Germany and supercars are like Britain and hot weather. You don’t so often associate the two but just as the sun burns you as badly in a Surrey beer garden as it does in Tenerife, so too have the Germans taken the Italians to supercar school on more than one occasion. So here’s a list of the very best German supercars, charting their history through the decades.
The best German supercars ever made
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL
In many ways, it was a German manufacturer that gave us one of the very first supercars. Perhaps not in the traditional mid-engined wedge-shaped sense, but the 300 SL was dramatic looking, an incredible high-performer, featured bleeding-edge technology and was based on racing underpinnings. Nevermind the exotic Gullwing doors from which it took its nickname. Capable of reaching 163mph, it was the fastest production car on sale in the mid-1950s.
This was thanks to its 243PS (179kW) 3.0-litre straight-six engine which featured at-the-time revolutionary mechanical fuel injection technology borrowed from fighter planes. By contrast, a mid-’50s Austin A30 had just over a tenth of that, just as today’s average commuter cars have around the tenth the power of a Bugatti Chiron. Likewise, the Uhlenhaut-designed tubular spaceframe chassis had more in common with an F1 car than a contemporary body-on-frame road car of the time. A supercar by most measures.
It’s funny that over 20 years on, a car that looks much more like a supercar as we understand it today actually only had a little bit more power. The BMW M1 is the stuff of legend: Giugiaro-designed, Lamborghini built, it’s for the most part Italian really. Apart from the fact that it was reliable and somewhat easy and enormously pleasurable to drive, setting a real precedent for what the Germans would continue to bring to the supercar landscape.
Something else quite Germanic about the M1 is the fact it wasn’t without purpose. This was to be the marque’s Group 5 racer – the sole reason the M1 was greenlit, in fact. If not for how far through the process of its creation they were, the rule changes that kept the M1 from racing might have killed the entire project. We’re glad they didn’t, as BMW’s wedge-shaped anomaly has the entire history of BMW M as a legacy.
Where the Italians major in outrageous style and lusty powertrains, it’s arguable the Germans are all about engineering. That’s how Porsche approached what we think was its first supercar in the late 1980s. The 959 was to all appearances a blistered-out and smoothed-over 911. Hardly a Countach killer aesthetically. But with its clever all-wheel-drive system and state-of-the-art sequential turbochargers, it could embarrass the Raging Bull on a circuit. With 450PS (331kW) this thing hit 62mph in 3.7 seconds and went on to 198mph. A drop-dead gorgeous poster car it wasn’t but the 959 was a ruthless performer and an incredible supercar.
Dauer Porsche 962
It’s going to be quite Porsche-themed for the next few entries, between this, the 959 and the coming Porsche 911 GT1. The Dauer Porsche 962 wears about as thin a road car veil as it’s possible to have, being as it was, effectively, a road-converted Group C racing prototype. Changes to the racers included revised bodywork, a leather-trimmed interior with an additional seat, a small storage compartment up front and hydraulic suspension designed to help it meet ride height regulations.
Believe it or not though, these weren’t homologation specials in the traditional sense. These were conversions by Dauer purely for the sake of road homologation. That they allowed 962s (which were recently regulated out of competition) to be converted for a new GT class to race was a happy coincidence for Porsche. Race they did and win they did, specifically the 1994 24 hours of Le Mans.
Porsche 911 GT1
We can thank the GT1 era of sportscar racing in the 1990s for a great number of things. Among them, the existence of the Porsche 911 GT1. The least ‘911’ 911 ever made, it shares little beyond lights, cabin bits, a badge and, vaguely speaking, the front end of the chassis, with the stalwart sportscar.
That’s because this mid-engined monster stops just short of being an all-out sports prototype, borrowing a rear end assembly and water-cooled engine from the 962 Group C car. If part of your definition of a proper supercar is serious pedigree, you don’t get much more than in this Mulsanne refugee. Granted, these homologation specials were far from suited to road use but with just over 20 sold, licenced and plated, it counts as a German supercar.
Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR
That the GT1 con went on as long as it did is a bit of a miracle. These were racing cars through and through, save for the airbags and door pockets gently instilled in the road versions. Take the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR as the next example. Does this have any relation to the loping luxury coupe beyond lights, badges and the three-pointed star? Of course it doesn’t. In the middle is a 6.0-litre M120 AMG V12 connected to a sequential transmission.
Dreamt up and developed in just over four months, Merc’s GT1 challenger, while never a Le Mans winner, brought home two FIA GT championship victories for both the manufacturer and drivers in 1997 and 1998. It was also arguably one of the catalysts for the dissolving of the class.
Porsche Carrera GT
Not to worry, though. Porsche had no intention of backing out of the motorsport space. We can thank the unpredictability of such programmes for the lusty Carrera GT supercar, arguably Germany’s greatest, if not one of the greatest of all time. All because a V10 first developed for F1 got swept into a sportscar programme, which itself never took off, leaving a magnificent engine with no car to call home.
Free of regulatory racing shackles, the carbon-tubbed Carrera GT combined a development of this incredible flywheel-less engine with a six-speed manual gearbox and styling to evoke memories of the mighty 917. We thought these were expensive when new, costing over £300,000. How wrong we were. Even with the comparatively tall 1,270-car production number, a nice CGT will easily fetch over £600,000 at auction today, with some reaching over £1million.
Yes, there are some cars on this list that aren’t Porsches or Mercedes, or even remotely based on them. The Gumpert Apollo – good lord, that’s still quite a name – very much introduced that form follows function ethos. This was not an attractive car by most measures, but depending on spec, it could ‘drive on the ceiling’. Yes, that old chestnut, though the Gumpert was one of the first road cars to it.
Powered by a turbocharged Audi V8 sending power to the wheels via a seven-speed sequential transmission, the Apollo was an absolute monster in 2006, with power starting at 650PS (478kW). Opt for the Sport and that jumped to 700PS (515kW). The Apollo was a genuine supercar slayer at the time, setting records at the Top Gear test track and the Nürburgring. But with a face only a mother could love, it stopped short of winning the Monegasque supercar beauty pageants. Substance in supercars can’t always totally take the place of style and Gumpert slipped into bankruptcy in 2013. A shame. If only it were prettier.
The Veyron really did send the supercar world a bit power-mad. All of a sudden, everyone had designs on a turbocharged 250mph machine to beat the Bug. Few were more extreme than the 9ff GT9. Yes, it started life as a 911 but like the GT1, this goes in a very different direction. When it launched in 2007 it featured a 1,001PS (736kW) twin-turbocharged flat-six engine sat in the middle and a potential, though unproven, top speed of 254mph.
Given the chance, that was a sniff over the VMAX the Veyron set a few years before. Perhaps more impressive was the acceleration, given that it could hit 186mph in half a mile and go from 125 to 186mph 2.6 seconds faster than the Veyron. We don’t need to tell you however that the GT9 wasn’t the, er, well-rounded product that the Veyron was. It was also more of a straight-line machine than that Apollo above. Prettier though, isn’t it?
McLaren-Mercedes SLR 722 S
This is certainly a bit more like it. A warranty, a Mercedes badge, a McLaren badge to boot and engineering design by a Mr Gordon Murray – numerous Formula 1 accolades, the McLaren F1, GMA T.50 and so on. We don’t need to elaborate. Not his favourite project though, given Mercedes’ intervention with luxurious fripperies and an automatic gearbox. But where the SLR failed as a purist supercar, it succeeded as a hyper GT, with that delicious softer character fully flourishing in the 722 S Roadster.
At the time it was the very fastest soft top in production, capable of topping 208mph. Is it German, given McLaren manufactured the SLR in woking? To appearances yes. This is more Mercedes than McLaren when you’re near and in it – at its centre a beating supercharged 650PS (478kW) Affalterbach heart. The 722 S is also the rarest SLR, comprising just 150 of the 2,157 produced. That circles nicely back round to what Gordon Murray most liked about the SLR – how much it moved the game on for the production of carbon cars.
