We first saw the 2019 McLaren Speedtail last night, but that was just a limited set of pictures in a leak. Now the official pics and specs are out, and my word is it a monster. Everything on it is designed for pure, raw speed. Not only does it have 1,035 horsepower, but it’s got flexible carbon fiber that bends. Yes, bends.
Let’s get the hard numbers that we know out of the way first. Yes, 1,035 horsepower. A weight of a mere 3,153 pounds dry. From zero to 186 mph in 12.8 seconds. A hybrid powertrain – and weirdly, McLaren isn’t saying anything else about the engine just yet.
In truth, we got some hint of that in one of the pictures from last night, but we weren’t quite sure what we were looking at.
Was that just a spoiler on the car? It had to be just stuck like that, right? I mean, carbon fiber doesn’t bend. It just doesn’t. You can mould it into any sort of shape you like, but after it was stuck in that shape, bound in plastic resin, it was stuck in that shape. That’s the whole point of carbon fiber. It’s crazy strong, and it shatters when it’s smashed.
And it doesn’t bend.
And yet, it does.
Here’s what McLaren has to say about the “active rear ailerons” from its own press release (emphasis mine):
The trailing edge of the Speedtail showcases a particular highlight, namely a pair of active rear ailerons. These dynamic elements are hydraulically actuated and an integral part of the rear clamshell, formed in flexible carbon fibre; the body of the Speedtail can quite literally bend. With a tolerance of only 1mm between the surfaces, this dramatic new technology all but removes any gaps or shutlines between the vehicle and the leading edge of the spoilers, meaning there is no turbulent air, no drag and no loss of speed.
That’s just blowing my mind. That’s not how carbon fiber is supposed to work. And here were are, in the future.
The rest of the car is absolutely wild as well. With a base MSRP of $2,238,416.25 (at current exchange rates, it’s listed at £1.75 million), and with only 106 ever going to be built, everything about it seems designed to reduce drag and go fast. Instead of having mirrors, it has cameras on retractable stalks, for instance.
Want to go faster? Pull in the camera stalks, set it for “Velocity Mode,” yes, VELOCITY MODE, and push the throttle.
Seriously, that’s what you do:
Door mirrors are notably absent, the McLaren Speedtail instead featuring two discreet, high-definition digital cameras that glide out of the doors when the vehicle ignition is activated. Traditional fixed door mirrors create a surprising amount of air turbulence, but with a significantly smaller profile, the cameras on the Speedtail have only a minimal effect on airflow; furthermore, they provide a much wider field of view of the road behind. The camera feed is displayed on two screens, positioned at either side of the instrument panel in front of the driver. When Velocity mode is selected, the cameras retract into the doors, reducing drag further still.
You may have noticed those front wheels just before the cameras. Those have carbon fiber static covers, just like on a land speed racer at the Bonneville salt flats, to help it scream up to at least 250 mph.
McLaren says the whole thing is designed like a teardrop (or in automotive terms, like a first-generation Honda Insight), and that “every element and every aspect of the McLaren Speedtail has been considered in the mission to reduce drag and maximize top speed.” That means the Speedtail is narrower than its predecessor, the McLaren P1, while being over a foot and a half longer.
This is a true long boi – it sits at over seventeen feet.
McLaren went a little nuts on other drag-reduction features as well, going so far as to minimize the number of pieces that make up the outside of it. The bodywork on the rear, for instance, is one huge carbon fiber clamshell. Where the body parts of a car meet there’s a little line, you see, and that little line introduces the tiniest bit of drag. So the line has to go. Which means huge single pieces of carbon fiber.
But because this is McLaren, it can’t just be carbon fiber, can it? It has to be “Titanium Deposition Carbon Fibre.” I’ll let McLaren explain what it is in a big block quote, since I’m not sure I understand it myself, and because this is so nerdy it’s a delight:
Pursuing further innovation, McLaren utilized this digital loom technique to develop a unique carbon fibre and titanium weave, christened Titanium Deposition Carbon Fibre. Traditional methods to change the color of carbon fibre can compromise the material’s structural integrity and visual clarity; for the Speedtail, a micron-thin layer of titanium is fused directly onto the weave and becomes an integral part of the carbon fiber’s construction. The titanium deposition process maintains immense strength and low weight and creates a truly remarkable finish of visual carbon fiber with a chrome-effect shimmer.
The front splitter, diffuser and side skirts are all finished in 1K Titanium Deposition Carbon Fibre. This material has just 1000 fibers per thread, making it lighter than the 3K alternative and allowing the adoption of a Jacquard weaving process to create an intricate, bespoke pattern in the Visual Carbon Fibre elements. The titanium can additionally be anodized in any bespoke color or used to create interwoven images, symbols or even words within the carbon – for example, the rear of the driver’s seat features the McLaren logo.
