Motoring journals aren’t as shy as they ought to be about declaring their latest cover subject the greatest supercar of all time. If such a distinction is possible, however, it likely rests with the McLaren F1.
In capability (231-mph top speed), imaginative design (a central driving position), and extravagant price ($810,000), the F1 stands alone. Revealed to the public in May 1992, it was on the road by 1994, and in the winner’s circle at LeMans in 1995. "[I]ts performance and general ability simply defy imagination," wrote journalist Paul Frere, a former Formula 1 driver and LeMans winner.
Drawing on multiple Formula 1, CanAm, and Indianapolis victories, the McLaren organization set about creating its first road car in 1989. The McLaren F1 was a clean-sheet design, with all components except the taillamps built specifically for it. The guiding principle was efficiency. Thus it is compact, with body panels and understructure of featherweight carbon fiber, and virtually every mechanical component of aluminum or magnesium.
BMW Motorsports was contracted to design and build the engine, which McLaren specified be naturally aspirated for instant response. With its midships 48-valve 6.1-liter V-12 and under four pounds per horsepower, the F1 has the best power-to-weight ratio ever in a production road car. Manual steering and brakes further enhance control. Small electric underbody fans generate ground-effects grip that renders four-wheel drive superfluous, and a modest rear spoiler deploys to counteract nosedive in hard braking.
The driver’s seat in the McLaren F1 is personally fitted to each owner and is placed centrally for optimal command without intrusion from wheel arches or the nuisance of offset pedals. A passenger seat is mounted to each side and slightly behind. Air conditioning, CD audio system, and the finest leathers complete the cabin.
Incredibly, some specifications had to be scaled back for LeMans. Even with nonactive aerodynamics and engine-intake restrictions, the 220-mph GTR competition version took first, third, fourth, and fifth overall against a slew of purpose-built racers.
"The McLaren offers engineering and workmanship second to none and performance never attained before in a road car," concluded Frere in his 1994 Road & Track cover story entitled, without apology, "The Best Ever!"
To learn more about the McLaren F1 and other sports cars, see:
- How Sports Cars Work
- Sports Cars of the 1990s
- New Sports Cars Reviews
- Used Sports Cars Reviews
- Muscle Cars
- How Ferrari Works
- How the Ford Mustang Works