INTERNATIONAL - On Friday, McLaren debuted the £1.75 million ($2.3 million) Speedtail, previously known by its BP23 codename.
The all-new, three-seat “hyper-GT” is the next model in McLaren’s Ultimate Series, the most expensive and exclusive line the automaker sells. The P1 and Senna also belong to the Ultimate Series, while others you actually have a chance of seeing on the road, such as the 720S and the 570S, belong to the Super Series and Sport Series, respectively.
In addition to its major price tag and odd seating arrangement (more on that later), the Speedtail is an homage to the iconic McLaren F1, which held the production car speed record of 240mph from 1998 to 2004. McLaren will make only 106 of them—a number that matches the F1’s production run—and they’re already sold out, according to a McLaren spokeswoman.
That response is similar to when McLaren debuted the $1 million Senna, which sold out before it was formally announced, according to McLaren. For a company that sells fewer than 3,500 cars annually, the margins for such extreme cars remain considerable. (So does the wait-time: Speedtail owners won’t see delivery until 2020.)
Which is to say the strategy is working: The Speedtail is the first of 18 new cars or derivatives to be announced under McLaren’s “Track25” business plan—the company’s grab at an additional £200 million per year, financed from deposits taken from customers willing to buy such expensive, extreme cars.
It’s also the latest move by the Woking, England-based company to enhance its stature in the luxury and lifestyle market. Although McLaren first gained prominence for its Formula 1 racing success—famed Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna competed under its marque—and then earned respect for the laboratory-precise driving characteristics and video-game styling of its production cars, McLaren has yet to achieve the level of interior comfort and entertainment and exterior fit and finish of the higher-end cars from Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mercedes-AMG, Bentley, and Aston Martin.
Buyers are in for a treat. The Speedtail is ultra-light (3,153 pounds) for its size, with an active suspension and lightweight carbon ceramic brakes that enhance its nimbleness and handling. It’s more powerful than the Senna and its F1 forebear, with a hybrid-electric powertrain that can reach 1,035bhp and a top speed of 250mph. It can get from zero-186mph in 12.8 seconds—four seconds faster than the P1.
That’s enough to indicate that McLaren might possibly break the current production car land-speed record of 277.87mph, which Koenigsegg set last year—though McLaren boss Mike Flewitt has said jumping into the fastest-car fray with Koenigsegg, Bugatti, and Hennessey isn’t an explicit goal. “These days, we prefer to let our customers set the records,” affirms the company.
Officially, at least, McLaren says the Speedtail is all about the joy of the open road. Its exterior style looks softer than those of previous McLarens, with a teardrop-shaped cockpit and an aerodynamic, all-carbon-fiber body. It’s both longer and narrower than the P1, with easy-to-open dihedral doors and retractable digital rear-view cameras in lieu of mirrors. The front splitter, diffuser, and side skirts are all finished in a special “titanium deposition” carbon fiber that is lighter and stronger than that of previous cars. The “Velocity Active Chassis Control” can lower the Speedtail by 1.4 inches, leaving its highest point just 3.7 feet from the road. Raising the car high enough to navigate steep driveways and speed bumps will be rather more difficult.
Hypercar Comfort Is Now a Thing
Inside, the Speedtail is clearly the most luxury-oriented model McLaren has made.
It features such creature comforts as electrochromic glass that darkens the top of the windshield at the touch of a button—removing the need for sun visors—and there’s actual luggage space in both nose and tail. Engine controls shine in polished aluminum and are set in panels above the driver’s head. That overhead control panel, as well as the gearshift paddles and steering wheel clasp, also uses a separate kind of highly refined carbon fiber made in partnership with watchmaker Richard Mille.
For further luxury, the McLaren Special Operations team can oblige with optional platinum or 18-carat white gold-and-carbon fiber badging and inlays, instead of the standard gloss-black on aluminum. (MSO exists to make special customized McLarens for the company’s most valued, wealthiest clients, such as the hunter-green Senna for mattress tycoon Michael Fuchs.) The badges, which come in a set of three, are cut in the U.K. by Vaughtons—the same 100-year-old company that makes the U.K.’s Olympic medals—and dramatically increase the cost of the car by at least £50,000. For those worried about the additional weight of a golden or platinum badge, a special, lacquered-on golden badge is available, too.
The three-seat layout is meant to enhance the overall driving enjoyment and feeling of splendor: The driver sits in the center of the cabin, achieving the most commanding view of the road possible, while a passenger sits on either side. The unconventional design emulates the seating position of a Formula 1 race car, seen previously in such sports cars as Ferrari’s ultra-rare 365P and items from more obscure automakers Aeon and Matra-Simca.
While extravagant, this isn’t the first time McLaren has put three-seats—or gold—into its cars: The F1 had three seats as well, and it famously used gold foil as a heat shield in the engine compartment. Production will begin by the end of next year.