The Fastest Car in the World You've Never Heard Of

OK, circa 1953. And if you’ve never heard of Spain’s Pegaso before, prepare to be surprised at what you find …

Pegaso was born just after WWII in the former Hispano-Suiza factory under the watchful eye of Wilfredo Ricart. Initially, they only produced trucks, buses, and the like. Then Ricart had his Ferrucio Lamborghini moment, and decided to outdo his former rival at Alfa Romeo, one Enzo Ferrari. So Pegaso started a short but remarkably accomplished run as a sports car manufacturer, with the various incarnations of the Z-102 being its only offering. The Pegaso for sale here (no asking price, unfortunately) is an early production “prototype” (since I’m not an expert, I’m going to put that in quotation marks), with one of Pegaso’s excellent 4-cam, all-alloy V8s up front. The early Pegaso body is reasonably attractive, and the early cars were good for an 8.5 second sprint to 62 mph. That means this example is at the very least going to be an extremely nice vintage gran turismo.

Z-102 bodied by Touring, courtesy

Of course, I’d be a fool not to mention the later variations of the Z-102, which are generally regarded more fondly than the arguably “dumpy” early cars. (I think they’re only dumpy if you put the early cars right next to the later, coachbuilt ones, but you’re free to differ.) The gorgeous Touring-bodied cars, like the blue one above, recall some of my favorite early Ferraris. And the evil-looking Saoutchik coupes, below, are wonderfully sinister.
A Saoutchik coupe, image courtesy

But the ultimate version of the car, the one that you SHOULD know about, was the supercharged Touring barchetta. Using a 2.8 liter version of the engine fitted with desmodromic heads, in 1953 this Z-102 broke the world standing kilometer speed record for a production automobile at nearly 152 mph, toppling the old record set by the XK120. While a modified XK140 later apparently beat it, some sources say the record stood until the Mercedes 300SL broke it at around 160 mph. Regardless, the Pegaso Z-102 had a moment in the sun, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Just think about it for a second – it’s 1953, Europe is just crawling out of the ruins of a horrible war, Spain is a backwards, totalitarian country … and they produced a world record supercar sporting a 4-cam, supercharged, desmo-freaking-dromic V8? Ay dios mio!
A Touring barchetta, like the world record car.

(Is it complete sacrilege to point out that this looks a lot like a Datsun Fairlady Sports?)

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  1. Alff Avatar

    Pegasos (Pegasi?) are generally beautiful, although I think some would benefit cosmetically by pushing the rear axle and wheel openings aft just a little bit.

  2. tonyola Avatar

    Probably the wildest Pegaso of them all was the 1953 with "Thrill" coachwork by Touring. Only one was built.
    Later Pegasos (Z-103) were still fast but had pushrod engines. Only 86 Pegasos in all were built, but a few replicas of the Z-103 (with Lamborghini motors I think) were built in the 1990s by the parent company.

    1. Han_Solex Avatar

      Whoa, good catch! That reminds me of the Bertone BAT concept cars, in a sense. Maybe just in sheer audacity.

  3. Han_Solex Avatar

    Oh, and I should clarify that the title shamelessly and ironically flaunts the fact that most Hooniverse readers know EXACTLY what a Pegaso is, as evidenced by Tonyola above. Pat yourselves on the back. Not to make anyone feel bad if you don't, though … now you do! Impress your friends, make girls swoon!

  4. Mike_the_Dog Avatar

    "Is it complete sacrilege to point out that this looks a lot like a Datsun Fairlady Sports?" Maybe, but that was exactly my thought when I scrolled down to that pic. If it be sacrilege, I'm guilty too.

  5. Alan Avatar

    Awesome sounds from that motor:

    1. Han_Solex Avatar

      Dear lord, that is a lusty sounding lump. It makes some truly sinister overrun noises. I'm both frightened AND aroused.

      1. Mechanically Inept Avatar

        The supercharger and gearbox whine are superb, along with that V8 rumble. Auditory delight!

  6. Alan Avatar

    Also, there was a 3.2 32V Desmodronic DOHC version with optional supercharger running quad carbs – holy crap I'd love to hear it.

  7. Maymar Avatar

    I had only heard of Pegaso through the Car of the Century competion – of course, the model they had on display (and in the guide) was one of the frumpy earlier models. It certainly wasn't attractive enough enough to win the imagination of 13-year old Maymar (not when they had more charismatic Astons on display also), and even now, I'm only mildly interested. On the other hand, the Saoutchik or Touring Barchetta may have created an overwhelming lust, leading me to be even more of an academic underachiever than I already am.

  8. Raphael Orlove Avatar
    Raphael Orlove

    Some of my fondest car memories were when I would walk down to the local library to reread their half-dozen books on old cars for the umpteenth time. There was one book, can't recall the name, but it ws just fascinating. The author wrote about growing up in Manhattan, trying to spot Hispano-Suizas out of the endless lines of cabs, he wrote about the nervous, agitated steering on his 1750 Alfa Romeo, about how Bugatti owners heated up their car's oil on the stove before going for a drive, and all kinds of wonderful stories from Invicta ownership to driving a Maserati Bora. Long story short, he had a great story about being taken for a test drive from Manhattan's Pegaso dealership by their official test driver. Leather-bound owner's manuals of perfumed paper, perfectly synchronized gearboxes, blitzing, roaring speed and whipping 180s on the public roads. It was a distillation of the wonders of top-rung sports-car ownership. The Pegaso, I feel, I will not quickly forget.
    Does anyone else know the book or author I'm referring to? Does it ring a bell with anyone out there?

    1. Ken Graham Avatar
      Ken Graham

      Hi Raphael, the book you refer to is by Ralph Stein titled The World Of The Automobile published in 1973. Hope this helps Ken.
      PS. I own a Bora so I also enjoyed the read.

  9. dukeisduke Avatar

    Wow, you hardly ever even see a magazine article about Pegasos. I can remember the odd Retrospective article in an old Motor Trend, or Salon piece in Road & Track.