The untold story of a McLaren F1 racing the British Army in Hong Kong

As soon as I saw this photo I had to know the story. There are too many markers of a very specific time: a McLaren F1, a British Army Helicopter, a Hong Kong airbase. What's happening here?

Back in the early '90s, Gordon Murray and Ron Dennis were trying to garner interest for their nascent McLaren F1 sports car project so they built a fifth prototype model. The first four models were used for drivetrain testing and crashing into things to make the government folks happy.


The fifth, XP5, was used as a promotional vehicle.

At the same time, the British still had control of Hong Kong as part of a long-standing agreement with China, but their days there were numbered. The RAF and British Army still had units at Shek Kong Military Base on the southern end of the Island.

All of these elements came together in 1993 during McLaren's little pre-production roadshow. According to Sean Li, who took this photo and attended, Murray and Dennis brought the car to Hong Kong with driver Dr. Jonathan Palmer to show it off.


Unable to drive the car on public roads they set out for the airstrip to demonstrate the car's abilities. This is where things suddenly got interesting and our amazing photo was made (click or right-click on this smaller one to download the full image).

Most people were given passenger rides, with Palmer driving, doing speed runs up and down the airstrip. I don't know whether it was pre-planned, but one of the officers on base thought it would be interesting to do a drag race between one of their helicopters and the F1. The helicopter hovered next to the car for a few seconds, abruptly pitched down to accelerate, but the McLaren quickly caught up and blew right by.


It makes sense. The helicopter looks like a Westland Scout which, unlike the British supercar, could barely do 132 mph on a good day. It didn't stand a chance.

British military units have mostly pulled out of Hong Kong and the airbase is being used by the People's Liberation Army. Despite the official absence, the island still hosts a showing of British firepower. According to Li there are still a few original McLaren F1s in HK and the new MP4-12C will be displayed in a new company showroom.


The sun never sets on the British supercar.

(Thanks to Sean for sharing!)

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