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Back in 1992, I spent a remarkable day with the McLaren F1 project Technical Director Gordon Murray and Chief Designer Peter Stevens at McLaren’s headquarters in Woking, England. As the Grand Prix season was then at its height, the Formula One racecar section was off-limits.

I have returned to Woking several times since, but today, 14 years later, I am re-united with the McLaren F1 on a track near Munich, Germany. The silver-colored machine I find myself sitting in is one of the last F1s made and is part of the BMW Mobile Tradition collection.

Firing up the 627 bhp 6064cc V12 brings the memories flooding back to my day at McLaren, when we did the same thing in their workshop before hitting the road.

The McLaren F1 was launched to a flurry of interest from the press and car enthusiasts worldwide in 1992. With its stunning form and superb performance, the F1 was quickly hailed as the new standard-bearer for the supercar contingent.

The accolades poured in, but perhaps nothing endorsed the F1’s credentials better than the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1995 when the McLaren F1 finished first, third, fourth, fifth, and 13th on its debut outing. This was an unprecedented achievement for an all-new car type.

In 1998, the McLaren was piloted by F1 test driver and Le Mans ace Andy Wallace to a world record-breaking speed of 386.5 km/h (240.14 mph). This record would remain unbeaten for seven years until it fell to the Koenisegg CCR, and then the Bugatti Veyron in 2005.

During its production run from 1993 to 1998, only a hundred McLaren F1s were ever made; 65 of these were road cars, with the rest being race-tuned editions. It was the motorsports tie-up between McLaren and Mercedes-Benz that brought the F1 project to an end.

The key to the F1’s abilities on both road and track lie in its concept. As Gordon Murray explained in 1992: “The prime directive for the F1 project can be summed up in four words: small, slim, light, and powerful. It is a driver’s car first and foremost, and a car for driving.”

The F1 is about the length of the Porsche 911 of its day, but significantly wider to encompass its unique three-abreast seating configuration. Yet it is still anything up to a foot narrower than the widest major-league supercars. “The central driving position alleviates placement problems on the road and indeed the cost of making right and left-hand-drive versions,” Murray said.

Indeed, this choice of driving position reflects the no-compromises approach taken when it came to designing this ultimate car, and it has not been repeated since.

The Styling

Even in its styling, the F1 reflects a tremendous sense of unity of purpose and synergy. In this respect, the McLaren F1 is more functional in appearance and far from the flamboyant beauty of the Lamborghini Diablo or the Jaguar XJR-15 of its era. It will turn heads but it does not shout ‘look at me’ like many of its Italian supercar counterparts.

The proportions of the F1 also bear more than a passing similarity to a Ford GT40. “This was not intentional,” chief designer Peter Stevens said, “but we certainly did not want to produce a 1992 design that would date the car. Rather, our objective was to create a shape that would be classic in its proportions to stand the test of time.”

Looking at it today, there is little doubt that this is one of the most beautiful and harmonious supercar designs of all time.

In the interests of ultimate driver enjoyment, Gordon Murray was determined to make his supercar as light as possible.

The central monocoque and the body panels are made from carbon composites. Most primary structure panels are double-skinned and stiffened by aluminum honeycomb. The result is immense torsional and bending stiffness and low weight.

The F1 weighs just 1138 kg (2506 lbs), 60 percent less than a Diablo or Testarossa of its period, and a massive 750kg (1652 lbs) less than the Bugatti Veyron. So rigorous was the weight paring schedule that wheel maker OZ Racing was asked to shave the 14 kg (31 lb) weight of its aerospace grade magnesium alloy wheel as best as they could without losing strength in the wheel. Ultimately, they achieved a phenomenal 30 percent reduction in the production wheel.

Even the toolkit, a seemingly insignificant source of extra mass, merited the same amount of attention to weight. French tool-maker, Facom, was commissioned to make a strong but featherweight tool kit, and came up with a tailored forged-titanium set. Weight is one thing; where it is situated is quite another. As on a racing car, the F1 has most of its mass around the center, creating a very low polar moment of inertia that greatly enhances the nimbleness of the car. Indeed, the luggage compartments, which are behind each door, occupy areas that are usually wasted space in other supercars. In the F1 however, they form two 4.0 cu ft (113 liter) boots (complete with totally customized luggage). Such is the ingenuity of this placement that the center of gravity of the car changes by less than one percent even with a full load of fuel, passengers, and luggage.

The F1 is a car with superb balance while cornering. The springs are rated much softer than you might imagine for a supercar. However, thanks to exemplary matching with the dampers, the result is a firm but supple secondary ride with iron fisted control at speed.

