Monday, April 27, 2015
by Denfield

WARNING: This is a piece on cars which some readers may find distressing. Which I make no apology for.

From a very young age I’ve always had a keen interest in cars, and with so many of our clients based in and around the automotive industry, it was something that attracted me to join Denfield over 8 years ago. It’s not just a cars performance that gets my admiration though; for some it’s the timeless design and little details that draw me in. I am an absolute sucker for a classic.

Out of all the cars that have graced our presence though, one stands alone. The record-slaying McLaren F1! The F1 may have gone in to production back in 1992, but where some cars have aged, put the McLaren F1 next to any super car of today and it looks as good, if not better, and out performs most of them still!

The effort and attention to detail McLaren took during this process is something I appreciate as a designer myself. The initial design meeting alone took 10 hours and throughout the process the designs were all painstaking drawn by hand.

The seed for the F1 was planted in Milan airport after the ‘88 Italian Grand Prix. Four of McLaren’s Formula 1 team discussed setting about designing and building, without compromise, the world’s finest road car. From this moment a fascinating process set about, which would lead to one of the greatest testaments to British design and engineering.

From the start the main aim was to make the car as light as possible, so much so that the leather used to upholster the cockpit was shaved to half it’s usual thickness, saving 5kg. This helped get the cars weight down to just 1140kg, about as much as a family saloon of the time. Another key aim for this car was to give the driver the ‘ultimate experience’, and with its famous 3-seat layout, gave the driver a central seat in the car like a racing driver.

As with all great design, there was a benefit to this. The driver had better visibility and also sat in a more comfortable and natural position, as you didn’t have to twist your body when reaching for pedals (something called pedal offset).

To add to the experience, starting the F1 was to be pure theatre. From pushing the WWII fighter plane-inspired start button, the McLaren engineering team deliberately delaying the start of the engine for 2 seconds before the huge roar of the naturally aspired (non-turbo) 6.1-litre V12 engine fired up – something that as a car enthusiast makes the hairs on my neck stand on end just thinking about it!

To add to the drama Ron Dennis suggested that the needles were to sweep the dials on start-up, a first that’s mimicked to this day by other sports cars.

There is one part of the construction process I love and admire most, and that is the timeless design. When designing the F1, Chief Designer Peter Stevens didn’t want spoilers or wing struts sticking out on any part of the car, he wanted a sleek design. For him spoilers and struts sticking out not only added to the weight but gave the impression the car hadn’t been designed perfectly in the first place so needed extras bolted on to improve either its performance or looks. And here I feel the F1 is a great example of ‘less is more’.

What came from this ethos is a beautifully sculpted machine that is as much a work of art as it is an astonishingly quick piece of engineering. Like Laurel & Hardy or Tom & Jerry, without the car’s combination of blistering performance and elegant design the McLaren F1 wouldn’t be what it is today.

Ron Dennis, Gordon Murray, Peter Stevens and the McLaren team, I salute you!

Here are a quick-fire 10 facts about the stunning McLaren F1

  • Still the fastest naturally aspirated road car ever built (the engine is not turbo or supercharged)
  • The engineering was so ahead of its time that the highlights still feature on today’s McLarens
  • The dramatic dihedral doors were inspired by the not-so-dramatic Toyota Sera
  • Each of the 106 road cars built were all tailored to their owners, with bespoke interiors, each taking 3 months to complete
  • Eight potential partners were lined up to supply the cars hi-fi. Five pulled out after McLaren instructed them to reduce the weight by 50%. Well done Kenwood
  • The F1 is the world’s first production car made out of carbon fibre
  • McLaren used the best heat reflector available: pure gold. This was to insulate the engine bay from the carbon fibre chassis
  • Exhaust temperatures can top 600 degrees Celsius
  • Made of over 5,000 components
  • Back in 1992 a brand new McLaren F1 would have set you back a cool £634,500
  • Today second-hand McLarens don’t come along very often, but in January 2015, Rowan Atkinson’s McLaren F1 car sold for an astonishing £8,000,000