SPEED DEMON: MCLAREN SPEEDTAIL
THE SPEEDTAIL’S DESIGN IS AS OTHERWORLDLY AS ITS PERFORMANCE. THIS IS McLAREN’S 772KW, 403KM/H MODERN TAKE ON THE ORIGINAL F1
It can reach 300km/h in just 12.8 seconds and go on to a top speed of 403km/h... enough said
FIRST MAN, the film adaptation of James Hansen’s book First Man:
The life of Neil A. Armstrong, is a ferocious emotional rollercoaster, one that artfully waterboards you with the full spectrum, from grief and sadness through panic and hope to wide-eyed awe. The panic’s there most obviously in the moments of lost control, when pioneering spacecraft tumble out of control in the pitiless vacuum of space.
However, for me it also crept in during quieter moments. Like when the astronauts, in full kit and carrying their little white life-support suitcases, walk the length of the gantry to board through Saturn V’s access hatch: an invitation to climb into a cramped and almost windowless cockpit at the top of a 110-metre-high pile of fuel and ’60s wiring. Brave doesn’t begin to cover it.
The new Speedtail, McLaren’s first hybrid since the P1/P1 GTR, feels a little like a fourwheeled Saturn V. It’s dazzlingly ambitious, pragmatically evolutionary in a couple of technical respects, but innovative in many more, and brave. Both are shaped to battle the treacly drag of our atmosphere, both are powerful beyond comprehension, and both are designed to transport human beings at terrific speed, inevitably shifting their crews’ perspective on the universe a little as they go.
But there are one or two key differences. Next to Saturn V the Speedtail looks almost affordable at $3.16m (106 will be built, just as 106 examples of the similarly three-seat F1 were also produced). The Speedtail also promises to be a good deal more comfortable than the NASA rocket.
“The mission was to create the first three-seat hyper-GT and the fastest McLaren yet – a car in which to effortlessly cross continents, at speed and in lightweight luxury,” says design director Rob Melville. The word ‘lightweight’ is worth noting, as the world races to make Bugatti Chiron comparisons. (The Speedtail weighs 1430kg dry, the Chiron 1995kg wet.) And unlike Saturn V, I won’t hesitate should I ever be presented with an open door to the Speedtail’s driver’s seat.
The McLaren’s promises to be some driver’s seat. It is, of course, in the middle of the car, with a passenger seat at each shoulder and upholstered in the finest leather, with a reptilian scaling to the bolsters for lateral support. It’s accessed via powered dihedral doors that take most of the glass roof with them as they rise, so close are their hinges to the car’s centreline. You then climb in, your route to the hot seat easier than you might think thanks to a dropped outer sill and the absence of the centre sills that made getting into the F1 such a contortion.
“We just didn’t need the inner sills, thanks to the advances we’ve made in carbon fibre and the way in which we engineer our Monocage structures,” explains Ultimate Series line director Andy Palmer.
DESPITE ITS BILLING AS THE MOST POWERFUL MCLAREN YET, THE SPEEDTAIL IS ROAD FOCUSED
This tub, while 720S-based in its earliest guises, is now so different as to be considered a discrete design, with entirely different bulkheads (at the front to take the pedalbox and driver’s feet; at the rear to package the passengers, battery pack and fuel cell).
Make yourself comfortable and, even if you’ve never seen First Man or dreamed of flying, you can’t help but think of such things as you take it all in. In your hands, a steering wheel devoid of controls and clutter. Behind it, the three screens of McLaren’s new MMI (driver’s display in the middle, flanked by twin touchscreens). Ahead of you, the unbroken panorama of the Group C-style bubble windscreen. And above and behind, yet more glass thanks to a cockpit glazed like a Heinkel’s. (On bright days photo-chromatic glazing will tint opaque to save your eyes, so the McLaren doesn’t need sun visors.)
Glance from side to side and your eyes come to rest not on anything so prosaic as wing mirrors, but instead on screens taking their feed from rear-view cameras – McLaren claims the set-up’s lighter, less draggy and safer than mirrors. Look up and there, on the roof liner, you’ll find the primary controls: drive, reverse, neutral and the drive-mode selectors,
BELOW Endless tail is key to the car’s ultralow-drag teardrop form. Rear wing conspicuous by its absence (too much drag, plus this isn’t a track car)