Lightness is not its only virtue; the McLaren F1 bristles with tomorrow’s technology. Ideas that its designers thought would have mass-market appeal in the near future included the miniaturization of a host of common automotive components from the transmission, to the in-car entertainment and its unique front and rear suspension configurations.

Even the laminated glass with its significant compound curvature has an inner membrane that both heats and tints the glass. This also helps de-ice the glass seven times faster than the EC average in cold weather, while cutting ultra-violet light intrusion by a dramatic 85 percent.

The silver paintwork that covers the composite body is a new material said to protect the bodywork better, and one of the eight patents that technical director Gordon Murray has applied for is a composite molding technique that cuts the curing time for these materials by a dramatic margin.

The mighty BMW motor is what this car is all about. There is no substitute for cubic inches, and there is no forced aspirated motor in the world that comes close to the sound and throttle response of the mighty 6.1 liter, normally-aspirated V12. In fact, among naturally-aspirated engines, the only one that comes close is the bonkers 7.3 liter AMG-built Mercedes V12 in the Pagani Zonda F. Power-to-weight ratio is everything however, and the McLaren is 200 kg (440 lbs) lighter than even the Zonda, so its ability to pile on speed at the flexing of your right toe is awesome. The sound this engine makes when you lay into the throttle instantly has the hairs on the back of your neck standing to attention.

After the sound of 12 throttle bodies inhaling hard, the next thing that hits you is G-force and then the horizon reeling experience that you see on Star Trek when the USS Enterprise goes into warp drive. The gearshift is firm but precise, the unassisted steering heavier than you would like at low speeds. But as the needle cracks on around the speedometer, the steering lightens up and becomes full of feel and sensation.

When a car brakes heavily, the center of pressure rushes forward, lightening the load on the rear and creating instability. On the McLaren, the pop-up rear spoiler takes on a 30-degree angle of attack to the horizontal during heavy braking that helps to keep the center of pressure central, spreading the braking loads equally across the four wheels. No surprise, then, to find this feature on the current Mercedes SLR McLaren.

When the wing is raised, it also exposes additional brake cooling ducts. This active cooling is said to obviate the need for ABS, which is felt to hurt driver feel and add complexity and weight due to their inefficiency. The brakes themselves are huge Brembo vented cross- drilled discs clamped by four pot calipers.

In isolation it is hard for anyone, even someone who regularly drives supercars, to fully appreciate the McLaren F1 with just a short drive on a track. Owners I know who are lucky enough to have an F1 in their private collections speak of it like an old friend rather than just another car. They describe weekends away and even longer trips across Europe, something hard to do in rivals that have comparatively little luggage room and excessive girth for negotiating small city streets.

This proves the point that when Gordon Murray and Peter Stevens were penning the McLaren F1 all those years ago, they were also thinking about a car that could really be used everyday rather than a toy that would be just taken out for a short blast. So 14 years on, the beacon lit by the McLaren F1 still shines brightly. When you consider the size of the team and budget required to build this first all carbon-fiber supercar and project it safely to 240 mph back then, it seems small beer compared to the massive corporate effort required by Bugatti to mount its challenge.

The McLaren F1 may have hit the ground running eight years before the turn of the 20th century, but its concept and execution undoubtedly set the precedent for every major-league supercar to see the light of day since. On that basis, there is no doubt that the McLaren F1 is the seminal supercar that led its genre into the 21st century.


 

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I have a pic somewhere of an F1 and Enzo leaving the Greenwich Concours D'Elegance show. The sound of them both taking off was excellent. They are both beautiful cars, but the Enzo does make it look a little sad/outdated when side by side in person.
 

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Never narc'd on nobody
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I have a pic somewhere of an F1 and Enzo leaving the Greenwich Concours D'Elegance show. The sound of them both taking off was excellent. They are both beautiful cars, but the Enzo does make it look a little sad/outdated when side by side in person.
I would shove an Enzo, a Zonda and a Veyron off a cliff if it got me an F1.....

None of them even come close to the total package of useable exotica and rolling coolness provided by the McLaren. There will be faster and newer cars, but it is just too much of an accomplishment compared to anything else on the road.
 

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I would shove an Enzo, a Zonda and a Veyron off a cliff if it got me an F1.....

None of them even come close to the total package of useable exotica and rolling coolness provided by the McLaren. There will be faster and newer cars, but it is just too much of an accomplishment compared to anything else on the road.
I don't know about usable, I have heard F1's are very scary cars to drive at the limit.
 

