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CATEGORIES (articles) > Cars we emulate > McLaren > McLaren F1 History

McLaren F1 History

McLaren F1
Manufacturer: McLaren Cars

For the Formula One team, see McLaren

The McLaren F1 is a supercar engineered and produced by McLaren Cars, a British company subsidiary of the McLaren Group that, among others, owns the McLaren Mercedes Formula One team. The car features a 6.1-litre 60° V12 BMW V12 engine and it was conceived as an exercise in creating what its designers hoped would be considered the ultimate road car. Only 107 cars were manufactured, 64 of those were street versions, 5 were LMs, 3 were GTs and the rest were GTR models. Production began in 1994 and ended in 1998.

The McLaren F1 was the fastest production car ever built (having achieved a top speed of 240.14 mph, 386.5 km/h) until surpassed in 2005 by the Koenigsegg CCR, and then the Bugatti Veyron a few weeks later.

The concept

Chief engineer Gordon Murray's design concept was a common one among designers of high-performance cars: low weight and high power. This was achieved through use of high-tech and expensive materials like carbon fiber, titanium, gold and magnesium. The F1 was the first production car to use a carbon-fiber monocoque.

A pair of Ultima MK3 kit cars, chassis numbers 12 and 13, the last two MK3s, were used as "mules" to test various components and concepts before the first cars were built. Number 12 was used to test the gearbox with a 7.4 litre Chevrolet V8 to mimic the torque of the BMW V12, plus various other components like the seats and the brakes. Number 13 was the test of the V12, plus exhaust and cooling system. When McLaren was done with the cars they destroyed both of them to keep away the specialist magazines and because they did not want the car to be associated with "kit cars".

The car was first unveiled at a launch show on May 1992, the original prototype (XP1) remained the same as the production version except the wing mirror which was mounted at the top sill of the door which was deemed not road legal as there were no indicators at the front, McLaren was forced to make changes on the car as a result. The original wing mirrors also incorporated a pair of indicators which car manufacturers as well as an aftermarket company would adopt several years later. The car's safety levels were first proved, when during a testing in Nambia in April 1993, a test driver wearing just shorts and t-shirt hit a rock and rolled the first prototype car several times. The driver managed to escape unscathed. Later in the year, the second prototype (XP2) was especially built for crashtesting and passed with the front wheelwell untouched.

The engine

Murray insisted that the engine for this car be normally-aspirated to increase reliability and driver control. Turbochargers and superchargers increase power but they increase complexity and can decrease reliability as well as the ability of the driver to maintain maximum control of the engine. BMW's motorsport division BMW M custom-built a 6.1 L (6064 cc) 60-degree V12 BMW S70B56 engine with aluminum alloy block and head, 86 mm x 87 mm bore/stroke, quad overhead camshafts for maximum flexibility of control over the four valves/cylinder and chain drive for the camshafts for maximum reliability. The resulting engine was slightly heavier than Murray had originally specified but also considerably more powerful.

The McLaren F1's engine compartment contains the mid-mounted BMW S70B56 engine and uses gold foil as a heat shield in the exhaust compartment.

The carbon fiber body panels and monocoque required significant heat insulation in the engine compartment and so Murray's solution was to coat the engine bay with the most efficient heat-reflector: gold foil. Approximately 25 g (0.8 ounce) of gold was used in each car.

The road version used a compression ratio of 11:1 to produce 627 hp at 7400 rpm. Torque output 479 ft·lbf (650 N·m) at 5600 rpm. Other, more highly tuned, incarnations of the F1 produced up to 680 hp. The engine has a redline and rev limiter at 7500 rpm.

From 1998 to 1999, the Le Mans winning BMW V12 sports car used a similar S70B56 engine.


There is some disagreement on the topic of power output. Most sources, including McLaren themselves, report output at "627 horsepower". However, it is unclear whether this is metric horsepower (often represented as "PS" from the German Pferdestärke) or imperial horsepower. Since the McLaren's engine was built by BMW, either unit could have been used - European carmakers tend to measure output in metric horsepower while their British counterparts tend to use Imperial horsepower. Therefore, the German company BMW may have used either measurement for an engine to be delivered to British company McLaren. The kilowatt (kW) is sometimes used as a reference, as it is unambiguous, but in the case of the McLaren, output in kilowatts has been given as both 461 kW (equivalent to 627 PS or 618 hp) and 468 kW (equivalent to 636 PS or 627 hp) - thus the various quotes of horsepower output given as 618, 627 or 636 horsepower.


The car may have been relatively small, but its performance was not. With a 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) time of 3.1 seconds and an official top speed of 240.14 mph (386.4 km/h), although without catalytic converters fitted, the F1 remains one of the fastest "production" cars ever made.

While most car manufacturers rate their cars in terms of raw engine power, in terms of overall performance (acceleration, braking, grip and handling) a car's weight is a more important factor. The power:weight ratio is a better way to quantify performance than the power of the engine. By this measure, the F1 is one of the most powerful production cars ever made. The F1 achieves 550 hp/ton, or just 4 lb/hp, while the Enzo (even with its significantly higher raw output) lags behind the F1 at 481.75 hp/ton (4.6 lb/hp) due to its greater weight.

  • 0-60 mph 3.2 s
  • 0-100 mph 6.3 s
  • 0-200 mph 28 s
The Mclaren F1 has a top speed of 231 mph, restricted by the rev limiter at 7500 rpm.

The true top speed of the Mclaren F1 was reached on the 31th of March, 1998 by the five-year-old XP5 prototype. Andy Wallace piloted it down the 9 km straight at Volkswagen's Ehra test track in Wolfsburg, Germany, setting a new world record of 391.1 km/h (243 mph) at 7800 rpm. As Mario Andretti noted in a comparison test, the F1 is fully capable of pulling a seventh gear, thus with a higher gear ratio or a seventh gear the Mclaren F1 would probably be able to reach an even greater top speed (something which can also be observed by noticing that the top speed was reached at 7800 RPM while the peak power is reached at 7400 RPM).

Record claims

The title of "world's fastest production road car" is constantly in contention, especially because the term "production car" is not always well defined by the media. Critics of the F1 will point to the relatively tiny number of cars produced and the extremely high price and contend that a car available to so few is hardly a "production car".

Callaway's Sledgehammer Corvette, the road going version of the Dauer-Porsche 962 (winner of the 1994 24 hours of Le Mans as a GT) and most recently a version of the 911 Turbo produced by German tuner 9FF have all proven in testing that they're capable of top speeds matching or in excess of 240 mph, although none of them are considered production cars, and hence cannot displace the McLaren's "record". More recently, the Koenigsegg CCR recorded a speed of 388 km/h (241 mph), a record which has in turn been shattered by the Bugatti Veyron, with a top speed of 407 km/h (253 mph), although Koenigsegg hit back with the CCX, apparently capable of 250 mph (Bugatti Veyron is still faster). Both of these are considered to be production cars, and have therefore each beaten the McLaren's record.

As a sidenote, the 962 as well as the turbocharged version of Saleen's S7 and RUF's Rt 12 can hit 60 miles per hour in 3.2 seconds or less, meaning that even where certain cars (the Saleen and RUF) can't break the McLaren's top speed, they are capable of matching or beating its 0-60 time.

In response to this, however, designer Gordon Murray has repeatedly stated, usually in his column in Evo Magazine, that the F1 was never meant to break records, but rather perform as the ultimate driver's car, which it has done. The Autocar magazine also stated in their review (Autocar is the only car magazine who has ever done a road tes

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