Join the 600 Horsepower Club

Meet today's most powerful production cars. Today, we are experiencing the automobile world's Age of Superlative Speed. During no other decade have so many cars offered so much speed. The secret behind the speed is power, because to go fast you need horsepower ... and lots of it. We took a look at the most powerful (and fastest) production vehicles sold in the United States plus the technology that makes the power possible.

Want Horsepower? Bring money

There is a direct link between big horsepower and big money. The reason is simple: to make a reliable 600+ horsepower engine costs tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars. Then you must wrap the engine in a vehicle capable of handling that prodigious power -- another hugely expensive proposition because to be safe at high speeds requires a sophisticated chassis, huge brakes and NASA-quality aerodynamics.

The Horsepower per Dollar Champion

Dodge Viper SRT-10: The first member of our 600+ Horsepower Club is the 2008 Dodge Viper SRT-10. It's also the value champion, with a list price of under $85,000. An 8.4-liter cam-in-block, two-valve per-cylinder V-10 produces exactly 600 horsepower the old-fashioned way, with lots of displacement -- not fancy technology. For those who still appraise engines in cubic inches, the V-10 measures out at 512 cubic inches.

What does so much horsepower feel like?

Of all the cars listed in this story, your author has only put significant miles on the Viper. We measured its limits at a Detroit drag strip where we experienced an epiphany of power. After completing 1/4-mile runs in less than 11.8 seconds at over 123 mph, we now understand the lust unadulterated that power creates. Left to run, the Viper's top speed is over 200 mph.

2008 Mercedes SL 65 AMG

If your tastes are more sophisticated than the Detroit-born and built Viper, perhaps you'll appreciate the Mercedes SL 65 AMG hard-top roadster. Its 6.0-liter V-12 is fitted with twin turbochargers to produce 604 horsepower and a staggering 738 ft-lb of torque. The engine's technology and the car's formidable provenance command a list price of almost $190,000.

2008 Mercedes CL 65 AMG

Mercedes-Benz spent considerable engineering research and development dollars crafting their hugely powerful V-12, so this engine finds its way into many of the company's highest performing models, including the handsome S 65 AMG Sedan and CL 65 AMG Coupe (both cost around $200,000). In these configurations, the engine produces 612 horsepower. Top speed (as with many high-performance German cars) is electronically limited to 155 mph.

2008 Maybach 62

In case you didn't know, Mercedes-Benz owns Maybach. This division is for Mercedes what Lexus is to Toyota. Not surprisingly, Maybach makes use of the same 612-horse twin-turbo V-12 found in powerful Mercedes to propel the stately 62 and 57 limousine-like sedans. These ultra rare, ultra premium and ultra powerful sedans are available at ultra prices ranging from $350,000 to $440,000.

2008 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren

What do you get when you combine racing technology with supreme luxury? You get the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. McLaren is famous in racing series the world over for their advanced engineering, and the company's partnership with Mercedes resulted in the SLR. This 617-horsepower, 212 mph automotive arrow carries a list price of just under half a million. The power comes from a supercharged 5.5-liter V-8.

2008 Ferrari 599

Producing 620 horsepower at a screaming 7600 RPM, the 6-liter V-12 in the Ferrari 599 is the most powerful engine the legendary Italian company has ever let loose on the streets. With a top speed of 200+ mph and the ability to reach 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, the 599 is among the world's most impressive performers, especially at its list price of $302,584.

2008 Lamborghini Murcielago

The horsepower war isn't just global, it's local. Ferrari and Lamborghini have been battling it out for Italian bragging rights since the 1960s. Currently, Lambo is on top with their 632-horspower 6.5-liter V-12 found in their Murcielago coupe and roadster LP640 models. Audi now owns the Italian automaker, so quality is solid. Prepare to spend $313,600 for a coupe, more for a roadster.

2008 Bugatti Veyron

The Bugatti Veyron bends the mind in so many ways. First, its horsepower --1001 -- eclipses every other production car on the planet. The engine displaces eight liters (less than the Dodge Viper) but utilizes 16 cylinders configured as a W (actually twin off-set V-8 engines that share a common crankshaft). There are four turbochargers.

Veyron: It's good to be king.

The Veyron's top speed has been confirmed by multiple sources to be over 250 mph, attainable only after utilizing the car's "top speed key." At this speed, the car burns 2.46 miles per gallon. This land-bound missile figuratively blasts off from a stop with a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, reaching 60 mph in 2.5 seconds (say, "one Mississippi, two Mississippi.")

Veyron: Expensive and Worth It

With the exchange rate what it is, check with your banker, as you'll need approximately $1.5 million to put the German-built Bugatti Veyron 16.4 in your estate's carriage house (or under the car port of your apartment). With 10 percent down, your monthly outlay over 60 months at 6.75% interest will be an affordable $26,572 prior to tax and title fees.

Coming Soon: Corvette ZR1

Introduced at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show this past January, the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 will be unleashed with a supercharged V-8 producing at least 620 horsepower when it goes on sale this fall. Expect phenomenal performance with a top speed in excess of 200 mph at a relatively affordable price of around $100,000. (Chevy always did know how to deliver value.)

Not quite production, but over 600 HP

Most every American enthusiast knows about the $42,000 Mustang Shelby GT500. Its supercharged V-8 thumps out 500 horsepower. However, today there are dozens of equally powerful cars, so 500 ponies isn't much to brag about. A trip to Carroll Shelby's Las Vegas workshop with your GT500 and $28,000 gets you a 100 horsepower boost. Congratulations, for $70,000, you've discovered the cheapest way into the 600 Horsepower Club.

About the Author

Rex Roy is a Detroit-based automotive journalist and author. In addition to writing exclusive stories for AOL Autos, his work also appears in The Detroit News and other respected outlets.
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