British carmaker McLaren made a pretty monumental announcement this week when they unveiled the P1 concept, a visually stunning supercar concept that they say will be the successor to the legendary McLaren F1.
Obviously, this means that the P1 is going to be a huge deal. With the Internet abuzz over the news of the F1's heir, I thought now would be a good time to go back and examine the story of the original.
I think 2012 is a great year to unveil such a car. The original F1 turned 20 this year, and while the MP4-12C is a Ferrari-fighter of the first water, it was never meant to be the best supercar in the world like the F1 was. As EVO said, McLaren only ever made a little over 100 F1s, while they make about 1,000 MP4-12Cs per year.
What always amazes me about the McLaren F1 is how it has managed to stay competitive with today's supercars even though it's now two decades old. Sure, plenty of cars from the 1990s are great to drive today, but how many can not only keep up with modern machines, but destroy many of them in a race?
Put these numbers in your face, America: Zero to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds, zero to 100 in 6.3 seconds, zero to 100 and back to zero in 11.5 seconds, and a top speed of about 240 mph — all from a car that came out in 1992. The F1 held the record for world's fastest production car for more than a decade, and even today, it remains the fastest naturally aspirated road car.
The F1 was just that incredible, and if you want to know how it came to be, click through the gallery.
Tell us — do you think the P1 will still be world class in 20 years like the F1?
Photo credit McLaren.
A decade of racing success
Using cars with engines from Porsche and later Honda in conjunction with ace drivers like Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, McLaren had become one of the most dominant teams in Formula One racing in the 1980s. Their battles with Williams came to define what is now called "the turbo era." But its principals began to think that the company's financial future couldn't depend on motorsports alone, and began to toy with the idea of a road car.
Photo credit Getty Images.
"The best car in the world"
Like all the best ideas in the world, the concept behind the F1 came about when several McLaren officials — including chairman Ron Dennis, shareholder Mansour Ojjeh and technical director Gordon Murray — were stuck in an airport lounge awaiting a delayed flight in 1988. Their discussion sparked the idea to build a high-performance sports car, and the following year, they formed a new company called McLaren Cars to do just that.
According to McLaren, a 10-hour design meeting was held in 1990 where company leaders committed to building "the fastest and best handling supercar in the world." It would also have to have the highest power to weight ratio of any production car and be usable in everyday situations.
Photo credit McLaren.
An unlikely target
In a widely-circulated article, Gordon Murray spoke of how supercars in the 1980s included the Ferrari F40, Jaguar XJ220 and Porsche 959, but none of them were close to what McLaren wanted their car to achieve. But when Murray stumbled upon the NSX, which Senna was helping Honda to develop, he found his muse.
"I remember being moved, thinking, ‘It is remarkable how our vision comes through in this car,'" Murray said. "The moment I drove the ‘little' NSX, all the benchmark cars — Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini — I had been using as references in the development of my car vanished from my mind. Of course the car we would create, the McLaren F1, needed to be faster than the NSX, but the NSX's ride quality and handling would become our new design target."
Photo credit Lumix
Keeping the weight off
In racing, McLaren always had an emphasis on keeping their cars light, and this carried over to the F1. McLaren says they refused to go over the set target weight of about 2,500 pounds for the car. To do that, they turned to something that would revolutionize the supercar industry: carbon fiber. The F1 would be the first ever road car to feature a carbon fiber monocoque chassis.
Photo credit McLaren.
Three's a crowd
In addition to the carbon fiber, the McLaren had several innovative features. Among them was an active aerodynamics system consisting of two fans that sucked air from diffusers under the car, eliminating the need for a big rear wing to keep it stable.
But perhaps its most signature achievement (besides the incomprehensible speed) was the three-seat setup. In a McLaren F1, you sit up front and you have two passenger seats behind you. Apparently, it was a pretty comfortable place to be, too. The F1 came standard with a Kenwood stereo, air conditioning, remote keyless entry, and even a modem so McLaren HQ can gather info from the ECU in case of a mechanical problem. I wonder if it made that awful screeching noise modems made in the 90s.
Photo credit krismerri
The heart of the king
A supercar is no good without a super engine. Luckily, McLaren was able to secure one of the best by going to BMW, who enthusiastically supported the project. Gordon Murray reportedly requested that the engine not have forced induction, so the result was a 6.1-liter, naturally aspirated V12 good for 627 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque and a redline of 7,500 RPM. As you can see above, the exhaust compartment uses gold foil as a heat shield.
Photo credit jburns00
While the F1 had a lot of new technology at its disposal, these features hardly watered the car down. Quite the opposite, in fact — the F1 is fairly unique among modern supercars because it has no electronic driver aids, according to Inside Line. No ABS, no traction control, no special differentials.
All that raw, uncontrolled power is more than enough to overwhelm even experienced drivers. Just ask Rowan Atkinson, the British comedian and noted car collector, who lost control of his F1 last year and crashed, nearly costing him his life.