What do you do when you meet your hero? Do you talk to them, say hello, shoot the breeze, or stay at a distance, just hoping to catch their eye for a subtle sign of recognition? What if it’s an inanimate object, like the McLaren F1? Then things can get really weird… especially if other people are present.
There are a number of cars that still stop me dead in my tracks, and this is one of them. Since its release, my love list has included the McLaren F1, in any and all of its guises. I might have lusted after the Countach, collected dozens of Matchbox Porsche 911s and had my brain overloaded by the Porsche 956 and Lancia LC2 Group C cars when I was a kid, but the F1 launched at the perfect time, hitting me squarely in the sensory overload portion of my brain just as driving was becoming a fundamental part of my life.
I’d rediscovered Le Mans specifically and sportscar racing in general (having repeatedly stayed at a hotel on the Hunaudières straight on family holidays through France as a child), but here was a car that was overtly, deliberately a road car first and a racer second. That seemed improbable: there are so many cars released ‘for the road’ which have been nothing more than to tick a homologation box for a racing programme, resulting in admittedly exotic but completely out-there cars which were barely fit for purpose. But the F1 was different. Even if I knew I’d likely never drive one, the F1 seemed somehow more… of the people. Less ostentatious than other supercars.
The idea of a favourite supercar is a subjective thing. With so few of us having the opportunity to actually drive one of these mythical machines, we have to base our opinions on what we see with our eyes, mostly through photographs, and perhaps in combination with what has been written by the lucky elite who have got behind the wheel (and subsequently pressed the starter and hit the throttle, I should add).
This doesn’t downplay our involvement with them though. Supercars are works of sculptural automotive art, after all, and not only can but should be appreciated aesthetically as much as from a driving standpoint.
Every so often you get the chance to see one up close. A motor show like Geneva perhaps, or a festival like Goodwood. You can then engage with the car on another level: appreciate the quality of both design and construction, and if you’re lucky add a second aural level when you hear the engine turn or even a third visceral level when you see and feel it move.
We’ve previously looked at a number of supercars from the 1970s, and you’ve discussed at length what makes a supercar in the comments of Mike’s post. I don’t think there can be any question that the McLaren F1 is a definitive supercar, up there in the annals of all-time greats. If the Countach made the ’70s its own and the F40 the ’80s, then perhaps the F1 can be said to be the supercar of the ’90s. The last of the true driver’s cars, an organic joining of eyes, hands and feet to engine, rubber and road.
I’d had two previous experiences with this particular car, but they were glances exchanged across a room compared to the amazing access we got for this shoot. Firstly I’d seen it during the launch of the MP4-12C back in 2010, gently rotating behind glass in its own protected enclosure. Let’s face it, I wasn’t the first to be smitten by XP1 LM’s ample charms: this is the car Lewis Hamilton lusted over since his first teenage visits to McLaren HQ, and the one promised to him if he delivered back-to-back F1 World Championships (much as I like Hamilton, I’m glad he didn’t win for the selfish reason of this shoot).
More recently, XP1 LM was brought out into the wild for the Geneva Motor Show, to provide a direct and overt emotional link between the new P1 and the original McLaren road car. It was a brave move, made braver by XP1 LM sitting in an angled cut-out of the McLaren stand, just waiting for a hapless VIP guest to fall into the loving embrace of its carbon bonnet (which several almost did). It survived both Geneva and the guests, and here it was, just for us.
Let’s back up a bit. An enjoyable part of this particular liaison was the build up to seeing the car in the stark environment of the McLaren Technology Centre itself. We’ve already visited the MTC before, back for the aforementioned 12C launch and look at the prototype production line, but this time the nature of our entrance was different.
The experience begun at the main gate, where Rod, Suzy and myself picked up specially coded entrance passes that would get us through the various barriers and to our designated entrance pod. With the yin/yang interlocking shape of the MTC and its lake, the normal guest entrance is via a curving path that follows the circle of the lake and delivers you to the main atrium entrance. But for our visit we’d be following the footsteps of McLaren employees, and taking one of the four external rear entrances for staff (and non-important visitors like us) that sat apart from the main building, connected by underground tunnels.
Parked up, the card swiped us through the first airlock, down the helical staircase and into the decompression corridor – for that’s exactly what this is. The fundamental concept behind these long and starkly lit passageways is for employees to divest themselves of the worries of the outside world and to immerse themselves in the day ahead.
