Because the man has been gone for so long, sometimes it is easy to forget that there was a living, breathing man behind the iconic McLaren name.
And what a man he was.
Bruce McLaren, who was killed in a tragic testing accident at Goodwood in 1970, was a giant in the world of motorsports, a designer, an engineer, a driver and, most importantly, an innovator.
While most know the name from Formula One, McLaren was equally impressive and arguably more dominant in sports car racing. McLaren’s cars dominated the original Can-Am Series in the late 1960s and early 1970s with 56 wins and five consecutive championships (1967-71), two of which were won by McLaren himself. The zenith of McLaren’s dominance in the series came in the year prior to Bruce’s death, when the team won all 11 races. McLaren notched his second and final drivers’ title on the strength of six wins, with countryman and teammate Denny Hulme finishing in the runner-up position.
The run McLaren had in Can-Am was impressive, but ultimately short-lived. After McLaren’s the death, the company began to slowly move away from the sport, which disappeared completely following the 1974 season. The sport would be revived in the late-1970s with different cars and rules, but McLaren would never return.
Things have gone quite differently in Formula One, where McLaren continues to serve as a dominant, cornerstone constructor in the series with a tenure surpassed only by Ferrari. Since 1966, McLaren has amassed eight constructors’ championships, 12 drivers’ titles and more than 170 wins, with its most recent victory coming from Jenson Button in the opening race of the 2012 campaign.
With that much success on the race track, it isn’t surprising McLaren has ventured into the world of exotic, performance-oriented road cars. Perhaps the best-known of those street legal land rockets is the McLaren F1, an unapologetic fast and expensive – and rare, only 100 were built – car that held the title of the world’s fastest production car for nearly a decade (it’s top speed was about 242 miles per hour, with a zero to sixty time of about three seconds, in case you’re curious).
The production of the F1 ended in 1998, and although there have other cars since (such as the McLaren SLR, a joint venture with Mercedes Benz), the McLaren torch wasn’t officially passed, as it were, until the arrival of the MP4-12C, a mid-engined, rear-wheel drive machine powered by a 3.8 litre twin-turbo V8. The car is fully McLaren – designed, engineered and built.
The car was unveiled to the public in September 2009, and went on sale last year. In between those two dates, Pfaff Automotive Partners announced in August, 2010 that they would become the exclusive McLaren dealer in Canada.
Fast forward a year and a half and PRN, with a photographer in tow, paid a visit to the sparkling dealership, located north of Toronto in suburban Woodbridge, Ontario to get a closer look at McLaren’s latest track beast. Because we’d never been to a McLaren dealership before, we figured it would be a little out of the ordinary, due in no small part to the fact that it retails a $250,000-plus car, but we weren’t exactly sure what we were in for.
It turned out to be a memorable experience indeed. Despite being located in the heart of a busy auto mall, the dealership stands out. Somewhat smaller than the others- at least from the front- a small McLaren sign in the window let us know we were in the right place – Alain Prost’s red and white Marlboro-themed F1 race car helped somewhat in that regard too.
To tell us more about the MP4-12C and answer our many questions was McLaren Toronto Sales Executive Horst Bulau. If the name sounds familiar, it should. Before spending the better part of two decades selling exotic cars for Pfaff, Bulau was one of Canada’s greatest ski jumpers and competed in three Winter Olympics.
We quickly crossed the black tiled and walled showroom, which had exactly one car on display that wasn’t a race car (that would be the black beauty on these pages), and made our way to the rolling MP4-12C chassis. That’s right – McLaren Toronto allows prospective buyers to get a good look at the car under the skin before they put their money down.
Bulau met us ogling the naked 12C and began getting us up to speed on the many engineering marvels the car has.
“The obvious thing that you see is the tub (which McLaren calls the MonoCell), or the main part of the chassis, which is black and that is all carbon fibre. McLaren are the pioneers of this, they were the first ones to put a carbon fibre tub (chassis) in their Formula One car and then all of the other teams followed. They were the first ones,” he said.
