When it comes to accomplishments and acting like you’ve been there before, McLaren prefers to go a little bigger with its celebrations.
Up until the 1995 24h of Le Mans, McLaren actually hadn’t been there before, which made its overall victory in the race that much more impressive. The F1 GTR, the race-reserved variant of the highly-praised F1 road car, took the overall win in its debut with four other GTRs. What followed in homage was a run of potentially the greatest road car ever built.
The F1 LM, by name, quite obviously, was a celebration of the F1’s success at upending the purpose-built competition of the GT1 class at Le Mans. Its units were strictly limited – not simply for the point of ultimate exclusivity, but one example produced for each of the five GTRs to compete in the race. A sixth prototype sits in permanent residence at McLaren’s Technology Centre, but all told, the F1 LM’s mythical aura makes it as unobtainable for car enthusiasts as anything you can think of.
At the RDS Automotive Group, vehicular rarities are an everyday sight around the facilities. More than a dozen P1s visited McLaren Philadelphia and even a track-only GTR, plus a handful of Porsche 918 Spyders at Porsche of The Main Line and, unexpectedly, a Pagani Huayra BC once stumbled into the lot off a transport truck. It’s desensitizing to a point, and it takes something special to turn a head, draw a crowd and spark conversation.
So when word started buzzing of something top secret planned, it wasn’t met with gossipy excitement. It was purely skeptical. Like yeah, sure, what could possibly come in here that would even matter?
As it turns out, it was the F1 LM, and that kinda matters. It swung the mood from skepticism to ruthless anticipation. It became a waiting game, anxious to see it driving in through the door. A month or two went by before it actually did, but when it did…
Nope, I don’t really think there are words for that moment.
A rush of fruit-flavored color whizzes by the window with a sound that is not easily identifiable. It didn’t have the trademark tone of a modern McLaren, or something unmistakable like a V12 Lamborghini or a Ferrari V8. But the BMW-sourced V12 is much more shouty than I remember of other F1s, of course credited to the LM’s GTR-spec engine without the restrictions – of sound, or of power. It rolled in at a crawling speed but with a tamed savagery of 680 horsepower, like walking a lion on a dog leash.
After the initial shock wore off and the F1 powered down, it was pushed (it comes with proper handling instructions for cars fitted with the high downforce kit) into a temporary parking spot with a cover draped over to keep it hidden. It looked rather silly with the giant carbon fiber-reinforced plastic wing sticking up from behind, and the “F1 McLaren” embroidery on the front kept no secrets.
A much-needed weekend off turned into an all-nighter photographing the F1, considering the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of having access to the LM, and even less so for those not quite as lucky. Every single second – and more – was needed to capture all the special details of the F1 LM. It bears obvious differences from a standard F1; the downforce kit, stripped-down interior and famous Papaya Orange paint give the LM an unmatched character even from other road-going F1s. But the intricate details scattered inside and out make it a car to be appreciated on so many different levels.
From the specialized OZ Racing wheels with “F1 LM” etched into one spoke on each wheel and the “LM” logo emblazoned on the air cap, to the GTR’s Le Mans-winning homage on the sides of the rear wing, the LM allows you to fixate on things that are otherwise trivial or nonexistent in higher production supercars. But of course, the F1 doesn’t just ask to be admired, it begs and invites involvement.
A drive of any kind was definitely not in the cards for a customer-owned eight-figure supercar, so we used the placard that told us the push points for the high downforce-kitted F1 to give us our only feel at piloting the F1. The plan of attack for entering the F1 LM is not a complicated one, but execution is far from fluid even when done correctly. Despite the driver’s seat being in the middle, it does require you to enter on the left side of the car due to the placement of the gear lever. My understanding was to sit on the edge of the left passenger seat, swing your legs across into the driver position, then pole vault your body over the gorgeously-machined parking brake (really, it’s beautiful) and into the carbon fiber bucket seat. Even without the steering wheel – or shoes – it was quite a yoga session.
But once you settle in, it’s a bit surreal. I have never found myself in a center driving position, and save for the P1 GTR, never in a car with such abandonment of features deemed for some reason necessary in other cars. A radio? Superfluous. With a race-spec BMW V12 and no sound deadening, you wouldn’t even hear the radio anyway. It does, however, feature a communication system that gives each passenger a set of chassis number-coordinated headphones just for the sake of conversation within the cabin.
I imagine the only thing to truly talk about is what could possibly be the second-most impressive car ever built, because number one is pretty much locked up.
Sharing our experience through social media now became a strategy with envy. We expected every one of our followers to drop their jaws, drool, then suddenly question how we ended up with this opportunity. But what they didn’t know yet was that the opportunity was now going to open up to them.
It would have been cruel to usher in an F1 LM through our McLaren dealership and right back out without any notice. It wouldn’t be right for the enthusiasts in the area and beyond that have supported us for years. We had them to thank, too.
So we posed the F1 in our center showroom display and opened the doors to the public. What followed was a similar timeline to a blockbuster movie.
The early days of our showcasing of the LM had people lining up at the front door waiting for the dealership to open. The crowds included enthusiasts from nearly any background: those who grew up with the F1 as the ultimate hypercar of the time, those who did not and simply learned of the period excellence of the F1, plus many fans who traveled across states to see an F1 LM for the first, and maybe last time.
The reception across them was nearly universal, and pretty much the same as ours. You know you have to walk away from it eventually, but you can’t help yourself from turning back around. Because when you turn around, it could be the last time you ever see an F1 LM.