The McLaren badge on their shirts has to mean something; pass through the imposing double doors and your focus has to be on the inside, not the outside. There are World Championships at stake, road car customers to satisfy, electronics industry clients to keep happy. For us, it just built the anticipation.
Though being children, we couldn’t help but gleefully pick up on the similarity between the signage and a certain popular computer game…
Especially with this lift awaiting us at the end.
The main atrium was awash with classic Marlboro-liveried McLarens and portraits of their famous drivers: Hunt, Lauda, Prost, Senna… But we had little time to take them in: the F1 we were interested in was downstairs, behind a door with this ominous sign…
The F1 LM was positioned in the same build hall that had seen the initial production of the 12C prototypes – and now housed the P1 line just the other side of a set of dividers, awaiting transfer to the new McLaren Production Centre across the way (more on that facility will be coming up tomorrow). This was XP1 LM, sitting patiently, waiting for us.
We were, naturally, quite excited.
Some even more than me in fact. We had joined the list of those who had sat in an F1. The day could have ended there and we’d have left happy.
This is a privilege, to be dismissed only by the arrogant and the cynical. Back to the art analogy, this is like seeing one of the rarest, most beautiful paintings, but being unmolested by crowds around you. A private gallery, where we had time to drink in all the beautiful detail from every angle as well as the overall timeless design.
XP1 LM was the first of five F1s made to celebrate McLaren’s victory – at the first time of trying – at the Le Mans 24 Hours, a race they weren’t even aiming to compete in. The story had started back in 1988, when McLaren chief Ron Dennis and design head Gordon Murray were sitting in the departure lounge of Milan’s Linate airport. An offhand discussion about designing a road car somehow snowballed into a project proper, and five years later the first F1 was unveiled to a stunned world in Monaco in May 1993.
The car had been hand-drawn rather than computer designed. A coupling of Colin Chapman-influenced light weight and focus on performance, with Murray’s design flair and cutting edge technology, the F1 might not have been designed to chase records but by god it got them anyway.
It had the highest power to weight ratio of any previous production car; the bespoke, 600hp, 6.1 litre BMW engine produced one of the highest specific outputs for a large capacity normally aspirated unit ever made; it made 150mph faster than most cars got to 60mph; the top speed was 240mph; the carbon-fibre tub was a first for a road car; active aerodynamics kept a constant centre of pressure…
Murray was quoted as saying: “It’s not a case of going one step beyond. This is an entirely new starting point for supercars.”
Just as with the recent 12C, the F1 was never planned as a racecar but inevitably ended up as such. Customer pressure led to the 1995 F1 GTR racer, a three-car assault on the BPR series, seven GTRs at that year’s Le Mans 24 Hours and nine cars in total being built. Le Mans fell to the GTR, as did the BPR.
The F1 was now not just the greatest supercar of the decade but now the most successful British sports racing car.
So what to do now? That’s where the F1 LM arrived. Five limited edition roadcars were built, three painted in the papaya orange of company founder Bruce McLaren.
Where the GTR was effectively a slightly detuned road car for the track (though it delivered even more phenomenal performance thanks to its improved aero), the LM would be a barely detuned racing car for the road.
They used the same racing engine but with the FIA restrictors removed to boost power to 680hp – in a machine weighing just 1,062kgs. They were the fastest of any F1 to be made, whether race or road variant.
And what a sound it made, using a tuned quad-exhaust system that made a unique, raucous howl.
The body retained the full ground effect aero of the racecar: stick a livery on it and a decent pedaller inside, and this would likely out-race anything you cared to match it against, a GTR included.
18-inch Oz magnesium alloy wheels – wider than the standard car at 10.85 and 13 inches respectively – sat in each corner…
…with outboard Brembo ventilated disks (12 and 13-inch) hiding behind the spokes.
The carbon rear wing bore the words ‘GTR – 24 Heures Du Mans Winners 1995′ etched into the endplate.
Inside, the central driver’s seat was carbon fibre with material padding, and both passenger seats were moulded into the monocoque.
The centrally mounted driving position was a stroke of genius, providing optimum weight distribution and visibility. The driver really did take centre stage in every sense.
For your right hand, a stubby, purposeful lever for the six-speed gearbox.
For the left, the functional girder handbrake.
For your feet, these beautiful drilled pedals.
This is what it looked like from the other side of the pedal box at race speed.
The interior trim was minimalist: carbon and Alcantara, though the carbon was allowed an almost decadent lacquer coating.
But this was still a practical car – seriously! The latches in the door sills opened the bonnet (big enough for a helmet or small bag)…
…and the actually quite spacious side lockers that hid in the recesses of the flanks. A screwdriver secured in the aperture underneath the righthand passenger seat was there for opening the rear deck.
