My fellow Pit Crew Colleague – Grant – considers my broad car taste to be something akin to a tweed wearing, pipe smoking, leather armchair rubbing anorak… and he’d be right. I’d choose old Triumphs over new Porsches, I prefer the leathery, cramped (for my legs certainly), raspy, unreliable and frankly outdated tubs of beautifully designed cars made by passionate people who loved to design cars like the ones they dream of as opposed to newer cars made for efficiency, mass production and ultimately profit.
I have however been excited, very excited about a new car – and it is carbon fibre as opposed to steel, hybrid powered instead of good old internal combustion, stuffed with clever technology and it is entirely mad! The new McLaren Speedtail. It doesn’t seem all that long ago that the McLaren Senna was unveiled, but the Speedtail seems to be a whole different chapter in McLaren’s copy book. Where the Senna was designed for aggressive and grippy cornering and is ultimately brutishly ugly with ultimate downforce and technical grip in mind, the Speedtail is smooth, sleek and beautiful in the interests of airflow and therefore speed. The Senna was likely designed by racing minded engineers, the Speedtail was likely designed by a mad professor in a lab obsessively working to make countless tiny changes towards the ultimate goal of speed and air efficiency. It will certainly be interesting to see how it handles a corner, especially a high speed one as it doesn’t really look like it could handle it at all but I’m not sure if that’s the point.
Now, not only is this car made by the group that makes some of my favourite cars outside of era of designs by the baby boomer generation – this car was made with two things in mind. McLaren’s own website describes it as the “pure fusion of science and art in automotive form” – and where many manufacturers can make many claims about many cars I’m in complete agreement with McLaren on this one. Everything on this car is there for a reason with the design of the bodywork and outer features to ensure an uninterrupted flow of air from nose to tail. There are no wing mirrors, just small retractable wing cameras that provide a video feed to two screens inside the cabin reducing the drag that normal mirrors would cause. The cabin itself is designed in a teardrop design providing the same natural aerodynamic efficiency as high velocity birds and fish. Panel gaps are made as narrow as possible to ensure the lowest percentage of airflow is lost between the cracks. Instead of an active rear wing, the Speedtail has controllable surface elements (or ailerons) which is essentially bendable trailing edge bodywork to reduce the production of turbulent air while providing rear downforce. There are even wheel covers akin to 2008-2009 F1 Cars to reduce drag caused by the wheel trims. The elongated tail giving it not only striking looks, but a smooth and graceful flow of air coming from the rear of the car.
The inside of the car has a modern nod to the revelation that was the McLaren F1. The driver position is central to the car giving the lucky, lucky driver a balanced view of the road. Controls and buttons are placed for convenience, the carbon fibre driver seat even has grippy leather to keep your bum in place along with slippy material at the sides to make sliding in and out of the car easier and the glass canopy can turn opaque at the touch of a button, negating the requirement for sun visors. All of this, and there’s also room for two passengers either side of the driver (albeit a bit cosy) and luggage for those who don’t carry a lot.
Then there’s the figures. The first one might as well be the price which is a meaty 2.1 million pounds sterling – I know that I’ll never own one, but these next figures are thrilling. McLaren have suggested a Top Speed of 250 mph (403 km/h), 1036 bhp and 0 to 186 mph (300km/h) in 13 seconds. Everything else is TBA, because McLaren are hell bent on teasing me it seems…but based on some calculations (guessing) we can hopefully expect 0-60 mph in 2.5 seconds.
McLaren are a big name in the Formula 1 scene and as much as they haven’t really hit the headlines for the right reasons recently, the history and culture of success is there. Formula 1 is an exercise in engineering as much as driving excellence and the Speedtail seems like it is of the same technical focus as Formula 1. The task of designing a car to be fast, streamlined to obsession and luxurious – this car is a science experiment with fixated goals. I said earlier that I like cars designed by people with a passion for cars, this car feels like it has been designed by people with an obsession for the engineering of cars and how they manipulate the air around them which is an art in itself. The science of Formula 1 engineering transferred into making a luxury road car with speed, style, bragging rights and a bit of a unique look – it doesn’t look much like any other car on the market but at first glance it did remind me of the Jaguar XJ220 which was an absolute revelation of it’s time.
I like cars, I love cars in fact. But I have genuinely not been this excited about a car probably in my life. I’ll never own it, never likely drive it unless it appears in a video game but I think about this car and can’t help but smile. It was built to be as perfect as they can make it, engineered to be graceful, striking, efficient and FAST! That’s what I love about cars and that’s what I love about the Speedtail.
If McLaren would like an excited, giddy, but obviously thorough, unbiased and professional road test – I’ll be waiting.