McLaren. It’s a hallowed name in the automotive industry because of its racing heritage, and for good reason. Its entire history is replete with victory in the racing circuit. When you talk about McLaren history, often you’re talking about racing. It has entered 788 races so far, with 182 victories and 155 pole positions. These victories include 12 Drivers’ Championships (from 1974 to 2008) and 8 Constructor’s Championships (1974 to 1998).
But its history and character took a drastic turn in 1988. That was when they started thinking about the McLaren F1.
In 1988, the McLaren Cars Ltd was the leading Formula One team in the world. They’ve just completed a wildly successful season, having won all but one of their 16 races. The partners of the team then got it on their heads that they can move past their current company profile and go a little further. They decided that they would build a road car.
Of course, this is McLaren we’re talking about. These are the people who definitely had a need for speed, and they decided that their customer base would have the same feeling about going fast as they did. And so they weren’t just going to build a road car. Their goal was to build not just the best sports car of the time. They wanted to build the greatest sports car of all time. And by the way, the car should still be useful for everyday driving!
It took the development team 4 long years to come up with its first car, and it was an expensive process.
The Design of the F1
As the focus on weight reduction was among the top priorities, the F1 team had to virtually start from scratch. Most car components are heavy due to practical manufacturing reasons. So what they did was to design up to 5,000 separate components for the car, made from special materials known for their durability and light weight. These included titanium, magnesium, and carbon fiber.
Then they had issues with heat from their engine. Their solution wasn’t just to make air-conditioning standard for the car. They actually lined the engine compartment with pure gold.
Finally, they changed the seating arrangement. Like a racing car, the driver now sat at the middle, with passenger seats at the sides.
McLaren delivered only 100 F1 cars and they sold each one for a cool $1.3 million. Its 6.0L Twin Turbo V12 offered 730 horses, and one of them reached a top speed of 242.96 mph in the 1990s.
The F1 was produced from 1992 to 1999. It received so many accolades from so many automotive critics. They didn’t just call it the best. Many felt it would be the best of all time—like Jordan in the NBA.
Today they continue to fetch large sums at auctions. A 1997 F1 fetched $8.47 million in 2013. Another one went for $13.75 million in 2015.
Effects on McLaren
To succeed in their goal, the members of the development team realized certain necessary facets that must define their new design philosophy.
1. The car had to be small. That will help with the weight and with the power to weight ratio.
2. It needed to have the lightest materials. Again, even the quest for a lighter weight meant that every pound counted. The cost of the material was a lower priority. Speed always comes first.
3. For power, the best option for a large capacity was a normally aspirated V12.
These three defining characteristics of the design philosophy formed the template of a new era for McLaren. With this template, the company would go on to break speed records along the way. And it would even be used to win racing championships, even though the design philosophy was meant for a road car!
The best example of this was when McLaren used a modified race car edition of the F1 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1995. The competition included prototype race cars expressly built for such events instead of road cars. And yet the F1 emerged victorious.
Today McLaren is still there in the racing circuit, battling it out with the other giants of the racing niche. But now it is also known as a car manufacturer, and in fact it was even named the Manufacturer of Year in the 2016 BBC Top Gear Magazine Awards. This was in recognition of the brand’s quick growth and worldwide success achieved in a very short time. The year 2015 was a true blessing for the company with another sales record to go along with the launch of 5 new cars.
And it all began with the McLaren F1. This was the car that showed the world just how fast a road car can be. Today, it remains the most expensive used car in the world. And though over the years its speed records have been surpassed, this was only achieved with engines that used forced induction. Among cars with normally aspirated engines, the F1 still remains the fastest. Not bad for a 20th century car!
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