It’s pretty rare for the Brits to trump the Jerries in anything associated with engineering and rarely if ever has the sentiment, “I say dear boy, this British car is a far superior vehicle to this German car.” been uttered in polite society.
Most people see McLaren as a Formula 1 team or as an unobtainable mistress. The latter-day McLaren street cars have been, for the most part, produced in limited edition and ordered in advanced by people who have a rare combination of money and taste. With million+ price tags, the vehicles set themselves apart from the competition on every level to deliver a brutally fast yet elegant super sled that wasn’t an extension of a man’s reproductive system or his foul cologne. This was typically a car for serious drivers, that could actually tell the difference.
Now McLaren has launched its first production car since the legendary F1 in 1998. The “MP4-12C” which as Jeremy Clarkson so correctly pointed out, sounds like a fax machine but is in reality an “affordable” $240,000 car that for the first time, teases some of the lower castes of the supercar manufactory into thinking they can compete with the chubby Nike tick, that represents a rich heritage of winning Formula 1 championships from its humble village workshop in Woking, Surrey.
To perch myself behind the wheel of a McLaren for the first time in my life, the day after seeing a preview of the Ron Howard film Rush, had the spirit of McLaren fresh in my soul; and reawakened a childhood infatuation for British motoring. To think the handmade Spider I was piloting was the educated and well-behaved Nietzschian uber-child, directly spawned from the undiagnosed, attention-deficit-deficient bastard of the 1960’s. A universe apart where bravery and chaos have been replaced with calculation and control.
Chucking the Spider around the Fontana road course with a qualified McLaren shirt in the passenger seat, had me feeling I could do no wrong. The car is absolutely, perfectly balanced which I think has a lot to do with the engine being so low to the ground and its revolutionary Brake Steer System that brakes the inside rear wheel, for improved handling in corners. Like an Audi R8 but much lighter, freer, quiet and sharp. Perhaps the Spider was so aptly named for its ability to remain composed no matter what the gravitational pull.
The Spider is a convertible version of the MP4-12C with a retractable hardtop. I’m not sure how many people’s coiffures or hair plugs can stand a 196mph blow-dry, but unlike most convertible versions of any sport car,s no additions needed to be made to strengthen the frame in order to retain the rigidity. “The Tub” or cockpit is a one-piece carbon fiber monohull which weighs exactly as much as I do: 175 pounds. Like with a sailboat, making something one piece, especially out of carbon fiber, makes it a tough as steel but much, much lighter. Using technology used in their F1 cars, the chassis is where most of the car’s weight loss took place.
The car’s 3.8 liter twin-turbo V8 engine delivers 625BHP and 443 lb/ft of torque in a pretty gentlemanly fashion, until you dial in the sport or track settings. Sadly the California speedway doesn’t offer a long enough straightaway to confirm the 204mph, roof up, top speed but I think it is safe to assume it is.
The car is very drivable and comfortable. Unlike a lot of cars in this genre, I feel the word “elegance” was at the top of the design team’s chalk board during the initial meetings, when they started considering the 1st production vehicle to come off the line at McLaren, since Destiny’s Child had songs in the charts…and people still cared about the charts.
Most cars these days offer different performance settings that can be adjusted by cycling through the complex onboard computer with different knobs and buttons; but the chaps at McLaren have kept things very simple. Two individual buttons: one for performance and one for suspension settings. Three options on each one: Road/ Sport/ Track. Click both to the right and suddenly a car that would be effective as a daily driver, allows you an audience with Anton LaVey. If you care to street race some furious Asian kids on a Saturday night or loosen the stool of your passenger, just click Launch Control, press your left foot to the floor, press your right foot to the floor- don’t do the hooky pokey, hold the f*ck on as you will see 60mph in 3.1 seconds and 125 in 8.9
The car’s lightning quick paddle shifting transmission, adjustable suspension and a host of other technological advancements, garnered from the absolute cutting edge of racing work so well it would actually be boring to go into any further details. Like the Audi R8 this is a reliable daily driver slash racing car but much more adventorous. The Spider is twice as expensive, so perhaps it’s not really a fair fight but if I had scratch to burn, I would have one of these as my town car; and whilst I’m dreaming I would also like a circa 1976 bisexual Sophia Loren as my wife.
Photo Credit: http://www.supercarfocus.com/ by Dirk A. Photography