25 years in the automotive industry is plenty enough for the landscape to change several times over. From the top down, technology has pushed what is feasible in a road car package.
But not much has been done to duplicate what the McLaren F1 brought 25 years ago.
The F1’s unveil in 1992 came in the wake of world-beating supercars from Ferrari (F40) and Jaguar (XJ220). When each of those cars hit the road, the press was eager to claim they were “the best we had ever seen,” as the industry had not yet been acclimated to the 200-mph supercar. Those cars were likely built with the primary goal of being the best supercar to date.
But to Ron Dennis, McLaren needed something more than just that. It had to be the best car that anyone had ever seen – or ever would see.
The verdict came soon after from automotive publications, and the conclusion was that the rookies from McLaren had wildly succeeded.
Journalists fortunate enough to do extensive reviews in its early days could not properly describe how otherworldly the F1’s performance was, considering they had never seen anything like it to compare. Despite all other efforts, there was no peer; the F40, XJ220 and Bugatti EB110 all fell well short of its speed and acceleration while still having little consideration for daily usability and comfort, and they also rang up significantly cheaper than the F1 despite their astonishing prices. Even the McLaren’s configuration was unthinkable, with the three-seat layout providing an unparalleled driving experience. Everything about it was unfathomable.
It appeared simple, but maybe because its execution of every detail was more clever than previously thought necessary. A virtually nonexistent spending cap let Gordon Murray pick through his entire wish list, improving conventionality for the sake of a car that rewrote the textbook on high-end supercars. Things often overlooked became critical components to achieving the goals set from the beginning; Murray even went to Kenwood to develop a custom stereo system that was half the weight of the standard unit. In a more immersive application, the F1 utilized exotic materials including carbon fiber and gold, and the F1 became the first production car to use a carbon fiber monocoque, though all of this wizardry resulted in a selling price beyond what any other new car would fetch at the time.
But in today’s market, that original asking price wouldn’t even be a good start toward acquiring it.
Road car variants of the F1 have commanded close to $14 million in the last few years. If that increase were to have happened linearly, it comes out to more than a $500,000 jump per year. The ballooning value makes the car nearly untouchable – owners don’t plan to part with them, nor do they find many occasions worth the trouble of bringing it out.
Though as an authorized F1 service center, McLaren Philadelphia finds itself lucky to occasionally work with the F1 directly, and there have been a couple to pass through in the early stages of this new project. Unlike the F1 LM we had last year, a standard F1 is quiet, unassuming and almost innocent.
Its V12 doesn’t roar with quite the bite of the unrestricted LM’s, and it gives you a glimpse into how McLaren made this into the ultimate touring car. Its leather features and common comforts almost tempt you to use the word “luxury” when placed in stark contrast to the LM we worked with last year. It seems bare-bones when you think of everything stuffed into today’s modern luxury cars, though the F1 has to show its age in some way. But cars with less than half the lifespan of the F1 fall from prominence much quicker due to today’s fast-paced competition.
The F1 today is an anachronistic supercar more so than it is archaic or obsolete. It remains timeless because speed never gets old, a naturally-aspirated V12 and 6-speed manual never get old, and, for the foreseeable future, just having them around will never get old.