McLaren unveils Speedtail
Consider the most bonkers concept car you’ve ever seen. You know, one that looks crazier than a Bob Katter cowboy hat, and has zero chance of ever making it through to production unchanged.
Now imagine that very concept slipped past all the bean counters, the product planners and the safety and packaging experts - past even the CEO’s desk - and somehow made it into the showroom before anyone had noticed.
That's precisely what McLaren's new Ultimate Series entrant, the Speedtail, looks like.
At the risk of over-selling it, McLaren’s first-ever “hyper GT” might just be the most striking car we’ve ever seen in the flesh. From its super-clean bodywork carved from giant sheets of carbon-fibre (the biggest the brand has ever used), to its high-tech cabin and its central driving position, the Speedtail lives up to its ‘hyper’ billing in every possible way.
Let’s talk numbers. You’ll be pleased to note the McLaren Speedtail doesn’t just look like a hypercar. The fastest McLaren of all time claims the kind of heavy-hitting performance figures that will surely leave the Italian car makers feeling a little jittery
McLaren is yet to confirm all the drivetrain specifics, other than that the Speedtail’s rumoured twin-turbo V8 engine will be helped along by an electric hybrid system that will send its power hurtling toward the rear tyres, but the numbers we do know are impressive.
The Speedtail will produce a staggering 1050PS (772kW), which is an awful lot. Enough, in fact, to produce a sprint to 300km/h in just 12.8 seconds. Top speed? A scenery-warping 250mph (402km/h).
It could likely go much faster, McLaren says, but not on a set of tyres designed to juggle high-speed runs with high-street shopping.
“We’ve quoted it will do 250mph,” says McLaren’s vehicle line chief, Andy Palmer. ”Partly that’s tyres. This is a grand tourer, and from a comfort perspective, (we did) what we can do with tyres that can give sidewall compliance for a comfortable ride, and give hardness that can go to high speeds.
"We’ve said 250mph, but as we mature and move through the development of the project, let’s see where we go from here.”
The most aerodynamic car every produced by McLaren looks like it’s been shaped with a warm butter knife, with not a single sharp edge or downforce-inducing wing to be found anywhere on its finely sculpted body. Even the wing mirrors have been removed, replaced by a camera system that pop out of either side of the body when driving, but then disappear back behind the carbon-fibre when parked.
What we’re seeing here is a design example rather than the finished product. But the result is a car that looks not just massive (which it is - at a whopping 5137mm in length it's some 300mm longer than the brand's P1), but also massively sleek and smooth, like it’s able to slip through the air with barely a ripple, all the way to its flying top speed.
In the words of chief designer Robb Melville: “We wanted the car to be the world’s first three-seat hyper GT.
"The fastest acceleration and the highest top speed of any McLaren ever, yes, but with regards to the visual look, we wanted it to be incredibly sleek and seamless, all elegance and fluidity.”
That includes, of course, the lack of a rear wing. While the brand’s Senna is home to a giant wing that hovers above the back of that car like a toppled skyscraper, nothing so uncouth has been allowed to corrupt the body of the Speedtail. Instead, it incorporates an active aero system consisting of two small carbon-fibre flaps that sit flush with the body work at the rear of the car, and will raise automatically (but not independently) to aid downforce or to act as an airbrake.
“They’re integrated into the carbon body, which is flexible, and a small hydraulic actuator underneath then [raises them] to give us a little bit of stability, and an air brake,” Palmer says. “They’ll probably be active from around 100km/h.
“This is actually something we saw used with NASA, and so the discussion was whether we could make it work [for cars]. It’s not going to add a huge amount of [downforce], it’s just to keep a balanced car through its speed range.”
Perhaps most striking, though, are the carbon-fibre static wheel covers that smother the two 20-inch alloy wheels at the front of the car. The covers - which remain fixed in place as the wheel behind it spins - are critical in producing the kind of body-sticking slip that allows for the Speedtail’s acceleration and top speed performance. At the rear, though, cover-free 21-inch alloys spin freely.
The body paneling is pure carbon-fibre, highlighted by a new (and lightweight) titanium weave that forms the splitter, diffuser, side skirts and the rear engine cover, and which can be anodised with any custom colour, or woven to create a bespoke image. If an owner wants their beaming mug smiling back at them, for example, it can be made so. It’s unlikely, says McLaren, but designers are expecting to receive requests for family crests and surnames.
In the cabin, the F1-aping central driver’s seat is framed by the two set-back passenger seats, creating an arrow-shaped set-up like fighter jets in formation, and all are trimmed in aniline leather. Even the flooring is lined with treated leather, which is embedded with rubber studs for grip.
But it’s not what is in the cabin, but rather what is missing that makes it so unique. For one, there are no sun visors; instead, the glass of the windscreen and roof edges has been treated with an electrochroamatic finish that, at the push of a button, darkens to block out the sun.
The traditional reading lights have been stripped out, too, replaced by LED lighting embedded into the glass of the roof that are activated by tapping the ceiling.
All the major car controls are roof mounted, leaving the dash free to house a series of high-definition screens (including one at each of the furthest corners of the cabin that display the images captured by the reversing cameras), all of which are predictably angled toward the driver.
When McLaren flagged its incoming Speedtail with prospective customers (don’t worry, we weren’t called either), it received some 300 expressions of interest. Most of those customers were destined to miss out, with McLaren only producing 106 cars (mimicking the number of original McLaren F1s produced), ensuring buyer’s investments would be protected with a promise to not produce a convertible or GTR version.
So, 106 it is, and each will will wear a 1.75 million pound ($3.2m) price tag. McLaren won’t start delivering cars until the end of 2020, but all have already been officially spoken for. In fact, more than 70 of those customers turned up at a special unveiling of this design example, and in the proud words of Robb Melville “nobody has cancelled their orders yet.”
So is it a successor to the iconic F1? “The central driving position is where the similarities stop”, says McLaren.
Because the Speedtail is something else entirely.
Chesto brings a sense of irreverence to car reviews that few writers in Australia can match, often finding the quirkiest details in new machines.