Still The One - The Mclaren F1 (Part 1)

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In 1994 the McLaren F1 was a supercar shock of seismic proportions. Twenty years later it hasn’t lost its power to amaze. In exclusive interviews the men who created it tell their tale.

Gordon Murray - The Engineer

I decided i’d leave Formula 1 after 20 years in 1989, but Ron Dennis wanted me to stay after that. He wanted to expand McLaren; a road car was part of that, so it was a logical move.

The Mclaren F1

The Mc Laren F1

It was a tiny budget of £8.5m from starting the company and equipping the building to the fi rst running prototype. I was quite bolshie with suppliers. I’d say, “we’re going to build the best-engineered car in the world and the best driver’s car in the world, can’t tell you a thing about it, and I need this stuff free.” A lot walked out, but it worked pretty well for those that stayed, and for us.

It was liberating to start with a blank canvas. Right from the beginning I told Peter Stevens that I wanted a really smooth look at the front, but as it gets near the rear, we’ll need chimneys and static hot-air release. We had some sketches where we could see the rear suspension and everything through the mesh, but we’d forgotten we needed a 65-litre silencer; it blocked all that out!

The McLaren F1's engine compartment contains the mid-mounted BMW S70/2 engine and uses gold foil as a heat shield in the exhaust compartment.

The McLaren F1's engine compartment contains the mid-mounted BMW S70/2 engine and uses gold foil as a heat shield in the exhaust compartment.

I never intended the F1 to be a racecar, it had to be useable with air-con, a sound system, carpets and luggage space. I said to Mansour [Ojjeh] and Ron [Dennis], if you say it’s a racing car, I’ll compromise on luggage space and comfort. But if we say it won’t race, I’ll focus absolutely on making it a road car.

Formula 1 people said I’d hate road-car regulations. Yes, there are regulations, but there’s no performance regulation. I had active aerodynamics, automatic brake cooling, fan-assisted ground effect on the diff user; I went bananas.

The three-seat layout was a combination of marketing and exorcising the rubbish of the time. There were things like Countach, Jag XJ220 and F40 with awful pedal off sets, the steering wheel at an angle; so impure. A central driving position avoids that, and you get fantastic visibility. And I thought, we’re a Formula 1 team, our guys all sit in the middle, what better solution?

Standard McLaren F1 with all user accessible compartments opened

Standard McLaren F1 with all user accessible compartments opened

We’d have never got the central seat and the doors to work if we hadn’t had a carbon monocoque: it would’ve been too floppy. You had to remove a large section of roof with the door to be able to swing in, and it was a lot easier if you removed some sill too. Then I saw dihedral doors in a styling magazine, and we discovered that the Toyota Sera actually had those doors, so we brought it in.

The engine deal wasn’t done until very late. I’d had two meetings with Honda to discuss a 4.5-litre V10 or V12, then suddenly someone at Honda decided this was a step too far for marketing.

The layout of the car was advancing, so I just left space for the engine! I was at Hockenheim in 1990 and bumped into Paul Rosche from BMW. He said, ‘I’ll do you an engine’. BMW were fantastic. I wanted it to look like a 1960s engine, so they cast any plastic pipes into the cylinder head. Paul didn’t use one component from the existing 12-cylinder; nothing was light enough.

I still think it’s the best V12 ever. The specific output is better with modern engines, but from a character and torque point of view, there’s nothing like it. We couldn’t believe it when we took a prototype to Silverstone: it out-accelerated a Formula 1 car beyond 130mph. I was at Le Mans in 1995 when we won. To go there with essentially a road car with a rollcage and fi re extinguisher and come first, third, fourth and fifth, I just think that’s phenomenal for any car.’


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