The McLaren 720S is now officially gone – but absolutely not forgotten…
By John Howell / Thursday, 19 January 2023 / Loading comments
The internet rumour mill is in full swing. With the McLaren 720S order book now closed – although there is still some dealer stock left – McLaren is already said to be taking deposits for the car’s replacement. And it’s been reported there’s enough cash thrown into that pot to sell out the new model until 2024 – even though there’s been no official word from Woking on what the model might be. Bearing in mind McLaren isn’t exactly flush at the moment, it’s unlikely to be a ground-up new model, will it use the older 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, or a development of the newer V6 hybrid powertrain used in the Artura? Who knows – although certainly the 2.9-litre V6 PHEV unit was designed from the outset with other, more powerful applications in mind.
Either way, it’s a timely moment to have a look at what’s out there as far as secondhand 720S’s are concerned. Quite a lot, as it happens, with 33 coupes and 15 spiders available in the PH classifieds. Coupe prices start from around £140,000, for an early 2017 car with about 15,000 miles, but this one piqued my interest. It’s a 720S Le Mans special edition, which was built to mark the 25th anniversary of McLaren’s famous win at La Sarthe.
Hence the Sarthe grey paintwork and rather fabulous five-spokes that emulate the specification of McLaren F1 GTR #59 that won the event. The win was a special one because it was McLaren’s first attempt at Le Mans, and it was racing in the GT1 class against the faster Le Mans Prototypes. But as Ron Dennis would say, ‘to finish first, first you have to finish,’ and he was right. It was the GTR’s consistency, rather than its outright speed, that enabled it to hold off the top-flight cars, all of which suffered mechanical issues or mistakes in rainy conditions that dropped them down the order.
Car #59 wasn’t even a full factory effort. It was run by the privateer Lanzante team (under the name of Kokusai Kaihatsu Racing), although Lanzante wasn’t entirely going it alone – around 40 per cent of the personnel were from McLaren. The car was driven by Yannick Dalmas, Masanori Sekiya and JJ Lehto, who held off Mario Andretti’s Prototype Courage that was making a hard-charging comeback in the final stages of the race. It was a classic race won by an iconic car, which was immediately retired to McLaren’s heritage collection.
There were only 50 720S Le Mans Special Editions made, and just 14 of those stayed in Europe. Most of the changes came via McLaren’s MSO department, and included the front wing air outlets, the roof-mounted air intake and polycarbonate rear screen. Other changes included a gloss black finish – instead of the standard carbon fibre finish – for the front splitter, eye sockets, rear intakes and diffuser, plus a bespoke gold paint for the brake calipers. Although this car is painted in the winning car’s Sarthe grey, the other colour available was McLaren’s traditional papaya orange.
Inside, the Le Mans Special Edition echoed the motorsport theme with lots of black Alcantara, with either orange or grey highlights, and features that would normally be options, like carbon bucket seats and the carbon interior package, were standard equipment. New, this car would’ve cost £254,000, which was a £46,000 premium. That premium seems to have been justified, judging by the prices. This one is £220,000 plus VAT, although with just 920 miles, it’s basically a new car.
I’ve never really adored the look of the 720S. I don’t find it pretty, like the 570S, with its ungainly sockets around the headlights, but in this colour and with these wheels it’s about as attractive as it gets. I’ve never questioned the model’s effectiveness, though. It remains one of the fastest cars I’ve ever driven. I remember the first time I drove a 720S at Millbrook’s Outer Handling circuit, and the pace of it shocked me. That track is a narrow, tight and twisty affair, and the car absolutely monstered it. I was gobsmacked not only at the speed it reached by the end of the short straight, but how late you could brake at the end carrying all that momentum. It makes me wonder how McLaren could improve it, but no doubt it will. Fingers crossed its replacement is more of a looker, though.
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