The Supercar's Supercar - Part One
The Supercar had arguably its finest hour during the final decade of the 20th Century. McLaren, dominant in Formula One at that time and spurred on by the presence of the Porsche 959 and the Ferrari F40, built the F1 - which most modern commentators still consider to be the ultimate expression of the Supercar genre. Despite economic uncertainties that most of us experience on a daily basis, there has been a recent resurgence of the Supercar concept. Gracing last years Geneva Salon were LaFerrari, the McLaren P1 and the Lamborghini Veneno, all fine expressions of automotive excess and confidence. Looking back at their spiritual ancestor, the McLaren F1, now seems appropriate - if only to see how high the bar was set some 20 years ago. All photos courtesy of McLaren Automotive. The McLaren F1 had all the usual attributes of the select group known as SuperCars, stunning looks, out of this world performance and a stratospheric price tag. What set Woking's finest apart from the opposition was not only excelling in those road bound attributes but also its stellar record on the racetrack, the pinnacle of which was outright victory at the 1995 Le Mans 24 Hours. The McLaren F1 was not even the first road going sportscar the company had produced, that honour was taken by the McLaren M6GT which was a coupé based on the successful M6A Can-Am racer. Designed and built in the late 60's by the company's founder, Bruce McLaren, the M6GT never entered production with only two examples built. The death in 1970 of McLaren while testing at Goodwood ended that initiative. Good ideas often arise from a simple start and the McLaren F1 was no exception to this rule. A delayed flight at Milan's Linate airport is hardly headline news, so the day after the 1988 Italian Grand Prix saw an impromptu meeting of McLaren bosses, Ron Dennis and Mansour Ojjeh, along with marketing man Creighton Brown and Gordon Murray, design genius and present Technical Director of the group. Murray had designed many winning Formula One cars but had always harboured ambitions to build a roadcar. Murray's desire fitted well with the vision of the future that Ron Dennis had for McLaren, he wanted to diversify the offering from purely racing and to apply the high standards of that activity to other fields. What had started as a "what if" in an airport lounge soon took on a life of its own. Murray had been the designer of the 1988 McLaren MP4/4 Honda that won every race that year bar one, ironically the Italian Grand Prix. After twenty years in Grand Prix Racing he was looking for a fresh challenge. As the project developed the objective became clear, the car would be the best, most advanced car built, regardless of cost, it would reflect the values of the TAG-McLaren group in every aspect. "No compromise" would be the guiding principle. The layout of the car was the first issue to be addressed and after much experimentation a central driving position was adopted. This answered many of the problems encountered with more conventional mid-engined designs and it would ensure the maximum impact when unveiled to the public. Gull wing doors just added to the legend, another example of a no compromise approach. Reflecting the heritage of the TAG-McLaren group, the car would be constructed in carbon composite. Peter Stevens was brought on board to handle styling and aerodynamics. The biggest question still remaining was what engine would the car use? For a number of reasons the desire was to have a V12 normally aspirated unit, producing at least 100bhp per litre. The list of those who were qualified to design and build such a unit was a short one - Ferrari, Honda and BMW. The Italians were ruled out, obviously, with the Japanese not keen to be involved, it left BMW. Murray had a good history with Paul Rosche, chief engineer at BMW Motorsport during his time in F1, the two had won the World Championship in 1983 together. McLaren's specification was accepted by BMW and the result came in the form of the 48 valve, 6 litre V12 producing over 600bhp. Now McLaren were ready to roll. Every aspect of the car from transmission to suspension to electronics brought similar problems and forced the team building the F1 to push themselves even harder to answer the questions that this machine raised. Days and weeks rolled into one mass, but the launch continued approaching. On 28th May 1992 the car was presented to the world at the Sporting Club in Monte Carlo. The reaction was ecstatic, hardly surprising as this car was truly unlike anything seen before. The production process got underway and cars were sold to those with deep enough pockets and a taste for the finest things in life. £640,000 would be sufficient moolah to secure one of these treasures. Despite this lottery winning figure there was considerable demand. Unlike almost every other car ever launched, McLaren only allowed one comprehensive road test by the press, Autocar being the lucky magazine. Their verdict was not a surprise. "The McLaren F1 is the finest driving machine yet built for the public road. It possesses more performance than most of the cars racing at Le Mans this year, but that is almost incidental compared to its real achievement: containing such performance within a car without guile. A car that always inspires, never intimidates." Of course getting the car onto the road was only part of the story, the siren call of competition was next, a legend was about to be born. -John Brooks Continue reading...
- Part Two - The F1 GTR was created and went on to influence the BPR Global Endurance Series and made a surprising victory at Le Mans 24 Hours.
- Part Three - With McLaren's immense victories in 1995, the following year saw stiffened competition. Porsche was brewing the 911 GT1 and things were about to get messy.