Whilst I was reading a recent article it occurred to me that even the most modern supercars are still compared to the McLaren F1 a car that started production in 1992. I then started to think of why is this car still the benchmark for all supercars, there are a few reasons but I simply thought why is this car so special?
Gordon Murray designed the car to be the ultimate road car but looking into the design and specification that he settled on it is was more than just the being ultimate road car, it was the ultimate road car that did not compromise in any way. The cost of over £600,000 in the early 90s sounded crazy but adjusted to today’s prices it sounds about right for a car of its quality and spec, one thing is for certain, it was worth the money it cost.
Murray’s design CV is the stuff of dreams, Brabham F1 team with race winning cars including the ’78 fan car (which won its only race), McLaren F1 team and championship winning cars, McLaren F1 program, T.25 City Car and the Rocket track car, he clearly knows a thing or two about designing cars, so when someone like this says that he wants the McLaren F1 to be the ultimate road car it starts to set the scene for why this car is important.
If you glance at the other cars available at the time there are some big names, F50, XJ220, EB110, all cars that are remarkable for some aspects of there abilities but none of them are used as a yard stick to judge new supercars as the F1 is.
McLaren F1 GTR taking the overall win at Le Mans 1995
Here are some of the main reasons the car has remained so important in today’s market.
Given Gordon Murray’s history it is hardly a surprise that the F1 did a few things that no one else had done before, the seating arrangement was pure inspiration, all supercars are difficult to get into anyway so why not use a little extra effort for the perfect position and at the same time create two passenger seats instead of one. Thinking like this makes it quite clear that the design team were absolutely focused on creating the perfect road car and started their thinking with the driver who is ultimately the person who will benefit from the car. Likewise further innovations the F1 was the first production car to use a carbon fibre reinforced plastic monocoque which is now a must for most top breed supercars, more evidence of the F1 teams drive for perfection in a road car.
The engine in the F1 is another very strong reason why the car is constantly compared to, the 6.1 litre V12 produced 627 naturally aspirated horses, in the early 90s this was insane! The BMW engine was so versatile that it could do road driving and endurance racing with minor tweeks, it’s bay was lined with gold for improved heat reflection, it had many components made from cast magnesium for weight saving and ran numerous other trick systems. Indeed the engine was the very definition of innovation and of course was designed around the drivers ability to be able to extract the maximum interaction with the car. Even by today’s standard the engine is a masterpiece, oh and it sounded pretty good too. The following video is not the best but it shows the noise of the engine perfectly, sublime V12 noise!
The F1s performed is legendary, off the top of my head I know it does 0-60 in 3.2 seconds and 0-100 in 6.7 and will do 241mph (albeit needing a couple of changes to get to this, whatever the case 230mph was achievable by all). Comparing this to today’s standard and again it is still competitive, despite the car being over 20 years young and the top supercars now possessing 800bhp+. The F1s performance and especially it’s top speed is help largely by its lack if drag, 0.32Cd is lower that the majority of recent 200mph+ cars and the fact it only weighed 1140kg. I suspect aero is something that Mr Murray was very good with and understood its importance extremely well. So to sum up the power plant, it’s simple, the reason to compare this cars performance to all other cars wishing to be counted is that it did it first and it is still good enough for today.
It is also worth remembering the at F1 had no power steering, unservoed brakes, no ABS, custom fitted seat and steering column, custom tailored audio system (and also commemorative TAG watch and good luggage space!). This was all done with the thinking that extra systems and the weight of the systems added to the complexity of the car and this was not necessary when creating the ultimate road car, the unbelievable focus is fantastic!
McLaren F1, LM, GT (front to back)
It also spawned track special cars (the LM, GT and road converted GTRs) although at the time they were not really considered to be this, but they were, again this is interesting as it is seen as almost standard to do this now, Veyron SuperSports, Ferrari FXX, McLaren P1 GTR etc, with the F1 McLaren saw to do this 20 years ago when it was far from common place.
I think it is fair to say that it is easy to see why this car is still used in comparisons, in fact I would go as far to say that it should for so long as required until supercars are advanced to the point where the innovation jump McLaren had on the rest of the field is surpassed. When will this be? I’m not sure, but it is not now.
Best supercar of all time? At the moment, maybe…