McLaren rewrites the super car book

Published on September 11th, 2009

The McLaren F1 was, is and most likely will be for the coming years one of the benchmarks for pretenders to the super car clique to level themselves against. Unleashed on an unsuspecting world back in1992, the F1 can still hold its own against the slew of newer super cars these days without cooking an oil seal.

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Since then though, how things have changed with every Mickey Mouse manufacturer conjuring up a car that dishes out century dashes in the low 3’s and top speeds in access of 300km/h with generous amounts of carbon fiber bits sprinkled about. Oh, and not to forget, Nurburgring lap times under eight minutes. Granted, some of them radiate with the pure performance aura that mandates a super car, just like the F1, although many fall short of the pureness and raw tenacity that a true super car possesses.

Considering its last dig into the super car crater was with the Mercedes Benz SLR McLaren that ended its run early this year, albeit with every bit of exclusiveness squeezed within a tie rod of its life with a host of special edition models, McLaren finally shoved its hoe into the digs again with its all-new and very own super car.

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Following the launch of its own separate automotive division to stay focused and maintain sight on its rivals, the working outfit finally let the cheetah out of the bag on its MP4-12C exotic-eater.

Developed entirely in-house, even the heart of the machine was designed and produced by McLaren and not borrowed from stakeholder Mercedes-Benz, unlike the V12 power plant used in the F1. The MP4 is packed to the brim with the latest advances in automotive technology that has been yanked right off the Formula 1 circuit.

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Penned right from the get-go by Frank Stephenson to be lightweight, the MP4 is built around an anorexic yet rigid single-piece carbon fiber tub, giving it a decidedly light weight head start on the opposition that employ denser multi-piece frames. Weighing in at a supermodel like 80kg (the writer weight about the same as well, just to put things into perspective on how frigging light it is), you just know the MP4 was made to fly.

Stephenson himself has helmed the drawing board for the likes of the new Mini, BMW X5, Fiat 500 and a number of Maseratis and Ferraris. He has ingeniously incorporated McLaren’s tick logo into the design of the MP4 in areas such as the air vents and LED tail lamps. The use of adaptive aerodynamics has also given the car a streamlined silhouette.

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Expanding the script all the way, the body panels as well are constructed out of carbon fiber or lightweight composite materials. Now all this might be fine and dandy to make the car lunch on Lambo’s and dine on Dodge Vipers but lighter always translates into higher costs and this results in a projected stratospheric price that would be more than a pinch dearer than the upcoming Ferrari 458 Italia or Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4.

Mounted just aft of the driver is the motivation that would propel the MP4 into the annals of super car history. A twin-turbo 3.8-liter V8 cranks out approximately 600hp and 586Nm of torque, good enough for a century dash in the low 3’s and a top speed in access of 320km/h.

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Utilizing a flat-plane crank design with a dry sump setup to maintain sufficient lubrication duties during heavy-G moves allows the mill to hit an 8,500rpm redline. Additionally, roughly 80 percent of the torque is available from a lowly 2,000rpm.

Going to blow some smoke up its green-credentialed derriere, McLaren claim the engine offers the highest horsepower to CO2 ratio of any internal combustion plant on the market, even taking into account diesel and hybrid layouts.

Transferring all that might to the rear wheels would be a trick seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Now the tranny’s real party piece would be the Pre-Cog system that allows the lucky driver to load up the next gear ratio by gently pressing the paddle shifter prior to unleashing a full-blooded engagement of the gear with lightning speed.

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Reeling in all that force is a heavy burden and only the strong, not to mention well ventilated and cross drilled from carbon ceramic, need apply. However, McLaren sees no need to raise the price a couple of notches (considering it’s already a fair notch ahead of its rivals) and choose instead to go with conventional discs. In fact the Brits claim its lighter than the carbon ceramic version. Deputizing on vehicular stability issues would be a Brake Steer system that brakes the inside wheel during cornering to reduce understeer.

Accessing the interior requires the signature McLaren forward and upward hinged doors to be lifted. This time around the designers decided that three’s a crowd and the MP4 makes do with a conventional two-seater layout instead of the 1+2 configuration used in the F1. Molded bucket seats envelops the occupants while the only notable gadget on the dash is the seven-inch multimedia display.

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Rather ambitiously, McLaren have set their sights on producing 1,000 units a year come 2011. Over a quarter of those would be expected to call Britain home while an equal amount will find their way across the Altantic.

There might even be a roadster version made available a couple of years after the gorgeous coupe has had its fun sniping the Italians off the twisties.

text: Dinesh Appavu  pix: McLaren

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