This Oral History Of The McLaren F1 Will Make Your Heart Swell And Your Wallet Feel Empty

Image via McLaren
Image via McLaren

The 627-horsepower McLaren F1, the best thing to ever come out of the ‘90s, remains one of the most astounding production cars in automotive history no matter how many years go by. But for most of the world, the car is simply a distant, legendary masterpiece that we’ll never get our hands on.


Perhaps that’s why Road & Track’s Sam Smith, a former Jalop, tracked down and interviewed the people who have gotten the chance to experience the car, from engineers to owners. Or, perhaps it was just a good idea someone had when talking about what to do for the car’s 25th anniversary. Either way, the F1 oral history the website published Wednesday will make you feel like you’ve had the chance to get closer to the car than you ever would have dreamed—even if you’ll never actually touch it.

Road & Track’s discussions on the F1 ranged from what it was like to own it, to just how much it took to fix it. It’s fascinating, and there’s just something about how all of these people describe the quirks of this V12, center-seat monster of a car that makes you feel so close to it.

Take, for example, Mark Grain. He’s a senior technician at McLaren, and he remembered one person at an event walk past a McLaren F1 display. The person said McLaren put a gold-foil engine cover on the car because “it’s a shiny color and it’s expensive, and it allows [McLaren] to bill more for the car.” Grain’s colleague responded by saying that the foil was the “lightest heat-effective material” the company could use there.

Everything was on the car for a reason, Grain told Road & Track. He also told the website this funny story:

MARK GRAIN (Senior technician, McLaren Cars/Motorsport): There was a German customer, a businessman. He lived in Cologne, commuted in the car every day. He said, “Oh, I’ve got a problem, this warning light. I’ve looked in the manual, can’t find anything. Can you send somebody out, see what it is?”

So one of the guys went. It turns out it was the engine cover lifting slightly. The warning light for the engine cover.

But the only time the car ever did it was 185, 190 mph. “It does it on the way to work, and it does it on the way back.” Every day.

Others told Road & Track of the astronomical price to insure the F1 while it was in the shop, and how there was a limit of only having two cars in at once. When shops went over that limit, folks at the insurance company involved freaked out.

Then there’s the attitude of the car, which kind of resembles the needy, loving house cat you get persuaded into petting while visiting a friend’s place—until it has enough and bites you. Here’s how BMW factory racing driver Bill Auberlen described it, from Road & Track:

AUBERLEN: I know so many people that, once they get comfortable, they’re like, [makes crashing noise]. It doesn’t give you a lot of feedback. It’s great, great, great, right up until biting you. That window of the unknown—it takes a while to get used to that.


Or there’s the mechanical beauty of the car, which no one can deny and owner Jay Leno described as such:

LENO: You forget—there weren’t even [smartphones] when this came out. It just seemed so improbable.


The quotes go on and on, but you’ll stick around to read every single one of them. It’s such a fascinating look into just how much of an icon, and just how peculiar, the F1 is. The full story is on Road & Track, here.

Staff writer, Jalopnik


Man I love Jalopnik.....but, the amount of articles that amount to “Hey! Check out this article I read elsewhere!” is getting to be a bit much. (And this isn’t just a Jalopnik many outlets falling into this same trap.)