I was 10 years old, being towed around a grocery store by my mother, when I saw the McLaren F1 for the first time. It was crashing through the cover of the August 1998 issue of Road & Track under the text “217 MPH!”, and I had a new car hero forever. I know I’m not the only one to idolize this car, and its creators have just realized new video showing the climax of its origin story.
Earlier that year, McLaren had hired LeMans winner Andy Wallace for a simple mission: find out how fast the F1 three-seat street-legal supercar could go. Wallace had raced the competitive version of the car 1995 and 1996, and had been working with the company to deliver roadgoing versions to customers.
“All of a sudden, the phone call came,” Wallace recalls in the video. “‘How would you like to go and drive the car really fast?’ and, of course, I was a bit younger and more stupid in those days, and I go ‘yeah I’ll have a go at that,’ and we just packed everything off and went down to Germany!”
The car was lapped, tested, tweaked, had its rev limiter bumped up by 1,000 RPM, and made ready to achieve its maximum velocity.
“I didn’t really know what to think, but I had seriously sweaty palms on the steering wheel,” Wallace remembers.
Then on March 31, 1998, he laid down a top speed of 240.14 mph on the track at the Ehra-Lessien Proving Ground. And really, nothing could touch it until the Koenigsegg CCR and Bugatti Veyron came along around 2005.
After the run, Wallace simply noted–“Gearbox temp reached 130 degrees [celsius], everything else is fine.”
Sure, cars have become faster since. But the F1's legendary status is cemented forever by the fact that it was so far ahead of its time. It’s great that we get to see how it happened.