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

Motor (Australia) - - POWER. PERFORMANCE. PASSION. | CONTENTS - BY BEN MILLER + PICS JOHN WYCHERLEY

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)

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