Swede speed: How 277.87 mph on a public road happened
By now, you’ve probably seen on YouTube or at least heard about Koenigsegg’s record-breaking production car top speed run out in the Nevada desert. An Agera RS destroyed the existing record with a stunning 277.87-mph performance, far surpassing the Bugatti Veyron Super Sports’ 267.86-mph benchmark—not bad for a boutique, low-volume Swedish hypercar company founded in 1994. As if that weren’t outrageous enough, the car wasn’t even Koenigsegg’s. It belongs to one of its customers, Mark Stidham, and this whole endeavor was his crazy idea in the first place.
“When I initially looked at the car and had the opportunity to buy one,” Stidham tells Hagerty, “I asked [CEO and founder] Christian von Koenigsegg ‘What’s the top end on this car?’ He said it was a theoretical 275 [mph], and I responded “Why theoretical?” He said, ‘Well we don’t have access to a track where we can run it at top speed.” That piqued my interest in finding a place where we could do that.”
So began eight months of planning, sourcing permits, getting insurance, and working with the Nevada State Police to close Highway 160. Stidham and Koenigsegg chose this seven-mile stretch in Pahrump, Nevada in part because of its proximity to Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch, which partners with Michelin, the supplier for the Agera RS’ Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires.
Yes, Stidham’s Koenigsegg Agera RS broke the world top-speed record wearing standard rubber. And aside from a roll cage and racing seats with five-point harnesses, the car was bone-stock. In this case, with the company’s 1MW engine option, the Agera RS packs 1,360 hp from a twin-turbocharged, 5.0-liter aluminum V-8, so it’s hardly lacking for grunt. “Air-conditioning, entertainment system, the airbags, power windows—none of that equipment was messed with or taken off to lighten the car,” says Stidham. “We did remove the optional hood scoop that I have on it, in order to give it a little better aerodynamics at high speed. Other than that it’s just as it was on the factory floor.”
Stidham’s first look at his Koenigsegg, however, came in Nevada just before the record attempt. Most people would need at least a stiff drink before handing over the keys for a 277-mph joy ride in their $2.1-million hypercar, even if it’s Koenigsegg factory driver Niklas Lilja behind the. For Stidham, risking the car itself pales in comparison to what Koenigsegg has to lose, to say nothing of Lilja tempting fate and putting his life on the line. “All I’m risking personally is my car,” he says. “What a gutsy move for Christian. He’s out in the middle of the desert with social media watching, with the reputation of his name and his entire company on the line. I have so much respect for him, being so passionate and committed to his own vision that he’s willing to say, ‘We’re going to find out the truth and the truth will speak for itself.’”
To Stidham’s point, the stretch of public road is hardly the controlled environment you’d expect when trying to break a world record. This is not a washboard-flat, lovingly maintained strip of spotless race track behind a guarded, gated fence as much as it is a big, empty strip of pavement in the middle of the damn desert. There are slight elevation changes throughout, following the landscape’s natural topography, and aside from some guys with leaf-blowers to clear off any stray debris, the road wasn’t treated. Koenigsegg himself was there to witness the attempt, and just a software engineer and one mechanic were on site to get the car prepped. The army of nit-pickers you’re imagining, dressed in matching overalls, checking tire pressures and rubbing the car down with aerodynamic diapers, just doesn’t reflect the truth of how it went down.
To record and verify the car’s top speed, Jim Lau, technical director at Racelogic, fit the Koenigsegg with a suite of VBOX GPS data recording and in-car video technology. Because of the imperfect road and wind conditions, exact data would be crucial to calculating an accurate top-speed figure based on the average of multiple runs in both directions along Highway 160. Lilja, the factory driver, let loose on his first run (slightly downhill with a mild tailwind)—272.5 mph. Just like that. Still, the team knew the car had more to give. A second run in the same direction yielded 284.55 mph, with the 1,360-hp V-8 roaring into the great barren expanse just 20 revs shy of its 8,250-rpm redline.
For the final run, which was uphill and into a headwind, the Swedish maroon blur hit a top speed of 271.19 mph. That was good enough for two-run average figure of 277.87 mph—10 mph past the Bugatti Veyron’s record. Stidham and the lean Koenigsegg team had budgeted two days to achieve record speed, but by lunchtime on the first day it was in the bag. And when it was over, Stidham simply put it on a truck and shipped it to Newport, California, where he grabbed the keys for his not-quite maiden voyage to Corona, 25 miles away. That a car with that kind of capability is also enjoyable on the road is what makes him love it most.
“I still can’t even fully comprehend it,” Stidham says. “One car holds this record, and the thought that I actually own it is hard to get my head around. It’s somewhat surreal and yet at the same time, I look at the time that it took to put it all together, from Christian and his team of engineers, with just a company of maybe 140 employees with such a passion—to think I’m a benefactor of that is humbling.”
Ask Stidham why he cooked this whole project up in the first place, and he lights up with excitement. “I wanted to take the theoretical off the table and put it into real terms. We’re capable as human beings of applying our intellect and our resources to craft something that allows us to defy evolution. We weren’t designed to go 277 mph. But by influencing our surroundings, we were able to, and that represents our ability to always shape the world around us to effect the change we want.”
The next time somebody wants to break that record, though, they’re going to need to do a whole lot of shaping.