Chances are, as you’re driving along the roads on your way to work or to the supermarket, you’ll be sharing that piece of tarmac with the usual suspects. VW Golfs, Ford Focuses, a few BMW 3 Series, that sort of thing.
But every now and then something either flashes past you or looms large in your mirrors that makes you take a second look. In our new series, we’ll reflect on those cars that we hardly ever see on the road, but wish we could see more often, starting with the legendary McLaren F1.
The fact that only 106 of these cars were built from 1992 to 1998 (and some of those were racing variants) would explain why you’re lucky if you ever see one of these epic machines on the road. The vast majority are sheltering under dust sheets in private garages or collections, and their exclusivity means they’ve long been a go to choice for celebrities or those with massive wealth. Notable owners include Rowan Atkinson, Ralph Lauren, Nick Mason and even the Sultan of Brunei, so chances are, you wouldn’t have been able to buy one anyway! Especially when you consider the asking price of £500,000 from new, though in modern times you’ll need upwards of £1 million to secure one.
Those that have escaped from celebrity ownership are quickly snapped up, Tesla boss Elon Musk is a notable recent owner, and the reasons are easy to see. Despite being almost 30 years old, the BMW V12-powered McLaren F1 can still hold a candle to modern day supercars, pumping out 618 horsepower and weighing only 1,130 kilos. This means for a 0-100km/h acceleration of just 3.5 seconds, and an overall top speed beyond 230mph. The car remains the fastest naturally aspirated road car ever produced, with modern day machines such as the Bugatti Veyron all benefiting from forced induction. Amazingly, the Veyron needs around an extra 400 horsepower to achieve the same sort of speeds.
It wasn’t just the performance that appealed to buyers back in the 1990s. This was one of the first road cars to utilise advanced materials including Kevlar and carbon fibre, helping with designer Gordan Murray’s ethos of plenty of power and low weight. It even featured 16 grams of gold foil to cool the engine.
The car also features a unique three seat cockpit layout, with the driver occupying a near perfect driving position, right in the middle and just forward of the two passengers. And you didn’t get into the car with the usual doors. No, the McLaren F1 utilised a set of bonkers ‘butterfly’ doors more akin to a bomber than a road car.
A focus on aerodynamics meant that the McLaren F1 looked even more ahead of its time too. The concept of aero was still being understood in the 1990s, but here the knowledge was maxed out, leading to one of the sleekest designs ever seen at the time, and later models even incorporated active aerodynamics, including a dynamic rear spoiler.
Of course it’s no surprise that the car became one of the best of all time. Designer Murray was part of the design team for some of the best McLaren Formula One cars ever produced, propelling the likes of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna to World Championship glory.
That F1 thinking was translated to the road when Murray stopped work on single seaters to head up McLaren’s road car division, but his thinking remained on the same lines. He used the best materials, the top engine available, with a focus on pure driving to produce an absolute monster that remains one of the most desirable cars of all time.
If more proof was needed that this car was special, it’s that McLaren still maintains a support network for the F1, despite production halting 23 years ago. The company has even been known to fly technicians to the owner of a car if it needs assistance. And you won’t get that with a Ford Focus…
Alas, with only 106 produced, and just 64 of these being dedicated road versions, the chances of you ever seeing one of these on the road is about as likely as the Queen riding horseback around the M25.
But there’s good news on the horizon, Gordon Murray Automotive has been founded in recent years, and in March this year, the T50 car made its track debut. The car bears more than a visual similarity to the McLaren F1; it has a 650 horsepower naturally aspirated V12 engine, this time from Cosworth, a central seating position, and yet more carbon fibre.
The bad news? Only 100 road going versions are being built, most have those have already been ordered, and for those remaining, the asking price is £2.8 million. Probably too late for us to start saving then…
Richard Randle is a motorsport PR professional working with the UK’s top racing circuits and the UK’s premier single-seater category, the BRDC British F3 Championship.