The McLaren Speedtail’s mission statement is brutally simple yet bogglingly difficult: to be a worthy successor to the 1993 McLaren F1, the ultra-light, V-12-powered, mid-engine coupe whose otherworldly acceleration and staggering 243-mph top speed made it the world’s first hypercar. Well, like the storied F1, the Speedtail has three seats, the driver steering from the center of the cockpit. And, says McLaren, it will do 250 mph. Job done, then.
All 106 Speedtails slated for production have been sold, despite their $2.3 million (plus tax) price tag, pretty much on the strength of those two details alone. At the time of writing, most customers had only seen CGI renderings of the car, with a handful having been walked around the full-size mockup shown here. Why 106 cars? It’s equal to the number of original F1s McLaren sold between 1993 and 1998.
Unlike the F1, which was an entirely bespoke car powered by a unique BMW-developed 6.1-liter V-12 engine, the Speedtail is heavily based on the 720S. That said, the Speedtail’s carbon-fiber Monocage tub is new, with the rear-set passenger seats molded into the structure and a new front bulkhead for the central driving position. The wheelbase has been extended 2 inches to accommodate the passengers and the battery for the 1,035-hp gas-electric hybrid powertrain.
McLaren vehicle development boss Andy Palmer is tight-lipped on powertrain detail, but he confirms the rear-drive Speedtail will weigh about 3,500 pounds and will accelerate from standstill to 186 mph in a staggering 12.8 seconds, making it not only the fastest McLaren ever but also the quickest, too. For context, the 904-hp P1, McLaren’s previous performance kingpin, needed 16.5 seconds to reach the same velocity, while the 1,500-hp Bugatti Chiron takes about 13.6 seconds.
Design chief Rob Melville believes an ultra-high-performance McLaren’s form should follow its function, and in contrast to the brutalist Senna, so obviously designed for maximum downforce and cornering grip, the swoopy Speedtail is high-speed airflow, visualized. Many of the basic hard points are the same as the 720S, but it’s 23.3 inches longer overall, and most of that extra length is aft of the rear axle. The effect is dramatic; the Speedtail looks like it’s doing 200 mph standing still.
“This has been a dream project,” Melville enthuses as he walks us around the Speedtail, “a concept car for the road. These proportions are super exotic, the sort of thing you draw in the studio.” There’s science behind the art, however: Melville says the rearmost point of the Speedtail, a sharply defined edge way out behind the rear wheels, is where the airflows over the upper and lower surfaces of the car meet. It’s also where McLaren has incorporated a pair of movable ailerons, small flaps near the left and right hand corners of the car that can be raised into the airflow to improve the car’s downforce and stability as needed. The flaps are made from flexible carbon fiber, so there is no join at the leading edge to disturb the airflow.
Every panel on the Speedtail is smoother than on the 720S. And every detail, from the ultra-slim headlights in the smoother front fascia to the flush glazing over the entire cockpit, has been designed to calm the rush of air over the car at speed. Apart from the long tail and active aerodynamics, the Speedtail’s signature aerodynamic feature is the fixed carbon-fiber covers over the front wheels, which dramatically reduce turbulence. Why no covers on the rear wheels? Not needed, Melville says. And the asymmetry emphasizes the car’s dramatic teardrop profile.
McLaren calls the Speedtail a hyper-GT. The glassy cabin provides superb visibility for all aboard, and clever electrochromic technology is used to reduce sun glare where needed. A broad panel with three screens stretches across the front of the cabin. The central screen, in front of the driver, is the instrument panel; the screen to the left is for HVAC and navigation, the one to the right for phone and media functions. The seats are swathed in soft aniline leather. Melville says the Speedtail has 5.7 cubic feet of luggage space, with room for a small case up front and four specially designed bags in a small compartment just behind the engine.
The Speedtail cannot be homologated for sale in the U.S.—the central driving position means it falls foul of legislative requirements for side airbags. But that hasn’t dissuaded well-heeled American enthusiasts: About 40 Speedtails are believed to be heading Stateside, with the first cars arriving early 2020.
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