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McLaren F1

McLaren F1

By Jack Nerad

McLaren F1 If Ferraris are a dime-a-dozen to you, if you yawn at the sight of a new Lamborghini, if a Bugatti leaves you cold and you wince at the words Maserati and De Tomaso, then we have a vehicle for you. Obviously, you are a person of elevated tastes (and elevated income). Obviously, even the finest things in life aren't quite fine enough for your finely tuned lifestyle. So, if this is you, Bunky, just what car should you drive? Our suggestion: none other than a McLaren F1, a car that was built in a neat, tidy batch of 100 between 1993 and 1998, a car that had a suggested list price of $1 million, a car that, if you can find one and buy it right now, might well cost you more used that it cost new.

McLaren F1, you might well be asking, what the hell is that? Okay, calm down, we're here to tell you what it is. The McLaren F1 is the fastest, production three-seat vehicle ever built. How fast? Would you believe 240 (that's not a typo) miles per hour? Yes, 240! Its closest competitor in the street-legal, series-production genre is the Jaguar XJ220, which was touted to top out at 220 mph (hence the name) but is more reliably believed to stop accelerating at 212 mph or so. By way of another comparison, the Ferrari F50, thought to be the fastest street Ferrari ever, boasted a top speed 38 mph slower than the McLaren F1. Of course, when new the F50 was also more than half a million dollars cheaper. So that's just one indication of what the McLaren F1 is.

Unless you're an aging Baby Boomer-racing fanatic you might not remember Bruce McLaren, but in the late Sixties he was a one-man gang who created a very competitive Formula One racing team plus a team that absolutely dominated Can-Am sports car racing. The New Zealand native overcame a crippling illness in his youth to become a topnotch open-wheel and sports car driver, but his real forte was combining his driving skills with engineering savvy. Feeling that his Cooper F1 team was lagging in development of new, more competitive racecars in the mid-Sixties, he ventured out on his own to form his own team. After experiencing growing pains during its first couple of years on the F1 circuit, Team McLaren began to hit its stride in 1967, becoming a competitive force in F1 and taking its first of five consecutive Can-Am championships.

Sadly, McLaren died before his team became a dominant force on the Grand Prix circuit. He was killed in a development accident at England's Goodwood racetrack when his Can-Am car's bodywork suddenly let go and sent him careening into a concrete flag platform. The date was June 2, 1970, and McLaren was just 32 years old.

Amazingly, the organization he had forged reached even greater heights after his passing. Denny Hulme continued to dominate Can-Am racing, and McLaren has become, arguably, the most successful Formula 1 racing team in history. (Ferrari, of course, has won more Grand Prix events than McLaren, but it has been competing in the series for far longer a time.) McLaren cars and drivers, who have included such luminaries as Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Mika Hakkinen, have been victorious in F1 races more than 120 times. The team has won an amazing 19 Formula One World Championship titles in addition to dominating Can-Am events (56 wins between 1967 and 1972) and capturing three Indianapolis 500 victories.

With this kind of pedigree, it seemed that creating a street-legal vehicle might be a natural extension of the McLaren brand. After all, Ferrari certainly uses its racing victories to sell its passenger cars. But McLaren's organization resisted that temptation until 1993 when, with the superexoticar segment booming as it never had before, the company decided to venture out into this new realm. Characteristically, they didn't go halfway. Instead of giving the task of designing the car to a junior engineer or an outside contractor, they dumped the project right in the lap of Gordon Murray, the engineer most responsible for the company's F1 racecars. To design the sleek bodywork, they enlisted Peter Steven, who had penned supercars for Jaguar and others. For the V-12 engine, they settled on BMW Motorsport. They also set a price bogey of $1 million a copy. (Take that, Ferrari.)

From the beginning, the McLaren F1 differentiated itself from its exalted brethren not only by its breathtaking list price but also by its sheer audacity. Who else would ever consider building a three-seat exoticar? Didn't "mother-in-law" seats go out with the Stutz Bearcat? But Murray wanted to give his drivers a driving position that would give them some of the sensations of piloting an F1 racecar, so he placed the steering wheel front and center, while the two passengers ride on either side, slightly behind the driver. Some might think three isn't the coziest number that you'll ever do, but those forward-thinkers among us might consider the car perfect for a modern-day mènage a trois.

The McLaren F1 is equally unconventional in terms of body construction. No aluminum tube space-frame here. The entire chassis is carbon fiber, which is incredibly strong and stiff for its weight. Attachment points for things like the car's sophisticated all-independent suspension are aluminum or magnesium pieces baked right into the chassis structure. As an example of the car's attention to detail, the "weaves" of the carbon fiber fabric are perfectly aligned in adjoining pieces for both strength and looks. Atop the chassis, the Steven-designed body is also executed in flawlessly finished carbon fiber.

While the voluptuous, high-tech body justifiably receives raves, it is the V-12 engine that gives the McLaren F1 its roar. It might have seemed logical for McLaren to reach into the parts bin of BMW or another high-end manufacturer for the engine, but, again, no compromises were in order for this car. Instead McLaren commissioned the design of an all-new 6-liter V-12 from BMW Motorsport, an engine specifically produced for the McLaren F1's duties as a road car. The 60-degree, dual-overhead-cam engine is truly a work of automotive art. With 48-valves churning, this normally aspirated powerplant produces 627 horsepower at 7,400 rpm. Its torque figure is slightly less dizzying but still impressive: 479 pound-feet at 5,600 rpm.

All this power is applied to a vehicle with a curb weight of just 2,500 pounds. By way of comparison, that's only about 100 pounds more than a current Mazda Miata weighs, but while the Miata has 142 horsepower to propel it, the McLaren has four-and-a-half times that. The result: from a stop sixty miles per hour arrives in just 3.2 seconds. Top speed is the aforementioned 240 miles per hour.

While you might naturally assume this baby is as Spartan as a racecar, that is not true. Each McLaren was custom-tailored for its owner but the company did not eschew niceties like CD stereo sound system, leather upholstery and power-operated windows. After all, the F1 is a road car.

If you'd like a copy for your personal collection, if you're tired of your Ferraris, etc, etc., our advice is to call McLaren direct. They keep pretty close tabs on their prestigious offspring, and if you sport their kind of bank account they might well hook you up - for, say, $1.2 million. Like the price of Mad magazine, "cheap."
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