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2JZ Mk2
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There is an awesome thread on pistonheads.com about someone that owns a F1 in England. Its like 200 pages long, but has some awesome info about things you never hear about an F1.
 

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I don't know about usable, I have heard F1's are very scary cars to drive at the limit.
Usable as in you can drive it on the road....a/c, stereo, luggage space, tractable engine, etc, compared to the others. It was built as an ultimate road car, not a "race car for the road" ala the Enzo.

SilverMk2....that thread was an awesome read!
 

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There is an awesome thread on pistonheads.com about someone that owns a F1 in England. Its like 200 pages long, but has some awesome info about things you never hear about an F1.
Is that the same guy who modified his to bring it "up to date"? IIRC, he changed the suspension quite a bit
 

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2JZ Mk2
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Is that the same guy who modified his to bring it "up to date"? IIRC, he changed the suspension quite a bit
Yep. I think the biggest change he did was to get another set of original F1 looking wheels made in 19" (IIRC) and using the Enzos Bridgestone tires. I guess the original F1 tires are very compliant for the type of car it is to give it a good ride, but makes it very squirmy to drive at the limit. It was interesting to read about a lot of the comprimises Mclaren made to made the car good riding and usable though. As an engineer myself I tend to be pretty geeky about this sort of details. The book about the F1 design is a good buy if you can find one, although it is $$$$$ pricey.
 

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Yeah I fell asleep reading that long azz post on Pistonheads....Great info...It seemed if I remember correctly that Mclaren made some weird decisions witht he rear suspension that caused some crazy handling characteristics....The road cars that is....Id love to get my hands on Gulf Racecar or an F1 LM......The ultimate hypercar imho even though the Veyron has blown it away...
 

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I think one of the funnier ones was the wrench in the tool kits they specially made out of forged titanium. Its to remove the centerlock on the wheel for flats except the wrench is so short you could never loosen the nut which is torqued to 200+ ft-lb.

Their is also a video out there that shows the toolbox and watch you got when you bought the car. It was hilarous they had a modem in the toolbox they pulled it out. It was one of those huge desktop 14.4k modems.
 

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I think the McLaren is a fuckin' cool car, an incredible feat of engineering, but I hate its stubby looks. The short rear overhang is enough to piss me the hell off. I guess that's why I fell in love with the long-tailed race version.
 

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I would shove an Enzo, a Zonda and a Veyron off a cliff if it got me an F1.....

None of them even come close to the total package of useable exotica and rolling coolness provided by the McLaren. There will be faster and newer cars, but it is just too much of an accomplishment compared to anything else on the road.
:werd:


I guess that's why I fell in love with the long-tailed race version.
:werd: x2

The book about the F1 design is a good buy if you can find one, although it is $$$$$ pricey.
There are at least two books that any McLaren fan should have:

Driving Ambition by Doug Nye (Amazon UK has these for £39.60 right now and they do ship to the US)
McLaren GTR by Michael Cotton (Good luck finding this let alone finding a copy for under $250.)

The collectors will probably have the following for some great action shots of the McLaren GTRs:
1995 GT Endurance
1996 GT Endurance
1997 FIA GT Endurance
1995 Le Mans 24 Hours
1996 Le Mans 24 Hours
1997 Le Mans 24 Hours
1998 Le Mans 24 Hours

Into the Red: 22 Classic Cars That Shaped a Century of Motor Sport by Nick Mason

Videos:
In Car Sportscar Experience by Duke Video - in car action in McLaren GTRs, F40s, Marcos Mantas, 911s of the BPR era
Martin Brundle's Supercars
BPR Sportscar World Review 1996

For those interested in seeing a McLaren GTR again, FIA series has a 90s Revival which will showcase sportscars from the 90s at tracks such as Silverstone in England.

Regards,
James R
 

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Usable as in you can drive it on the road....a/c, stereo, luggage space, tractable engine, etc, compared to the others. It was built as an ultimate road car, not a "race car for the road" ala the Enzo.

SilverMk2....that thread was an awesome read!
considering F1 never came with ac and stereo.so how is it ultimate road car. to me f1 is nothing but a faster f40. i take ccr or veyron pls.

also looks how scary doing 230mph feel like in f1 and now compare that to going 250mph and still comfortable in a veyron
 

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This is only a 6.1 litre....? Does Litre size matter over cylanders or is it a balance of both? I Find it interesting that you can have ~2.5 litre I4's and V6's, 5.0 V8, and a 6.1 litre V12....would having more cylanders in the same overal size be better, or a smaller amount of larger pistons better? Hmm....
 
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