McLaren 12C – 2014

Once I’d decided I wished to own a Supercar, it took me over two years to decide on the one I wanted.  Here are the Top Ten Reason I bought a McLaren, instead of say, a Audi R8, Ferrari or Lamborghini:

  1. Engineering superiority: McLaren’s engineering innovation DNA. McLaren did not compromise in making this car and a remarkable amount of the F1 technology made it into this street car.  Brake steering, stability control, carbon-fiber structure, the first-ever hydraulic suspension, the all-gear, no-belt engine, Graziano dual clutch transmission, air flow and downforce, active brake spoiler and much more.  The McLaren’s philosophy of innovation that led to this car is now taught in cross-industry workshops.
  2. Stunning good looks: Frank Stephenson’s design, while sticking close to the iconic McLaren F1 designed by Gordon Murray, is more subtle and elegant. Plus, unlike the McLaren F1, offers generous and comfortable seating for two people. While looks are in the eye of the beholder, to me, this car is just beautiful.  The dihedral doors are functional, easing entry and exit, but look cool, too. I didn’t want a coupe, but a convertible or “spyder,” model.  However, the car had to look stunning with the top up, too. Of course, putting the top up and down had to be simple, easy and cool!
  3. It’s fast: When I purchased it new in 2014, it was pretty much the fastest car on the road. Only 3 production cars had faster lap times.* The first was the $1.6M Pagani Huayra with a twin-turbo V12 engine. The other two (BAC Mono and Ariel Atom V8 500) are really open wheel track cars dressed up with cobbled together accoutrements for the street.  (* From Top Gear’s 2 mile, Lotus-designed track, professional driver. Top “hot lap” times have been recorded on over 200 cars. Results are online. Taken as of January 15, 2015. ) The Lamborghini Huracan would eventually bump the 12C from 4th to fifth, but still damn fast.
  4. It is faster: It is much faster than most other “fast cars.”  Its #4 lap time is better than the Lamborghini Aventador, Bugatti Veyron, Koenigsegg CCX and Nissan GT-R.  Whereas my MP4-12C is ranked forth, the fastest Ferrari on the list is the Enzo at #19 and the 458 Italia which comes in at #20.  The first Porsche, the 997 GT2, shows up as #22 and the next Porsche is the Carrera GT, at #29. For American cars, you’ll find the fastest Corvette, the ZR1, coming in at #30 and the Audi R8 V10 coupe at #36 and the R8 convertible at #41.
  5. The history: There is a strong connection with my Lotus Elan and Acura NSX and this car.  The ties begin with famed car designer Gordon Murray and his love for the Lotus Elan. While trying to get a job with Lotus, he ended up at McLaren. He was tasked with designing the F1.  McLaren F1 legionary driver, Ayrton Senna, was working with Honda on the NSX prototype when he invited Murray to Japan to drive the NSX.  Murray says the moment he drove it, “the NSX became the benchmark car for the McLaren F1.”  The yellow on my McLaren is matched to a paint chip from Ayton Senna’s helmet.  Gordon Murray owned an NSX and put over 75K miles on it.  Senna owned several NSX’s.
  6. Low Weight:  The McLaren matched a core design principle of low weight that was present in the Elan and the NSX. Stories abound about Colin Chapman pushing his engineers to “add lightness” and to “get the pounds out;” and the NSX was the first ever 100% aluminum car (chassis, engine, transmission, body – all aluminum). The McLaren’s carbon fiber backbone weighs only 176 lbs. and while over twice the horsepower of the NSX, weighs nearly the same. Ask any racer if he’d prefer more horsepower or less weight.  You’ll find they always prefer less weight.
  7. It’s a driver:  Like the NSX, the McLaren is a car I can drive all day, everyday. My first and longish drive in the McLaren was bringing it home from Dallas, TX to Phoenix, 1,700 miles.  It was a breeze. TopGear says when the suspension is set to the “normal” mode, it handles like a Rolls Royce. I’m not sure I believe that, but I can say the car is totally comfortable in this mode; the seats are super supportive with a vast adjustment range. Visibility was a key factor, too, and it’s great on the McLaren; you don’t feel like you’re driving in a cave like some supercars and there it doesn’t have that rock hard suspension feel – until you put it in track mode.  None of my “special” cars have been garage queens, I drive them all.
  8. Reliable and minimal maintenance:  Jay Leno commented in a video about his MP4-12C saying, “It requires no maintenance.  We just drive it. 10,000 miles or once a year we take it in to have it looked over and the fluids changed.” Jay is correct; the service interval is 10,000 miles.  Warranty is a full 3 years, unlimited mileage. From everything I hear, the clutch & transmission should last the life of the car.  Same with the engine. Depending on how you drive, tires last from 5K – 10K. I drive like a wuss and still have my original tires on the car at over 10k miles.  I’ve been spoiled by the reliability of the NSX. So far, the McLaren has been every bit as reliable as the NSX.
  9. Sound: It sounds awesome and the sound is adjustable.  On her first ride my sister said as I started it up, “My, somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed. It sounds a bit angry.” The amount of sound reaching the cabin is adjustable.  This is very cool. Lowering the small rear window behind the seats allows the sound to flow in as if you had the entire top down.
  10. I got a deal. Yes, supercars are all insanely expensive and ridiculously impractical. Few things depreciate faster than a supercar, and the McLaren is no different in this regard.  But I can make a weak rationalization, in that I got a decent price on the car.  In early 2014, there was an over production of McLaren MP4-12Cs, just as the new McLaren 650s was introduced. Then the MP4-12C was discontinued. Prices dropped on the new MP4-12Cs that were on dealers lots, especially when the types of buyers who want only the latest and greatest moved to the newer model.  Now dealers were seeing low mileage MP4 12C’s coming back in on trade for 650s, even though the cars were functionally, nearly identical.   This was when I began calling McLaren dealers in the Northeastern part of the USA in November/December as the snow began to fall. As the temperatures dropped, so did the prices.  This softness in the market gave me the negotiating leverage to buy a brand new, 2014 Spider model in yellow.  Yes, it was still ridiculously expensive, but as they say, “you can’t take it with you.”

