The Mclaren F1 – Greatest car ever made
For those of us petrol heads old enough to remember when the Mclaren F1 landed will also remember the impact the F1 had on the car world has been unsurpassed. Dare I say it, even made those who normally wouldn’t consider themselves enthusiasts sit up and take notice.
The F1 is considered by many car enthusiasts to be the best car ever made for many reasons, it set new standards and broke records throughout the car world. Its single focus, power, speed, acceleration, its packaging, driver interaction, etc were all head and shoulders above its contemporaries.
In 1994, the British car magazine Autocar stated in a road test regarding the F1, “The McLaren F1 is the finest driving machine yet built for the public road.” They also said, “The F1 will be remembered as one of the great events in the history of the car, and it may possibly be the fastest production road car the world will ever see.” In 2005, Channel 4 placed the car at number one on their list of the 100 greatest cars, declaring it “the greatest automotive achievement of all time”.
Mclaren automotive has had a hard time lately with youtubers and influencers criticising modern Mclarens reliability and depreciation and Mclaren’s performance in Formula 1 has taken a real dip in form of late, but I want to take you back to Mclaren Cars first and only vehicle and truly the greatest halo vehicle from any manufacturer.
The beginning of the F1 story goes something like this, September 1988 on the way back from the Italian Gran Prix Managing Director Ron Dennis, Gordon Murray Technical Director, shareholder Mansour Ojjeh and Creighton Brown commercial director were delayed at Milan Airport and a conversation turned into a full on serious discussion for plans to build the fastest and finest car the world had ever seen. Ron Dennis wanted to expand on their success on the track, Mclaren were riding high from Formula one world constructor champion success and an expansion into road car manufacturing seemed ideal and Gordon Murray had ambitions since he was at college to build a single purpose road going sports car.
Gordon Murray was granted carte blanche and set about hand picking a small team of very talented engineers and designers and work started about 4 years after the initial conversation at the airport, it took around 3 years for production ready examples to be delivered.
When released on the world the superlatives were aplenty for the time and some are still mightily impressive today, 627bhp, use of active aero dynamics and ground effects which were largely unknown outside of Formula one, over 240mph, a gold lined engine bay, central driving position, first road car to use a carbon fibre monocoque, BMW Motorsport V12 engine designed by engine guru Paul Rosche which is probably the greatest road engine ever produced, price £634,500, in 1992, the average price of a house in London was £78,000 in 1992, the fastest production car in the world for over 10 years, had a built in modem when most households didn’t have the internet, mechanics would fly to wheverer you were in the world to service it, to this day is the fastest normally aspirated car in the world, 103bhp per litre no car had exceeded 100bhp per litre, even the owners manual was a hand drawn work of art itself.
The level and depth of engineering was truly staggering, no other vehicle had ever had this level of attention and thought to its design and the end result was breath taking from a company that hadn’t produced a road for over 30 years, they were effectively starting from scratch came from nowhere and the equivalent cars of the day instantly looked pretty primitive and limp when the F1 was released. Even without driving aids such as ABS and traction control that were available at the time it was still a technological marvel. Gordon Murray didn’t want anything to get in the way of the purest driving experience possible.
Mr Murray’s obsession for weight saving paid off and the F1 tipped the scales at 1139kg which is extremely light for a V12 hyper car, about the weight of a Fiesta, this light weight was achieved with solutions like the one off titanium tool kit, one off Kenwood stereo and cd changer, every component was poured over at meetings to ensure the integrity, functionality and weight were optimised. The materials used for the construction sound like a who’s who’s of materials for a space programme, exotic materials such as Carbon Fibre, magnesium, titanium, gold, dynamia, maraging steel, many more that are largely unknown to anyone that doesn’t wear a lab coat at work. It was decided early on that the best possible materials for the job known to man at the time were used without consideration to the cost. It’s not surprising then that each car took 3 months to build and each car was built specifically for its owner including seat fitting and steering wheel and pedal adjustment.
There are so many remarkable footnotes attached to the F1 that we don’t have space here to mention all of them, one such story is of the F1 GTR. There was considerable pressure from customers that wanted to go racing for Maclaren to build a race version, eventually Gordon Murray and Ron Dennis succombe and the GTR was hatched. The F1 was always only intended to be a road car, but because a lot if the technology was inspired by and race bred it wasn’t that difficult to make the changes to race car specification, and the GTR was born which was essentially a road going F1 with a spoiler and racing tyres. It won 24 hours Le Man outright not just class wins, but the whole race on its first outing scoring 1st and 3rdnd, 4th and 5th positions beating purpose built racing cars which is utterly remarkable.
There are quite a few stories that include famous owners, the single largest insurance claim in the UK accolade goes to Mr Bean actor Rowan Atkinson and his Mclaren F1. The Johnny English star crashed his F1 in 2011 and it was repaired a cost of £910,000. He sold his F1 in 2015 for £8 million pounds, not a bad return on what he paid for it new in 1997, however Mr Atkinson really appreciated what the F1 was as he described his F1 to The Telegraph‘s Andrew Frankel:
“Look at a modern supercar of comparable performance and it will be vast, heavy and offer little or no space for your luggage. By comparison the F1 is tiny, yet it will seat three, store enough for you all to go on holiday and still finds space for a proper, normally aspirated 6.1-litre V12 engine. And it weighs the same as a shopping car. Nothing has ever been designed before or since with such imagination and clarity of thought.”
Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, sold his first company and immediately bought an F1. He too crashed his on his way to an meeting for investment for PayPal funnily enough, but unfortunately for Elon he was uninsured and had to foot his own repair bill. Musk hung onto the car for several more years but decided to sell as he was working on Tesla and thought that people would find it strange that the owner of an electric car company owned the one of the finest combustion engine cars ever made.
Accountant James Munroe aka James Cox owned a rare F1 GTR, but all was not as it seemed, James was an account manager and was stealing money from his employer to fund his lavish lifestyle, even hiring the model Caprice and singer Paul Young to launch a race team he started with his ill gotten gains. Bizarrely James even went on a BBC programme to speak about his F1 which raised some eye brows but amazingly wasn’t what got him caught, his bosses became suspicious about all the sick leave he was having with a long list of excuses, in reality he was travelling to various race tracks with the cars he had bought with money from their comapnay.
Mclaren were extremely secretive about who bought an F1, but it is well known that serial super car waster the Sultan of Brunei apparently bought 10 F1’s, why you would buy 10 of the same car is something only the Sultan and his brother Jefri would understand, but he could and did. One car was crashed and used for spares, 2 were sold and 7 are still in his collection somewhere, probably.
Other owners include Jay Leno, who agrees that the F1 is the greatest car ever made, and regualry features his on his Youtube channel, the Beatles’s late George Harrison has one which is still owned by his estate and alledegely Eric Clapton has repeatedly tried to buy it.
Liam Howlett of the Prodigy owned one, but sold it describing it as terrifying.
Unfortunately the F1 was launched at a time of austerity and the £634,500 asking price was a hard sell despite its abilities and as a result only 106 F1’s were made of that only 64 are road going examples. Production finished in 1998, but today an F1 is just about the most desirable modern classic car money can buy and became a bonafide legend in its own time, maybe the sort the world might not see the likes of again. When they do come up for sale you need more than £10 million to get your butt in that hallowed central driving position and as much £25 million for the rarest most desirable models which makes them available to only the wealthiest individuals, but money aside it does seem that most of those fortunate enough to have the means to buy one truly appreciate the genius of the F1, drive them and not lock them away in climate controlled garages and that is a good thing.