Weissmann MF4 S
Of all the cars on this list, the Weissmann MF4 S is probably the closest to slipping into sportscar territory rather than being a supercar. That said, it did what we all pined for from BMW, combining the singing E9X M3 powertrain with a lightweight and visceral machine. No, this isn’t a modern M1. Perhaps it’s more a Z8 successor? Either way it’s here and deserves to be, with that howling 420PS (309kW) V8 shifting just 1,395 kilograms to 62mph in 4.3 seconds. Buying one back in the day got you into an exclusive social club for owners which included scenic drives and track days. Pagani Raduno eat your heart out.
Another Porsche that isn’t a Porsche is the last, you’ll likely be pleased to read. Though not the very last Porsche full stop. We are of course talking about RUF and the CTR3, a car that marries Cayman and 911 Turbo with a sprinkling of lunacy, to create a 700PS (515kW) twin-turbo six-speed manual supercar.
RUF have something of a reputation for high-quality engineering, that they’ve enjoyed for many decades and the CTR3, their most extreme creation to date, doesn’t betray that. Input from Multimatic on the chassis and carbon bodywork means it weighs just 1,400kg. Top-end, it’ll hit 233mph, after getting to 62mph in 3.2 seconds. It’s such a solid machine that other hypercar makers have used the CTR3 to underpin their own more out-there products (hello W Motors). Just 23 of the originals were made, joined by seven upgraded Clubsport cars, so it's very rare too.
Porsche 918 Spyder
For some, though, nothing but the real deal would do. And the Porsche 918 Spyder really was the real deal. Combining a screaming race-proven 4.6-litre V8 with a sophisticated plug-in hybrid system, the 918 was well beyond its vintage technologically on release in 2013 and even more surprisingly, executed to near perfection.
A total of 887PS (652kW) from all systems saw this all-wheel-drive exotic hit 62mph in 2.6 seconds before hitting a top speed of 214mph. It also at the time registered the very first sub-seven-minute time around the Nürburgring. When not driving like a pretender to Le Mans glory, the 918 would also shuffle you around in all-electric silence for 12 miles. Thoroughly impressive, even almost ten years on from its production debut.
Audi R8 V10+ manual
While the Porsche leant hard on digitisation with surprisingly satisfying results, the Audi R8 has in its 15 years on sale been a surprising last bastion of old fashioned supercar thrills. A 5.2-litre V10 with over 550PS (in V10+ specification) could be paired in the first generation with a manual gearbox. Few owners did but it’s absolutely the pick of the R8 litter and a sure modern classic one day. Independent of the engine and gearbox, it was an absolute hoot to drive as well, only enhanced by those two very special components. Who would have thought Audi would be the last to offer a free-breathing, mid-engined manual supercar in series production?
Mercedes-AMG SLS Black Series
We end not far from where we began but also, 60 years on from where we began. Mercedes revived the ‘Gullwing’ in 2010 for the SLS AMG, with a glorious 6.2-litre V8 and looks and a noise to kill. If the standard car only threatened violence, the hopped-up wider more aggressive Black Series was the epitome of it. Arguably, it was the last gasp for truly great AMGs, being the most powerful, rarest and most focused installation of the legendary M156 motor, in M159 form with added dry-sump lubrication. It produced an absolutely monstrous 631PS (464kW) at revs up to 8,000rpm. Like the 300 SL we opened with, perhaps not a traditional supercar, we'll grant you. But you’re not going to argue, are you.
Join our motorsport community
Get closer to motorsport at Goodwood! Join the GRRC Fellowship to be first in the queue for event tickets, to attend the GRRC-only Members' Meeting and to enjoy year-round, exclusive benefits.
Sign up for Motorsport news
Stay in the know with our newsletters that contain all the latest news, stories and event information.