Ah yes, the passengers… There are a couple of caveats to the idea that this is a practical car that you drive to the local restaurant or golf club. Your friends will have to be pretty trim for a start, and definitely not have any back problems. It’s snug, to be polite. Standard belts keep passengers in place, as opposed to the five-point harness of the driver. Get the idea that the people wouldn’t ask for a lift twice?
Well, for all the talk of practicality this was still basically a racing car: each occupant had a set of headphones connected to the car’s radio system, which gives an indication of the interior noise. There had been a CD changer in the original road car; here, the music of choice would be the BMW V12.
The LMs are the most exclusive, expensive and sought after F1s. This one is not likely to leave McLaren – it means too much. In 1999, Le Mans driver Andy Wallace took the F1 LM to new records in acceleration, braking and what the human body can endure, going from zero to 100mph to zero in 11.5 seconds and just 852 feet.
Oh, and remember this was a car not designed to go fast. Murray: “It’s just a consequence of the other things it does.”
The shoot dragged on, as I kept finding excuses for just one more shot. Eventually, we really had to go. I’d met my hero, and it hadn’t disappointed. Much as I didn’t want to leave, I didn’t need to look back.
Photo by Jonathan Moore
Photo by Jonathan Moore
Photo by Jonathan Moore
Photo by Jonathan Moore
Photo by Jonathan Moore
Photo by Jonathan Moore
Photo by Jonathan Moore
Photo by Jonathan Moore
Photo by Jonathan Moore
Photo by Jonathan Moore
McLaren F1 is my crush ever since I played Need For Speed 2 back in late 90's...I love this beast and certainly in my head, it's better than Bugatti or every other hyper car
My friend with privately owned F1. .This was fitted out with Le man's parts left from race program at Mclaren a few years ago , engine, aero, you name it been done...and its a daily drive by proud Kiwi owner , Mclarens spiritual home: )
The vehicle speaks for itself.... I fell in love with it after I played the video game REAL RACING 3.... REAL RACING 3 should use more of them, but they only have 2 models.... It's a beast, a monster of a car for anyone who likes to fly a plane at low altitudes !!!!
Very nice article for the car of the gods OR god of cars!
But I would like to dl the 1900x1200 pictures that would be awesome for my desktop. How can I download them?
Thanks for the good read and definitely for the perfect photos.
McLaren is one of my favorite cars. I learned all about the car in need for speed2 & fell love with it ever since. Love the pi too. Great job
Well written, beautifully done........ If im in that room i'd get in the car, lock the door and sit in thedriver seat , ignoring the panic mclaren employees outside
The Mclaren F1 was perfect when it was released, it is perfect now. It was a game changer and every NA manual super car since has been an homage to it.
IIRC the exhaust manifold was made of a super special steel and it cost more than the rest of the engine.
That closeup photo of the open door, photo #5, is simply amazing. It'd be awesome if there could be a wallpaper of that added at some point...Other than that, thank you for the amazing article and images. The F1 is such an iconic car and to have Speedhunters profile it with the great prose and pictures is nigh on perfect.
Oddly enough Porsche built nearly twice as many 956/962 racers as McLaren did road and race F1's put together.Still an awesome car, though I remember being quite annoyed that it had dethroned my newly adopted favourtie supercar, the Jaguar XJ220 as the fastest production road car.
Good article with great photos. It made me reminisce the first time I learned about the McLaren F1. It was a Road & Track issue, December 1997 if I'm correct. It was the first time they had tested the car. It was a US-spec car but the owner had the ugly, mandated bumpers removed. I was blown away by the fact it had gold-leaf covering in the engine bay for insulation. Apparently, owners were also given a set of Facom tools.
This truly is an amazing car.
i absolutely love the fact that all of the car's successes were purely accidental - they just built the best car they could, and it just happened to be the platform for a car which would win le mans outright on its first go. incredible
THE alpha male in the car kingdom. Sorry Bugatti Veyron, you are overly engineered and lack a clutch interface with my right foot.
Excellent write-up and awesome photos! I hope to be able to visit this place someday. Love the sterile looking interior.
