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McLaren's centre-stage SA launch

2010-11-17 09:13

HERE IT IS: Ian Gorsuch, McLaren's bossman for Africa and the Middle East, shows off the MP4.12C in Cape Town.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer McLAREN
Model MP4-12C
Engine Twin-turbo, 3.8-litre, all-aluminium McLaren M838T V8
Power 448kW
Torque 600Nm
Transmission Seven-speed dual-clutch auto
Zero To Hundred Less than 3 seconds
Power To Weight 0.46bhp/kg
Weight 1300kg
Steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion.
Front Suspension Double wishbones, coil springs, active hydraulic shock-absorbers.
Rear Suspension Ditto.
Price About R3.25-million before taxes.
Rivals Ferrari 458, Lamborghini Gallardo

Les Stephenson

A young British star with a distinguished heritage flew into Cape Town this week and took the starring role at the Waterfront Film Studios in Cape Town in a huge sound stage with only one prop – a circular auto-show display stand that's toured the world.

Parked dead-centre on the newly assembled floor under shadowless lighting was a single car, its voluptuous lines obvious even under the cotton sheet covering it. No flashing lights, no pumping music and only one word to tell the tale,


Parked off to the left in the shadows of the same black-walled cavern, like a poor relation at a rich man's wedding, was a naked rolling chassis (no demure cotton shift here) so simple in design and construction that it could have come from a Cape Hell Drivers' stock-car.

Just some thick, square, carbon-fibre tubing, two huge crash-absorbing arms and a carbon-fibre tub containing a single racing seat behind all of which nestled (in more square tubing) what the small assembly of local motoring writers was told was a 3.8-litre, twin-turbo V8. Makes you wonder why they're so bloody expensive…

NOT WHAT IT SEEMS: It looks like a stability spoiler but in fact that bar across the rear of the 12C is actually an air brake.

All supported on four (sorry vicar, more nakedness!) bare wheels.

The chassis drew more attention than the mysterious shape under the cotton sheet – after all, it's not often you see, in the flesh, the full underpinnings of the new McLaren MP4-12C supercar but then nakedness is always interesting.

The engine that should have been there was Mercedes-AMG's 6.2-litre V8 but certain unpleasantries between McLaren and Merc popped that balloon early in the car's development so McLaren built its own engine, a direct-injected, 90-degree V8 said to stable 600 horses (450kW) at 8500rpm and 600Nm of torque – 80 percent of the latter from less than 2000rpm.

As you can see from the pictures, the whole assembly is a work of art; it became even better, lookswise, when what proved to be the South African launch of the MP4-12C got under way and a fully dressed version of the car emerged from under the sheet and was introduced to us by Ian Gorsuch, McLaren's bossman for Africa and the Middle East, with a short history lesson.

ROLLING CHASSIS: McLaren showed the naked truth about the underpinnngs of the new MP4-12C at the Cape Town launch. Those forward-pointing beams are crash shock-absorbers.

He pointed out that it was 20 years ago that the McLaren F1 (1993-98 and "the world's most critically acclaimed supercar"), the first sports car with a carbon-fibre chassis and at that time the fastest car on the planet, arrived on the world's roads and became one of the world's rarest – only 106 were created (made is far too mundane a word for such a machine). The company also found fame with the world's best-selling luxury supercar, the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren (2003-2009).

The 12C will be much more numerous: 1000 will be produced in 2011 at the factory in Woking, England (about 20 of them for South Africa with 18 already sold at prices ranging above and below R3.25-million as the vanguard of a full model range of around 4000 McLaren high-performance sports cars to be produced annually by the middle of the decade. Next to come will be convertible and GT versions of the 12C, forerunners of a wider range of such McLarens.

SA sales are being handled by the Daytona group, which also deals Rolls-Royce and Aston Martin in this country. The first showroom will be in Sandton (Gauteng) and the second in Cape Town's Waterfront – not far from the studios where this week's launch took place.

STRIKINGLY SIMPLE: The pure lines of the McLaren's body are echoed in uncluttered simplicity of the cabin and fascia..

McLaren sees the next models as competitors for Koenigsegg and Porsche as it takes on the world's best performance cars with vehicles that are lighter, more fuel-efficient and more exclusive than anything else – and each with the now famous carbon-fibre chassis.

It's unlikely that any two 12C units will be the same as they arrive in South Africa from May 2011: there are simply too many combinations of colours, finishes, seats and options available.

A Daytona spokesman at the launch said buyers included current Porsche, Lamborghini and Ferrari owners – though not all would unload their current cars. Just add to their fleet.

Ah, and no doubt you've been wondering from where the alphanumeric badge derives… OK, 'MP4' has been the chassis designation for all McLaren Formula 1 cars since 1981. It stands for McLaren Project 4, resulting from the merger of Ron Dennis' Project 4 organisation and McLaren. The '12' refers to McLaren's internal Vehicle Performance Index through which it rates key performance criteria for its own and competitors' cars.

ZEROS SAY IT ALL: 600 horsepower, 600 Newton metres in a compact, rear-mounted 3.8-litre turbo V8.

The criteria combine power, weight, emissions and aerodynamic efficiency. The 'C' refers to Carbon, highlighting the unique application of carbon-fibre technology to McLaren sports cars. (Wikipedia).

And perhaps how fast it goes. How about 0-200km/h (yes, 200km/h) in less than 10sec and back to zero in less than five. The regular 0-100km/h, McLaren says, will take less than three seconds – superbike territory.

Technical detail on the McLaren MP4-12C supercar.

Check out the Button/Hamilton track test video.

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