What MP4-12C stands for:

MP4:  MP4 has been the chassis designation for all McLaren Formula 1 cars since 1981. McLaren hasn’t used it lightly.  It reflects an unprecedented transfer of F1 construction, technology and computer simulation-aided development from track to road. It’s what the Woking-based operation knows best; you’d expect nothing less.

12: The ’12’ refers to the 12 factors in McLaren’s internal Vehicle Performance Index through which they rate and rank their key performance criteria against competitive cars.  This  internal list of twelve vehicle performance factors was used throughout the car’s development to rate its key performance criteria. The calculation combines power, weight, emissions and aerodynamic efficiency to generate a figure. Future McLarens may hit higher numbers. They also rate competitors cars so they know where they stand.

C: The ‘C’ refers to Carbon, highlighting the application of carbon fibre technology to the future range of McLaren sports cars.

Some key design principles of the MP4-12C:

Weight: McLaren designers followed the advice of Colin Chapman and did everything possible to reduce the weight of the MP4-12C.  Besides its 176 lbs. carbon fiber backbone, hundreds of decisions were made with the primary goal of reducing the weight of the car.

Breathing: Ron Dennis said it best: “A high performance car is all about breathing: how you get the air in, how you get the air out. So in the front we have two air intakes, partly for brake cooling, but we have two intercoolers in there for the turbos. The intercoolers run at relatively low temperatures and have relatively little fluid, and having those circuits travelling the length of the car is the most efficient way of doing it.”

Driving position:  ‘You want good visibility, but good visibility that means something,’ says a company spokesperson at the launch of the car. ‘When you look over the front wing, whether it’s the left or right, the top point of the portion of the wing you can see through the windscreen is directly over the center line of the front wheels. So at all times you know exactly where the front wheels are. It’s for the same reason that the driver and passenger are positioned far closer to the center of the car than normal, with a slender center console between. ‘The closer you are to the center of the car, the better the perception you have of the extremities.  It’s the next best thing to the F1’s central driving position.”

Brake steer:  In essence it’s a system that brakes the inside rear wheel when the car is entering a corner too quickly, trimming the car’s line back towards the apex. “So we actually use the brakes to help steer the car. It provides the sort of functionality you might normally have from an active diff to help the car turn in. The beauty of it, if you get the software to work properly, is that it feels completely natural and you eliminate all of the weight and mechanical complexity of an LSD, as well as the losses through friction in the system.”

F1 Comparison: You can say what you like about the F1, but it’s still one of the fastest supercars ever built. And unlike other modern-day supercars, it managed to prove itself on the track by winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1995. How many Bugatti Veyrons, Koenigsegg CCXs or LaFerraris have you seen take part in an endurance race? Don’t bother Googling it, the answer is none! Rather than do what Bugatti did and develop a vehicle that’s just fast in a straight line and awfully expensive, McLaren used its extensive motorsport know-how to build a race car that could shatter records outside the track.


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