Working in collaboration with expert Swiss watchmaker, Richard Mille, McLaren used pioneering horology techniques to develop a world-first in the automotive sector: Thin-Ply Technology Carbon Fibre (TPT). The material is comprised of countless ultra-thin carbon layers just 30 microns in depth, each positioned at a 45° angle. The surface is then delicately milled to expose a stratified, shimmering construction that resembles flowing water. This fusion of cutting-edge technology and design with precision engineering is truly unique, and can be integrated into areas of the Speedtail such as the overhead control panel, gearshift paddles and steering wheel clasp. TPT is also used in combination with 18-carat white gold to create the McLaren badge on the front of the first Speedtail design model.
In case you didn’t read the whole thing, here’s what’s jumping out at me:
IT’S SO SPECIAL YOU CAN USE IT TO WRITE WORDS IN TITANIUM.
But since we’re here talking about the particular weave you can use on the overhead control panel and gearshift paddles, let’s talk about the interior, too.
The driver sits in the middle of three seats, just like on the legendary McLaren F1. As is appropriate, the start-up procedures require the flicking and switching of controls and dials above the drivers head and the pressing of buttons for turning the car on and engaging the “Active Dynamics Panel,” and Velocity Mode.
You can see the wild screens and the overhead switches and how it looks like you’re in a star fighter from the year 3018 and all of that is stupendous, of course, but let’s talk about the sun visors.
Yes, the sun visors. Because it doesn’t have any, not really. It’s now electrochromatic glass (again, emphasis mine):
The windscreen curves upwards to become part of the roof, meeting a glazed porthole above the driver’s head and the glazed upper section of the dramatic dihedral doors. The incredible sense of space continues rearwards with glass rear-quarterlights that stretch back behind the seats to almost level with the rear axle. An extraordinary amount of light streams into the cockpit – unless the occupants choose otherwise, in which case the porthole, glazed upper section of the doors and rear-quarterlights feature electrochromic technology that allows them to independently turn opaque in an instant. Separately, the top of the windscreen is also electrochromic glass, forgoing the need for sun visors.
Electrochromatic glass has been around on cars for nearly 20 years now, and it’s still a bit of whiz-bang tech. But technology takes time to evolve, for people to dream up new applications for it. We’re still exploring where we can be with it. And now, it can be a sun visor.
But a lot of the beauty of this car is in things like that. The little details, the methods of taking old technology and applying new ideas. Take the leather of the seats, for instance.
Each seat comes with a “directional leather finish,” which is important, because it “makes it easy to slide into the seat but then subtly holds the occupant in place while they drive.” And the two fiends in your passenger seats especially aren’t going anywhere, because the two passenger seats are fully integrated into the carbon fiber monocoque.
Oh, speaking of the leather, McLaren says it’s so resilient that you can use it to line the whole floor of the car in leather, if that’s what you want, because you’re a nutjob hedonist. And because it’s so opulent that I love it so much I’m beginning to hate it, read about the leather, too:
The lightweight leather can be treated to render it resilient enough to line the floor of the Speedtail and finished in the color or colors of the owner’s choice; in the design model, Dark Glacier and Black have been selected. The leather then extends in a continuous piece to provide covers for the storage compartments beneath the seats, McLaren’s designers drawing on the natural traits of the leather and its inherent rigidity to allow the compartments to open like a piece of luxury luggage.
Specially selected Scandinavian hides are used for the full-aniline leather that trims the dashboard and passenger seats. Unblemished and virtually unchanged from its natural state, this leather is the result of a five-week tanning process using vegetable oils the only addition is the chosen color – in the case of the passenger seats, Dark Glacier – producing a rare automotive material of truly exceptional quality. The finish of the rich leather is almost impossibly soft to the touch and like the grain of a tree or a human fingerprint, the individual patina of the hide is preserved so that every surface is utterly unique in character.
Speedtail owners can additionally select unique stitch patterns in whichever color they wish and bespoke decorative forms can be created within the leather through digital quilting or unique debossed or embossed patterns. Inspired by the finest of furniture and fashion design, the trimmed edges of the leather can even be painted, the color being hand-mixed, hand-painted and then hand-polished to elevate the leather craftsmanship to the highest possible level and deliver an uncompromised aesthetic.
This isn’t just a new car. It’s the new yardstick. This is the machine by which all other automotive machines will be measured.
This is the best a car can be, right now. This is the challenge for the rest of the world.