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Favourite Things 4

February 17, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’ve always been interested in cars. Unfortunately I don’t have several hundred thousand dollars spare to “invest” in a supercar but that doesn’t stop me from reading and watching videos about them. Top Gear (the British version, of course) is my favourite TV program, although I must admit I don’t really watch TV so there isn’t a lot of competition there! In my list of favourite things there has to be a car, or – because I just can’t commit to one – a list of several cars.

If I had to pick one car as my favourite it would be the McLaren F1. I know there are faster and better handling cars around now, because technology has moved on since the McLaren was first produced in 1992, but the McLaren was just so clearly the best at the time, so important in the progress of car design, and such an uncompromising masterpiece of engineering, that it is impossible to ignore.

And if I was going to make a few other choices as honorary runners up to the mighty F1 I might choose the Pagani Huayra and maybe the Lamborghini Aventador. I would choose the Pagani because it is not only wickedly fast, but also reflects the same uncompromising design philosophy as the McLaren. The Aventador is technically the best “cheap” supercar out there, and by far the most refined, best handling, and fastest Lambo ever.

So let’s have a look at the specs of the F1. The car was one of the first to use a carbon-fibre monocoque and weighed just 2513 pounds. It used a unique (as far as I know) three seat arrangement with the driver in the middle at the front and two passengers behind and to either side. The body was very streamlined, with a coefficient of drag of just 0.32 (the Veyron is 0.36). Downforce was generated by the design of the underbody, and by two electric fans, plus a dynamic spoiler at the back.

The engine was made specifically for McLaren by BMW. It was a 6.1 litre V12 producing 627 horsepower. The standard car had a top speed of 231 miles per hour (a record not beaten for 13 years) and could go a lot faster if the rev limiter was removed (243 mph and probably more if the gearing was changed). Acceleration was also impressive: 0 to 60 miles per hour in just 3.2 seconds. Few cars even today can beat that.

A basic design philosophy was that there should be no compromise on anything, and famously the engine bay was lined with gold to reflect heat. It was an incredible piece of engineering but there was still a dedication to producing a pure driver’s car so there was no power steering, ABS brakes, etc.

There’s a video on YouTube of a test drive of a McLaren F1 GTR – a race model converted back to use on the road – by British car magazine, AutoCar. The presenter is astounded by the handling and speed (claiming the throttle response superior to a Veyron) and also demonstrates its performance in comparison to a “common” fast car (a Porsche 911) where the F1 takes off as if the 911 is standing still.

But for me maybe the most awesome thing of all is the sound. As one commenter said, it’s like the devil himself is tied up in the engine bay and is being whipped! Many ex-race GTRs (where the sound deadening material has been removed to save weight) come with headphones so that the occupants can speak to each other.

The F1 is a true masterpiece and it makes it even better that it is British car (with a German engine) produced by the company which was originally formed in 1963 from the team established by New Zealander Bruce McLaren, so there is a local connection there too.

I do have to say a little bit about one of my other cars here. I have watched a couple of videos about the Huayra and I must say that the fanatical attention to detail on that car is perhaps even more over the top than that shown for the McLaren. For example, the name badge is produced from a single chunk of metal and takes a day to create, and each wheel is made the same way, taking 5 days each!

Every one of the 1400 bolts used in the car is made from titanium, and has the Pagani logo etched onto it, and together they cost (wait for it) well over US$100,000 to produce (remember that’s just the bolts). The fuel system cost a million dollars to develop and the battery is specially designed to save weight and costs US$1800. This car is pure insanity and costs well over $US one million to buy – if you can get one at all.

The Huayra is incredibly fast and has topped the Top Gear test track lap times with a time of 1:13.8 (even beating the Ariel Atom 500 V8 with 1:15.1, the Lamborghini Aventador with 1:16.5, and the “fastest car in the world”, the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport with 1:16.8). The McLaren has never been tested on this track – maybe that would be like giving Einstein an IQ test! It was beaten in straight line acceleration by the Veyron however.

It’s interesting that the Huayra’s basic specs (top speed and acceleration) are actually inferior to the McLaren’s but they are also inferior to the Veyron’s (by a fair margin) and still beat it on the Top Gear track. That track is fairly tight however, meaning top speed isn’t as useful.

The whole confusion over lap times, horsepower, acceleration figures and top speeds does show that pontification on what the best car in the world is based on numbers is generally fairly useless. And that’s one reason I gave 3 cars as my favourites. But you can probably tell that I still think the McLaren is special. If any other car is held in as much esteem and is still as relevant over 20 years after its release I will be impressed!

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