McLaren makes awesome race cars, it is in their DNA, just like Ferraris. The founder, Bruce McLaren, was a race car driver from New Zealand. Early in his career, he started modifying the cars he was driving and, then, designing them from scratch. In the CanAm Series – which featured huge American V-8s stuffed into lighweight bodies, and where I saw my first McLaren in 1967 – they became the dominant manufacturer (if manufacturer can be used for a company making ten to twenty cars a year). In 1967 they won five of six races they entered and by 1968, McLarens won 11 of 11 races. In 1980 – eleven years after he left home to go to Europe to race, eleven short years – Bruce McLaren died in an accident testing one of his own cars.
As tragic as that was, Bruce McLaren might not have felt that way, he once said about a team-mate that was killed The news that he had died instantly was a terrible shock to all of us, but who is to say that he had not seen more, done more and learned more in his few years than many people do in a lifetime? To do something well is so worthwhile that to die trying to do it better cannot be foolhardy. It would be a waste of life to do nothing with one’s ability, for I feel that life is measured in achievement, not in years alone – the company didn’t die and has gone on to become one of the great racing teams in Formula 1.
The McLaren- Ferrari Formula 1 rivalry is the longest-lasting rivalry in motor racing. Now McLaren, about 49 years after the company was founded, has started making street cars1 to go after Ferrari. I think that there is a difference between a company that races to promote their regular cars and a company that sells cars to help them race. McLaren falls into the latter group…with a vengeance. Their cars can go over 200mph and get to 60 from a standstill in 3.1 seconds. There are ten dealerships in the US and one is in Silicon Valley, where I went to take a look.
They are selling about five cars a month. Sixty cars a year is terrible if you are a Chevy dealership, but pretty good, I guess, if you are selling a little known car that sells for about $300,000. The cars are more subtle than Ferraris and, to my eye, more elegant. Because McLaren has made its living racing cars – they spend about an half billion a year to race two cars in twenty races – it figures that the cars they make would be all about passion but they really aren’t. The McLaren way is about getting the details right. The McLaren street cars are at their best in their details.
From the doors to service area, to the receptionist’s desk, even to a small flower arrangement – in the McLaren “official” color of orange, of course – everything pushes the McLaren image.
Having said that, I am not too sure what the McLaren image is. Perfection, meticulous hard word work and attention to detail, I guess; efficiency and attention to detail, maybe. Either way, they are handsome devils and their detailing is exquisite.
From their carbon brakes and wheels with tires that are less like balloons to cushion the ride than like wallpaper,
to the perfectly detailed, 600 hp, turbo-charged, V-8, engine – visible under glass for all to admire –
to the steering wheel and shifting paddles controlling the seven speed transmission (although I am not so sure that I like the leather doily over the tach).
The major design elements are the the tilting doors and the huge side scoops.
I like McLaren, I root for McClearn’s Formula 1 team. When they are leading a race, as they were today at Singapore, and then have a mechanical failure, I am disappointed. But I think that I admire them more than I love them. It would be hard not admire them, they are staggeringly fast, marvelous to look at, and competent in the extreme but, somehow – to me – don’t generate much lust. In the end, this precision over passion is slightly strange; the company was fathered by a passionate man and the CanAm cars, like the one at the top of the page, are all libido. These McLaren street cars will will probably be driven by a guy that is nice enough -deeply nice enough – that anybody would be comfortable having him take out their daughter and brash enough to have had made their first $100,000,000 by the time he is forty (many McLaren buyers already have a Ferrari that they don’t bother trading in).
1. Although they did make a – sort of goofy – three seat, hyper-fast, hyper-expensive, street car for a while and they did most of the heavy lifting on the $450,000 Mercedes Benz SLR.