Back in 1990, McLaren’s impeccable technical team was rather bored.
McLaren F1's 20th birthday party
After completely dominating F1 racing during the 1989 season chief designer and former Durbanite, Gordon Murray, was seeking a new challenge. Murray wished to build the greatest high-performance roadcar the world had ever seen.
What transpired was the McLaren F1 – which remains, inarguably, the greatest supercar of all time. This year McLaren is celebrating two decades since the germination of the epic F1 roadcar project.
All the right ingredients
When the F1 roadcar project was ratified in 1990, Murray wished to build a car which would provide epic performance yet remain dynamically balanced. He eschewed tubular space frame technology (championed at the time by the Ferrari F40) and instead provided the F1 with a carbon-fibre chassis.
The styling was (and still is) breathtaking and the packaging pure genius – a supercar with three abreast seating and a central driving position, ensuring perfect driver input symmetry no matter which way the road corners.
When the F1 debuted in May of 1992 its statistics were staggering. In the fullness of time the legend hasn’t faded. The carbon-fibre monocoque chassis and body ensured a hot hatch kerb weight (less than 1.2t) and a BMW-sourced 6l V12 engine provided 441kW of naturally aspirated power.
Performance was beyond the grasp of mere mortals – a 372km/h top speed (391km/h sans the rev-limiter) and 0-200km/h in 9.4 seconds. It remains the fastest naturally aspirated roadcar of all time…
Nearly two decades on, this remains the only view most other supercar owners ever get of the F1.
No ABS, real drivers only
Murray’s aim was to provide a dynamically undiluted experience for the driver, therefore the brakes were unassisted by anti-lock hydraulics. With double-wishbone suspension at each wheel corner, perfect weight distribution and the genius of a central driving position the F1’s agility was peerless.
All in all McLaren produced five derivatives of the F1, three road- and two racecar models. Total production was low (64 F1s, five F1 LMs and three F1 GT road cars, along with 28 F1 GTR racers and six test prototypes) which means that buying into the F1 legend today requires a significant investment.
To put the F1’s depreciation proof residuals into perspective, despite being launched at a price of £540 000 in 1994, two years ago a delivery mileage F1 was sold at auction for £2.53 million.
The quickest of all licence plate bearing F1s were the LM specification cars, of which only five were built in 1996. Boasting a 500kW evolution of the BMW V12 and a kerb weight of only 1 062kg the LM remains the most collectable of all F1s.
Dynamic harmony is - a body of water surrounded by McLaren F1s.
Tracing the heritage
The recent gathering at Woking of 21 road and race F1s could be seen as cynical marketing by Ron Dennis – boosting the image of McLaren’s roadcar successor, the MP4-12C, by a tenuous association with the F1.
Then again, there was never anything remotely cynical about the F1 – either in terms of conception or execution.
The greatest supercar of all time? Undoubtedly. When Ferrari’s F40 was noising about in traffic, with the F1 you could service your musical tastes courtesy of the special Kenwood CD changer – which was quite something back in 1993. Bugatti Veyron? Well, it only has two seats instead of the McLaren’s three – so it loses out in comparison every time…
Celebrations around the F1 project's 20th anniversary will gain momentum throughout the year with a display at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in July and other surprises still to come.