Climbing in the McLaren F1, I did not panic, but pressed the button …

06/11/2016
Mike Roeder

I would like to recount a visit to McLaren – a mythical location SW of London that commands interest and awe from nearly any automotive enthusiast. (Note – this trip happened before the current McLaren Technical Center opened.)

The occasion?

I flew to England to pick up Driving Ambition, a book about the F1. Foolish? Yes. I had already ordered the civilian edition from Amazon. And read it. Sure, I had also learned about the F1 in CAR; seen it on Top Gear; glanced in horror at tabloid accounts of F1 wrecks – but the opportunity to meet Gordon Murray and walk the hallowed hallways was too much to resist. Besides, Gordon and I both own Lotus Elans: considered the best-driving little sportscar ever made.

THE BACKSTORY

My love for the amazing McLaren F1 started before it was released – when rumors were  emerging about a fantastic supercar being built in secrecy in Woking. At the time I was living in Weybridge, just up the A3. One wet afternoon I happened to be sailing past Woking in my Citroen TZD. I spotted an unusual car stopped on the roadside, with some feet sticking out beneath it. I did a quick detour through the botanical gardens and came back slowly alongside the car. I snapped the picture you see here. Later I found out that it was indeed one of the first McLaren F1s – undisguised! Gads. It was subtle, it was mean. It looked unlike any other supercar. I was hooked. The image of an F1 (photographed in a quarry) joined the Farrah Fawcett poster on my mental bedroom wall (yes, I was 40 at the time).

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THE BOOK & FACTORY VISIT 

This particular adventure started with a chance visit to the McLaren website, where I saw the book advertised for sale. A special Limited Edition (do those words make your heart race?), bound in the same material used to cover the steering wheel. Constructed with such meticulous attention to detail that several printers and binders considered suicide (or knocking off Ron Dennis). Swaddled in so many boxes and sleeves that even watch packaging engineers would swoon in envy.

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An invitation letter arrived several months after my online inquiry. My book was ready. Would Sir care to come by the factory and pick it up, after a guided tour? Indeed, he would. I hopped onto American Airlines and headed to Heathrow. The next day, there I was in the entry hall, looking at trophies.

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I was joined by a half-dozen other  hyped-up motoring enthusiasts who hoped the book would be their ticket to 15 minutes of fame. We happened to see Gordon Murray in the hallway and had a brief chat about the project — but no tête-à-tête for hours over single malts. Alas.

After a brief and boring security lecture – “no wandering off!”, “no unaccompanied forays allegedly to the gents” – we were taken to the lounge. The F1 lounge, filled with undressed cars. Believe me, this was as exciting as peeking behind the curtains at a Paris runway show and watching supermodels squeeze into new fashions…

Shall I go on talking? Or get on with the pictures?

Let’s start at the front. This car is receiving its annual $30,000 service, and by that they don’t mean wash, wax and oil change. They mean take it all apart and check everything.

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Moving around the car, we come to the left side.  The driver sits in the center of 3 seats across, so there are no “Left” or “Right” hand drive configurations. Despite the lack of ABS and any computer assists, there’s a lot of wiring.

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Right rear view with the £15,000 (at that time) titanium silencer assembly and the carbon fibre intake ducts.

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Continuing around the car we find the hi-tech Hoover (vacuum). The gaping openings on each side are the storage spaces for luggage.

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I took a peek underneath, contravening all the safety rules and the “do not peek” instructions. Suitably bawled out by our guide, I was contrite but did not delete this shot. You are looking at the cradle that stiffens the engine block, and the exhaust headers. IN the center you can just see the teeth on the flywheel.

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Heres a view of the rear suspension.

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And the Brembo brakes
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Here’s what should be wrapped around those brakes. As you can imagine, this is an expensive set of tires about $3,000 apiece. They are replaced only in sets, but at least the set comes fully scrubbed in on a race track, and balanced to suit this 200+ mph car.

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It’s difficult to see the engine in situ, so they conveniently had one there on a stand for us to inspect. Made by BMW, it’s a naturally-aspirated alloy V12 displacing 6.1 liters, with 618+ horsepower at 7,400 RPM.

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Here it is from the other side. Notice the small clutch, for better / lower center of gravity. And to the left is my book in its box.

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The book had to wait. I asked if I could take a picture of the instruments, and our guide replied, “Sure, but you’ll have to get in the car to take a decent photo.”  That was fine with me, so I hopped, slid and angled my way in. I pressed the button (my camera shutter) and took this picture:

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BTW – the seat fit just fine. Notice I am not in the dismantled car pictured earlier. I am in the company demonstrator, K8 MCL. And there is a third orange vehicle in this shot. And a tiny corner of a silver one. There were McLaren F1s all over the place.

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Here’s the top of the very expensive BMW V12 engine.

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And finally, a view of the gold leaf rear deck lid, to deflect the heat from those four catalysts. Of course, you have been seeing that all along, on the sidebar.

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After asking every questions we could think of to buy ourselves more time, the guides brought us reluctantly back to the table where a stack of enormous boxes awaited. We were asked to inspect our books closely. They were suitably adorned with alloy name plaques and all sorts of nifty trinkets. Then we were shown to the door.

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No problem – we went to the pub for a debriefing. It had been a grand day out!

THE AFTERMATH

You know how some cars seem invisible until you rent one, or your pal buys one – then you see them everywhere? That’s how it was with that McLaren. Everywhere I went that next week, I seemed to see one … although my wife says driving by the showroom repeatedly is cheating.

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So I went to Goodwood instead.

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I confess that I have never ridden in an F1, although I have been in a few other McLarens. If I had purchased an F1 that day, instead of this wonderful book, I would have tripled my money  …