F1 team McLaren wants to make road cars to compete with its
arch rival, Ferrari. The first new generation McLaren
sports car hit the roads and track this year
HURRAH! In Spring 2011, a new car company is formed and its first car launched, the McLaren MP4-12C. With a price tag of £168,500, the first McLaren road car for 20 years is priced competitively with its main rival, the Ferrari 458 Italia.
The mainstream motoring magazines have now tested the two cars back to back and are unanimous: the MP4-12C is great to drive… but the Ferrari has the edge.
But McLaren isn’t taking the criticism lying down and has responded with a bunch of upgrades that will be going into production.
They came about after Harry Metcalfe of top UK magazine Evo sent a personal message to Anthony Sheriff, McLaren’s MD, outlining some of improvements he thought could be made to the car. These included changing the weighting of the gearchange rocker mechanism, tweaking the steering and improving the sound of the car.
Evo says, “Much to Harry’s surprise, just eight days after sending the email he was invited to McLaren HQ in Woking to sample a revised version of the car incorporating the changes he had suggested – which McLaren is planning to incorporate into future production versions.
Harry’s verdict: ‘It’s vastly better.’” McLaren’s Anthony Sheriff says, “In F1 there’s no time to mull things over. You look at a situation, you make a decision and you get the solution on the car for the next race.
“In the car division we reflected on the comments made, looked at alternative solutions and had them on cars within a day or two and now they’ll be going into production. At McLaren we have the mentality to react to things very quickly.”
So what is the MP4-12C exactly?
Starting with the name, MP4 has been the chassis code for all McLaren F1 cars since 1981 and signifies a transfer of F1 technology to the road.
‘12’ is McLaren’s index of key performance criteria. The calculation combines power, weight, emissions and aerodynamic efficiency. Future McLarens will hit higher numbers.
‘C’ stands for carbon – the car has a spectacularly light and strong carbon-fibre ‘MonoCell’ tub that encases the occupants and brings the technology of F1 to a sub-£200K road car.
The 12C is powered by a 600hp, twin-turbo V8 that’s capable of hurling the car from standstill to 124mph in 10.1 seconds, and with a braking system – including an automatic air brake – capable of getting it hauling the car back to zero in five seconds.
Sheer horsepower wasn’t the primary objective though. McLaren claims the 12C has more horsepower for every gram of CO2 emitted per kilometre than any other car with an internal combustion engine, including all the hybrids.
Over 20 prototypes were built for an exhaustive test programme, including hot weather in Bahrain in the height summer, cold weather testing in the Arctic, engine development, gearbox calibration, electrical testing and ride, handling and durability programmes. McLaren was determined to make sure this wasn’t a fragile supercar.
Former Fiat/Ferrari stylist Frank Stephenson worked on the MP4-12C’s final shape and details, closely following the design principles forged with McLaren’s F1 cars where everything is for a reason and all lines, surfaces, and details were designed with a job in mind.
Stephenson elaborates, “Many sports cars and super cars present an ‘in-your-face’, ‘look-at-me’ image that can become wearing and boorish. The ultimate backhanded compliment becomes, ‘…it was of its time’. Great design, however, is timeless and looks relevant years later.”
The 12C is just the first of a range of McLaren sports cars to be designed and built at McLaren’s new £40 million manufacturing base in Woking, Surrey, UK. All will be carbon-based high-value cars that are “bespoke, innovative and unique”, and sold through McLaren’s network of 35 dealers across 19 countries.
Just because McLaren had all the F1 technology at its disposal doesn’t mean it’s been easy or cheap. More than £50 million has been invested in a new, pristine production centre – opened by UK Prime Minister David Cameron in November.
Top speed 205mph
Engine 3.8 litre V8, mid-mounted
Max power 592hp @ 7,000rpm
Max torque 600Nm @ 3-7000rpm
Power to weight 455bhp/tonne
CO2 emissions 279gm/km
Price (Basic) £168,500 inc VAT