What is it?
We’d been on the road for hours. Hours in which I thought I’d come to know and understand the extraordinary, £2.1 million McLaren Speedtail. And if it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, that was just fine. It’s always good to have an element of the unexpected, even with a prospect as interesting as this. I knew it was fast, fast in a way perhaps no other road car has ever been. And fascinating, too, for its engineering, design and significance.
But then – and forgive this very necessary opacity – I found myself able to open it up in a way that had hitherto not been possible. That was when I discovered the Speedtail had been toying with me all day. After 30-something years of testing road cars, here was an entirely new experience. Turns out I didn’t know it at all.
That’s strange, because it’s not as if someone with a decent level of knowledge and experience shouldn’t be able to take an educated guess. This wasn’t like when, 26 years ago, we first drove the McLaren F1 – a car not only designed like none that had existed before and with performance to boot, but also one that shared no significant part with any other car.
The Speedtail has a carbonfibre tub, a mid-engined configuration, a twin-turbocharged V8 engine, a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and rear-wheel drive so, in such crucial regards, is no different to any other McLaren of the past 10 years. Yes, it has a hybrid powertrain, but so did the P1 back in 2013.
It’s easier still to draw comparisons between the Speedtail and the F1, not just due to their arrowhead, three-seat driving positions but also because, by making the same 106 units as with the F1, McLaren is appearing to invite the association. But they’re nervy about it, too. The F1 is as famous for its exploits on the track as on the road, having enabled McLaren to join Ferrari as the only marques to win Le Mans at the first attempt, and the Speedtail is absolutely not a track car. According to McLaren’s staff, it’s a ‘hyper-GT’, whatever that may be.
So join me. I don’t usually dwell on cars’ looks, because I’m no better positioned to judge them than you. But how can I ignore this? One can’t. People will crash their tin boxes to get a better view of it. One bloody nearly did. Another on Woking high street was so fixated that, had there been a lamp-post or open manhole in front of him, he’d have stood no chance.