The word McLaren sends a shiver of expectation down the spine of anyone who thinks life on four wheels is how God intended us to spend our most fulfilled moments. On the track it’s the most successful marque in Formula 1 history, the car in which Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Lewis Hamilton and co have smashed records and set pulses racing. On the road it is sure-footed, sublime and intoxicatingly faaaaaaaaast… But no one had bothered to tell the large woodpigeon that swooped over me as I whipped the open-topped McLaren 650S along a country lane in Northamptonshire. It unloaded a colossal pile of guano which hit me square in the forehead before exploding over my face and splattering over the instrument panel and the immaculate suede lining of the doors. A real life angry bird!
It’s a sign of luck, they say, but when you are at the wheel of a McLaren you don’t need anyone to tell you how fortunate you are. The road cars take their lead from 1992’s seminal McLaren F1 – a car which caused a proper hoo-ha when it was launched. Back then it was the world’s fastest production car (240mph), used real gold in the engine and cost £635,000. Only 106 were made and today each is worth at least £10m. Back then it used to take about 3,000 hours to make each carbon-fibre chassis, today it takes four hours to create the carbon MonoCell at the heart of the 650S.
Today there are 10 different McLaren models. Each is built in very small numbers and usually all are sold within a week or two of their announcement. It’s hard to get into the mindset of the McLaren owner. They’re happy to pay through the nose for a car that drives like a bullet. What they’re worried about is rarity. How many will McLaren build? More than a few hundred and they’re not interested. The question they ask is not how fast or how much, but how many?
Last year, McLaren made and sold 1,654 cars. They have 80 shops in 30 countries. Five years ago, they had one shop – in London. The firm’s long-term plan is to make about 3,000 a year – all hand assembled in Woking. The factory employs 1,700 people and only one robot. There’s been talk of interest from Google… but McLaren is happy to remain “fiercely independent and self-funding”.
Stepping into a McLaren for the first time feels like being indoctrinated. Everything is done their own particular way. There are no common parts – you won’t recognise an indicator stalk from an Audi, for instance. Everything is built for this one brand. Of the McLaren cars that you’d only have to sell your flat to afford, the 650S Spider stands out as the most dramatic. It’s dihedral doors mean it makes an entrance wherever it goes. The retractable hardtop roof opens in 17 seconds and has been painstakingly engineered to minimise weight. The LED running lights gracefully mirror the arch of McLaren’s logo.
Hit the throttle and the balanced 3,799cc V8 twin turbo engine hurls you to 62mph in 3 seconds. If you had your own racetrack or runway, you’d hit 186mph in 26 seconds. These are speeds few of us will ever experience. But what I can tell you is that at 60mph on a pretty country lane, this is a car that leaves you slack-jawed with appreciation. It’s perfect, transcendental. It makes you feel, oddly, like bursting into tears.
Who knew? Time to brush up on your Highway Code
Did you know it’s illegal to drive barefoot? What about blowing your horn while stationary? A new survey conducted by Warranty Direct has revealed a worrying lack of awareness when it comes to knowledge on UK driving laws. Areas of particular weakness include understanding road safety, general vehicle rules and interpretation of The Highway Code. A report from the Department of Transport, recently revealed there are almost 200,000 reported driving accidents annually in the UK. Despite the general public showing concern over such data, it seems the country still has a long way to go when it comes to improving their knowledge of the road. Awareness regarding motorway driving in particular produced some troubling results. A quarter of respondents thought it was legal to both overtake and undertake on the motorway, and nearly a third think you’re allowed to pull over and sleep on the hard shoulder if you can’t find a rest stop! Almost half of drivers thought it was fine to flash your lights to warn fellow drivers of a speed trap, in spite of a well-publicised case in 2011 of a man being fined £440 for doing so and in turn being accused of ‘obstructing the police’. Other laws that drivers showed a high lack of awareness of, included:
It is illegal to drive barefoot.
It is illegal to use your horn whilst stationary.
You can be charged with drink driving if you’re asleep in your (stationary) vehicle.
Accelerating through a puddle can get you three points on your licence.
You are not obliged to wear a seatbelt whilst reversing.
Correction: McLaren is not “the most successful marque in F1 history”. Its drivers have won 182 Grands Prix which is 42 fewer than Ferrari. Ferrari also leads Constructor’s Championship having won that this 16 times, Williams 9 and McLaren 8.
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