MCLAREN SPEEDTAIL Nods to leg­endary F1; sig­nals Mclaren’s fu­ture

Three seats and a fo­cus on bench­mark-bust­ing per­for­mance link the new Mclaren Speedtail with its leg­endary pre­de­ces­sor

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - AN­DREW CH­ESTER­TON

IF THE in­com­ing Mclaren Speedtail is a win­dow into the Bri­tish brand’s fu­ture, then you best strap in. There’s a good chance the fu­ture is go­ing to look a lit­tle bit weird. Be­cause, and there re­ally is no tact­ful way to say this, the might­i­est Mclaren to date looks some­how un­fin­ished.

It’s as though some cru­cial el­e­ments (you know, pesky things like wing mir­rors and al­loy wheels at the front, or even some kind of down­force-in­duc­ing pro­tu­ber­ance) have been for­got­ten in the rush to get it ready for its un­veil­ing, and that, mere mo­ments af­ter the black silk was whipped back, some­one

at head of­fice must have surely been re­ceiv­ing an Olympic-level bol­lock­ing for the cock-up.

Not that it’s hurt sales, mind you. Just 106 will be built, and each will wear a £1.75 mil­lion (A$3.2m) price tag. (With taxes, ex­pect the fig­ure to be close to A$5m in Aus­tralia.) Cars won’t start ar­riv­ing un­til the

end of 2020, but all have al­ready been of­fi­cially spo­ken for.

But on closer in­spec­tion, the sleek and swoop­ing Speedtail sud­denly sharp­ens into fo­cus. It was all part of the plan from the out­set, no less. Or, in the words of chief de­signer Rob Melville: “We wanted the car to be the world’s

first three-seat hyper GT. The fastest ac­cel­er­a­tion and the high­est top speed of any Mclaren ever, yes, but with re­gards to the vis­ual look, we wanted it to be in­cred­i­bly sleek and seam­less, all el­e­gance and flu­id­ity.”

That fluid el­e­gance comes from strip­ping away al­most every­thing we’ve come to know about col­lect­ing speed. Gone are the gi­ant wings so loom­ing they look like felled lum­ber hov­er­ing above the car. Gone, too, are the sharp scoops and jut­ting split­ters we’ve grown so ac­cus­tomed to. And in their place live silky-smooth lines and curves so soft they could be mod­elled by Sophia Loren.

While cars like the Mclaren Senna were de­signed with a

sin­gu­lar fo­cus on down­force and lap times, its new Ul­ti­mate Se­ries sib­ling is just the op­po­site, sketched to slip through the air (and across con­ti­nents) as the Bri­tish brand’s first-ever hyper GT.

It’s why the wing mir­rors have been re­placed by high-def­i­ni­tion cam­eras that pop out of the car­bon­fi­bre body work as re­quired, beam­ing their im­age onto two screens in the cabin. And why the 20-inch al­loy wheels at the front of the car have been smoth­ered by car­bon­fi­bre cov­ers that re­main fixed in place as the hid­den wheels be­hind them spin. Or why a tra­di­tional wing has been re­placed by an ac­tive aero sys­tem made up of two tiny car­bon­fi­bre flaps that

sit flush with the body work at the rear of the car, and that raise au­to­mat­i­cally to aid down­force or to act as an air­brake.

Every­thing you’d usu­ally find glued to the in­te­rior has been stripped, leav­ing the F1ap­ing three-seat cabin al­most im­pos­si­bly clean. The sun-vi­sors, for ex­am­ple, have been re­placed by elec­trochro­matic glass in the wind­screen and roof that shifts to opaque at the touch of but­ton. The tra­di­tional read­ing lights have been axed, too, re­placed by a strip of LEDS em­bed­ded in the glass ceil­ing that are ac­ti­vated by touch. And it’s all ob­vi­ously worked,

with the Speedtail now

of­fi­cially the fastest Mclaren of all time, pro­duc­ing a stag­ger­ing 772kw and a sprint to 300km/h of just 12.8 sec­onds. (Frus­trat­ingly, Mclaren was not di­vulging full pow­er­train de­tails at the un­veil­ing, other than to con­firm it runs the com­pany’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 mated to an elec­tric hy­brid pow­er­train). Top speed is 402km/h. It could likely go much faster, Mclaren says, but not on tyres any­one could live with. Wel­come, then, to the fu­ture of the brand.

“I think what our Ul­ti­mate Se­ries gives us is a tech­nol­ogy show­case,” says Mclaren ve­hi­cle line chief, Andy Palmer. “It gives us the abil­ity to show­case in­no­va­tion, and then al­low more cus­tomers to share that over the next five or 10 years.”

Take those front wheel cov­ers, which ad­mit­tedly do take some get­ting used to in the flesh (es­pe­cially given the 21-inch al­loys at the rear are un­cov­ered), but are crit­i­cal in achiev­ing slip­pery aero.

“They’re not to ev­ery­one’s taste, but it’s part of the de­sign of this car, and it con­trib­utes to the at­tributes of what we’re try­ing to achieve,” Palmer says. “And as cars need to be­come more ef­fi­cient, whether that’s range or from a fuel per­spec­tive, this adds an aero story that re­duces CO2, ex­tends range or un­locks ex­tra lev­els of per­for­mance.”

Asked whether this com­pletes the brand’s Ul­ti­mate Se­ries range, with the Senna built for the track, the Speedtail for the road, and the P1 (which will be re­placed within the next five years) a bit of both, Palmer sud­denly comes over a bit coy.

“Pos­si­bly,” he says. “I’d say this; the team is so pas­sion­ate about what we do, and If I have an idea for a car, I will come to the board and ask them what they think. And some of those ideas will get a ‘what are you smok­ing, Andy?’ But oth­ers get a ‘well this is a great idea’.”

One thing is cer­tain, though: elec­tri­fi­ca­tion is the brand’s un­shake­able destiny, with the Speedtail to de­but the hy­brid tech­nol­ogy that should carry the brand through to the in­evitabil­ity of full elec­tri­fi­ca­tion.

“Fun­da­men­tally, we make sports cars, and what de­fines those cars are the per­for­mance at­tributes,” says Mclaren CEO Mike Fle­witt. “So for Speedtail, this hy­brid ver­sion of our 4.0-litre V8 was the right way to go to get the per­for­mance char­ac­ter­is­tics we needed. It’s a dif­fer­ent hy­brid than we did in P1; it’s a di­rect-drive hy­brid. There’s no EV ca­pa­bil­ity, and it’s a fast recharge, so if you use the en­ergy that’s stored, it recharges in about 90 sec­onds.

“So we pro­duce in­cred­i­ble power for rapid ac­cel­er­a­tion or high speed, which is what this car is all about.

“As we go for­ward from there, we will keep de­vel­op­ing driv­e­trains that give the per­for­mance we want. We will see more and more hy­brids com­ing.”

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