@Peloton25 I do not count prototypes as far as exclusivity goes, as in almost all cases, no one will never have the opportunity to own them (like I have a shot at one that's not a prototype lol). Regardless of how many were produced than sold, the GT is still more exclusive, and more expensive than the LM. All of this still doesn't matter in the end, as this article is fantastic, the pictures are excellent! (like always)
I'm going to bookmark this article under the name "and that's why Mclaren not Ferrari" for any future arguments in these comments below articles...... I (as do no doubt many, many readers here) live less than a mile from that car and yet have never ever seen it. It's maddening for sure. And it's about three miles to their car storage which I would swap a child to get near. Thank you for the article.
Awesome stuff, you guys are so lucky to do what you do. I take it they wouldn't open the rear/engine cover area? Would love to see some more engine/mechanical shots. I have still never seen an F1 in the flesh, and I have seen plenty of other interesting/personal hero cars. It is my "white whale."
''This is the car Lewis Hamilton lusted over since his first teenage visits to McLaren HQ, and the one promised to him if he delivered back-to-back F1 World Championships (much as I like Hamilton, I’m glad he didn’t win for the selfish reason of this shoot).''
I am sorry but I would prefer Hamilton to win and drive this beast as frequently as possible.
Now this is proper >> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFLQAEiO7xo
I think I went blind with rage and jealousy at around halfway through. It doesn't even make sense how awesome this car is. I've got to get to McLaren one day. Now if my left eye will just stop twitching.
@arsinek Pretty sure everything was better in the 90's. 90's seemed the time where people wanted hot rods and whatever else that was fast. They didn't care about the heated seats and cup holders. New exotic cars have A/C and 18 different heat settings, heated and cooled seats, 6 cup holders, plush leather comfy seats and everything else that makes the car not painful to drive or even irritating. The 90's, if you wanted a fast car, you bought one, if you wanted a luxury car, well then you had to buy that seperate. My E36 M3 rides like shit, rough and painful and no cup holders so you better buy a bottle and not a can. For long distance driving, it's my favorite car to take. Then I have a 1994 Camaro with a home built 383 stroker with a Holly double pumper. Fun to cruise around town in. Cup holder sits between the arm rest and my shifter, so it's useless lol.
Then I have driven a few new vehicles, none of which appealed to me. Can't feel the road, drive by wire, throttle by wire, super spongy and soft motor mounts, traction control and warning lights and annoying dingers that ding when I don't put on my seat belt or have my lights on or I blinked my eyes and it panics thinking I'm not paying attention to the road.
@cmsgt4 These wheels started me on the path to acquiring a set of Compomotive Type MO's for my last car. Nothing beats a clean full face 5 spoke wheel for me.
@E Sutton agreed my man...worldwide all love it
@hanablemoore I'd say no, unless either of those cars go racing and win. The allure of the F1 is all the coming together of several elements that created the perfect storm of automotive performance and beauty:
The McLaren badge is sacred with gearheads
Gordan Murray Chief designer. So much respect for his work at Brabham, An amazing engineer.
The beauty of the exterior design
the fact that its normally aspirated (to me will always trump turbocharging for sheer coolness)
No driver nannies of any type, not even power steering!
and lastly, LeMans winner not to mention many races in European sports car series including FIA GT in 1997.
Still the highest top speed record holder for a normally aspirated car!
@fabulous71 Left foot?
@JoeyBranum That's fine - but what we are looking at here is the F1 LM prototype (certainly deserving of being counted) so I thought it was important to mention. Also two of the three remaining F1 road car prototypes are in private hands - XP3 belongs to Gordon Murray who left his job at McLaren in 2004, and XP4 belongs to a collector in California - so to suggest that no one would ever have the opportunity to own them is not quite correct.
@Phishy Me too! Jay Leno owns a black F1 that he brought out to a monthly car meet I religiously attend back in February. As my luck would have it, I was out of town on a rare business trip that weekend and missed it. Although I did see full race versions at Laguna Seca back in '97 for the FIA GT Championship. Still want to see a road version!
@sean klingelhoefer I'm with you, Sean!
@sean klingelhoefer make some friends: they have a workers day once a year when the staff can take their friends in. Counted 5 Lola's alone at last year so well worth the visit if you get the chance.
@Peloton25 Whoops, yes, my 'other' right foot : )
@fabulous71 I was also at Laguna Seca for that event in 1997 - what an amazing experience that was! There were 6 F1 GTRs there for the race and it was my first time seeing the car as well. Funny enough, I'm also an occasional attendee of the Supercar Sunday event. I wasn't there the day he brought it out either but have been lucky to see it a couple of other times. Unfortunately Jay's F1 is the only one we have locally at the moment and of course he has many other things to drive. Hopefully you get your chance at some point because seeing an F1 road car in person is quite impressive.