“The other thing is the weight of it. That chassis itself weighs just under 190 pounds. So it’s super lightweight, super strong, more rigid than steel, and safer than steel. There’s a lot of history behind that and it makes this car very unique. To build this chassis at one time was taking hundreds of man hours to do. They’ve pioneered and patented a system that they can produce it in roughly four hours,” he continued.
“There are other supercars out there that have made carbon fibre chassis – Porsche Carrera GT, Ferrari Enzo – however those were limited-run cars so we are the first full-fledged production car to use this system. This is standard as part of our car, there is no upgrade to it,” Bulau said.
Impressive, but the one thing that really matters with a supercar is performance, so naturally we wanted to know more about the engine. We figured McLaren would have that area pretty well covered with this car, and we were right – this thing really goes.
“The engine is a 3.8 litre V8, twin-turbo that produces about 592 horsepower, 443 lb-ft. of torque, 80 percent of maximum torque is already engaged at roughly 2,000 rpm so you’ve got massive low-end torque and the redline on the car is about 8,500 rpm so there’s very strong pull throughout,” Bulau explained.
Eighty percent torque at 2,000 rpm? Talk about being propelled – owners of this car will probably never want to leave the track, given the fun potential with that much power on deck.
All that power is put to the ground via a Seamless Shift Gearbox, a seven-speed dual-clutch system manufactured by Italian transmission company, Graziano.
Day-to-day driveability is the one aspect of driving a supercar that usually suffers. Let’s face it, most cars in the supercar league are not going to be driven more than a handful of times per year by most owners, so if the car isn’t as much fun to drive on city streets as it is on a track like grand prix circuit at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (the former Mosport International Raceway), well then so be it.
McLaren, however, according to Bulau wanted a car that would be driveable, and the transmission aids that effort.
“It’s a wet clutch system, so it makes the shifts super smooth, they’re not as jerky as some of the dual clutches out there from other manufacturers which makes the car super driver-friendly on a day-to-day basis in the city with stop and go traffic,” Bulau said.
Helping to keep the car’s handling characteristics suited to specific types of driving environments, McLaren has equipped the 12C with the ProActive Chassis Control System, which allows the driver to choose from three different driving modes: Normal, Sport and Track. Instead of employing traditional anti-roll bars, the system utilizes hydraulically interconnected active dampers that the driver can control with a cockpit switch.
Bulau explained it (along with similar adjustment settings for gearbox) this way:
“We have two dials on the car where we can change handling and change performance. With our dials we can go from normal to sport to track modes. McLaren seems to like to call it Jekyl and Hyde type thing where if we leave everything in normal it’s really super driver friendly. If we go to sport we have a little more lively performance, if we go to sport on the handling side the suspension firms up. Then if we want to do some super spirited driving whether you’ve got a nice back road or if you’re actually going to go to the track, then we put it into track mode, which you want to get a little experience behind because the car does change dramatically- the suspension get very, very firm and it does everything that it’s supposed to do as a supercar should,” he said.
Bulau said that although cars were initially slow to start landing in Canada, the kinks are being worked out and if a customer wants a car itshouldn’t take any longer than the normal 3-6 month window.
McLaren intends to keep the MP4-12C strictly low volume – we were told production will not exceed 1,200 units worldwide in 2012 – but there are plans to build more over time. McLaren Toronto expects to deliver somewhere in the neighbourhood of 50 to 60 cars this year, but the figure could rise in the years to come.
Other McLaren models are on the horizon, too. Bulau said there are also plans to revive the F1 name, and details are expected to be revealed on that model later this year.
Based on what we saw and heard, the MP4-12C sure looks like a winner. A car that’s built for some serious track time, but is also refined enough to be driven around town on a daily basis, should its owner decide to make onlookers feel a little green with envy.
As Bulau told us, one of McLaren’s goals with this car was to distance itself from the notion that high performance has to come at the cost of driveability.
“People are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on these cars and if you can’t enjoy driving it, then sometimes the money may not be as well spent. It’s also just technology that’s helped to change things so that we can drive these cars on a day-to-day basis.”
That’s something we can all believe in. Now we just need to figure out a way to come up with a quarter of a million dollars to buy one. That might take a little time – or a winning lotto ticket.