The McLaren F1 is powered by a 6.1-litre, four-cam, 48-valve 60deg V12 engine, designed and built by BMW Motorsport. It produces 627bhp at 7400rpm and more than 479lb ft of torque all the way from 4000 to 7000rpm. This combines with the F1’s 1138kg kerb weight to give a power-to-weight ratio of 550bhp per tonne.
Unlike any other production road car (save Gordon Murray’s other baby, the Light Car Company’s Rocket), the F1 has a central driving position. You sit far forward in the car with a passenger seat on either side and some distance behind. Luggage is carried in two carpeted compartments, one on either side of the car, behind the passenger seats.
The dihedral doors flip upwards rather than outwards and as you take your position behind the wheel you see that you are sitting in a carbonfibre channel to remind you that the car’s composite construction is unique among road cars.
As you will see from the performance statistics, it has no real rival.
A £238,000 Bugatti EB110 GT is a fine car and less than half the price of the McLaren, but it will not even allow you a glimpse at the world of the F1. Spending £403,000 on a Jaguar XJ220 buys performance that is monstrous. But you could drive one for a year and never know what it is like to visit the places the £540,000 McLaren will take you on the slightest piece of straight open road.
Each F1 takes three and a half months to build; large luxury saloons can be mass-produced in little more than a day. Thanks to its carbonfibre construction, it possesses a sense of indomitable strength and McLaren has also paid much attention to the all-important details such as the way the doors close, the stitching of the leather and the exorcism of all rough edges.
The exterior paintwork is as good as it ought to be given the car’s price. The quality of the carpeting and leather trim set similarly high standards. The F1’s safety comes from its almost unparalleled ability to get out of trouble before it takes its toll, surrounding you at the same time with a Formula 1-style carbonfibre safety shell and a four-point harness. Fashionable modern safety features such as airbags are unavailable.