flat-out speed on the bowl in each of 15 high-performance test cars, our laser speed measurement equipment revealed all. In 1995 a Porsche 928 GTS won the battle with a 262km/h v-max, just four km/h faster than a 911 Carrera 4. Lang Lang also provided the perfect opportunity to test standing-start acceleration; again the 928 scored with a standing 400-metre time of 14.1sec, one-tenth quicker than the 911.
Brock ran a commentary on each car. Of the 928, he said: “Felt like it could do with a bit of extra rebound on the front shockers. The front was a bit floaty. On the top of the banking you have to pay attention.” Strange that Brock makes no mention of more likely aerodynamic issues.
HSV’s GTS 215i (246km/h, 14.5sec 400m) ran third.
Brock, now back in the Holden camp after the dramas of the Polarizer, commented: “It’s very stable, very easy to drive. Gearing-wise it’s a curious one because you can pull 5250rpm in fifth – and I did one lap in sixth just to see if I could urge it to increase speed and it actually just dropped five or six kay, so gearing is hurting it.”
Still, it was quicker than the BMW 840Ci’s 243km/h and leisurely 16.2sec 400m time. Slowest of our class of ’95 was a Caterham Super 7 JPE at 208km/h, though its 13.1sec 400m sprint proved fastest.
A year later, with Kevin Bartlett driving, we somehow managed to include a Ferrari F40 – yes, out of production, but who wouldn’t want to know what Ferrari’s supercar was capable of? – and a Lamborghini Diablo VT in the test. The F40 ran 299km/h to shatter all previous records, though in deference to the F40’s owner we didn’t run standing-start times. The Diablo turned 296km/h, but one of the rear tyres peeled a patch of rubber, leaving the radial belts naked, just as Bartlett was about to start his acceleration runs. Proved, again, that at these speeds you can’t be too careful.
By 2001 Wheels was using the 1865-hectare Avalon airport site near Geelong, the top speed measured at the end of a 2.5km straight, with 0.5km of runway to spare in case of brake failure. Rally ace Neal Bates worked through 17 cars, all capable of more than 220km/h, across three runs. Of the production cars, the Porsche 911 Turbo’s 284.9km/h proved fastest, though it was beaten by a race car; Ford’s Tickford V8 supercar ran 292.3km/h and 12.7sec for the 400m, exactly matching the 911.
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