In 1928, the freshly formed Mercedes-Benz marque launched its most ambitious model yet: the SSK W06 roadster. Its supercharged inline six engine was capable of propelling it to speeds of 120 miles per hour, and it boasted around 300 hp and over 500 lb-ft of torque when properly tuned. The SSK’s speed made it the fastest car in the world, and its legendary handling enabled it to dominate nearly a dozen international races.
Just two years later, in 1930, the legendary Mercedes-Benz 770 W07 was launched. It was appropriately nicknamed the “Großer Mercedes”, with “grosser” being the German term for “large.” At 20 feet long, it was one of the largest and most luxurious vehicles in all of history. It carried diplomats like Pope Pius XI and the Japanese Emperor Hirohito and has gone on to become infamous for transporting a number of high-ranking Nazi officials, including Adolf Hitler himself.
While the 770 theoretically had a top speed of 99 mph, its large size and unwieldy handling was better-suited for lavish state affairs. It had a maximum horsepower rating of 200, but its 2,700 pound curb weight made it a slow accelerator.
Here we have two vehicles, both mythical in status and manufactured during the same era by the same brand, but incredibly disparate in form and function. The rift continues to this day, representing the huge difference between sportscars and luxury cars that merely feel “sporty.”
Sports Cars and Luxury Vehicles Come From Different Stables
From the beginning, vehicles like SSK were designed to be lean and lightweight, with an emphasis on chassis and suspension setups that could withstand blistering acceleration and breakneck cornering. Few of these vehicles were comfortable, and like the Viper of today, many ran so hot inside that you could burn yourself if you touched the wrong panel.
On the other end of the spectrum are the Großer vehicles, the ones designed to be spacious and cushy but without an eye towards serious performance. By the late 70s, technology like fuel injection spurred innovations that could allow comfortable vehicles to be faster despite their heavy weight. This trend continued into the nineties as sedans by BMW, Audi and Mercedes pushed their performance as an additional selling point to their luxury credentials. But these vehicles are still not the same as a true sportscar. Sportscars will always value light weight and nimble handling over things like sound insulation.
Some vehicles that “seem” fast in this day and age still show the compromise that pretender sportscars — more focused on comfort than true speed — are forced to make. As an excellent example, let us turn once again to Mercedes. In 2016, the C class was the most popular vehicle by overall sales. Looking at one of the more performance-based models, the C300 coupe, we see that the stats do not quite stand out. This vehicle, which weighs nearly two tons, can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 6.0 seconds. That may not sound bad, but consider that the Honda Odyssey minivan boasts an acceleration time only 0.6 seconds slower.
By comparison, the Porsche 718 Cayman — the marque’s least-expensive vehicle and which can be had for cheaper than a C300 Coupe — can accelerate in under four seconds and can tolerate a full g on the skidpad. Overall, sports cars like these are able to break away from the pack through their stiffer handling, aggressive performance, tighter control and a willingness to sacrifice luxury and interior space for speed. Their racing DNA encourages them to say “no” to things they do not need and “yes” to ambitious platforms that up the ante on what a production car is capable of.
Come Feel the Difference Between Sportscars and Luxury Cars at Atlanta Motorsports Park
While plenty of luxury cars can hold their own on the highway, the demands of a road course near Atlanta can separate true performance-oriented vehicles from tony ones that may have a hefty dose of power but no track cred to show for it.
Book your taste of AMP today and open your eyes to the world of true sportscar performance.