McLaren F1 Buying Guide

Give Gordon Murray a clean sheet of paper and you’re likely to end up with something spectacular. That’s exactly what happened with McLaren’s landmark F1. Here's how to bag a slice of history

How much to pay

• Project n/a • Good £7,000,000-£9,000,000 • Concours £10,000,000-£12,000,000 •

Overview

Practicality ★★
Running costs
Spares★★★★
DIY Friendly ★★
Investment ★★★★★
Desirability ★★★★★

Not often does a car create a whole new automotive segment, but the McLaren F1 did just that. Here was a machine that was quite obviously above and beyond anything that had gone before. The term ‘supercar’ was no longer sufficient, and the F1 therefore introduced us to the concept of the hypercar.

There is nothing else out there quite like an F1. Where subsequent hypercars – in particular the current generation – were ferociously complicated, the McLaren was remarkably straightforward and pure.

Ron Dennis and Mansour Ojjeh gave Gordon Murray completely free rein, from kitting out the nascent road-car company’s new base to hiring the team and designing and developing the F1. Everything had a bespoke touch, and it attracted owners such as George Harrison, Ralph Lauren and Rowan Atkinson.

This isn’t a standard ‘check here’ buying guide, simply because the F1 isn’t a standard car. More than 25 years after its launch, it remains an automotive milestone.

Your AutoClassics McLaren F1 inspection checklist

Engine

Murray was adamant about many things to do with the F1, among them being the stipulation that it had to have a normally aspirated engine. His relationship with BMW went all the way back to his days with the Brabham Grand Prix team, so it was only natural that he’d turn to the German company for his latest project.

Of vital importance was for the engine to be a free-revving unit, so BMW guru Paul Rosche came up with a 6.1-litre 60-degree V12. Almost everything about it was bespoke, lightened and balanced, with the result that it has virtually nothing in the way of inertia. To that end, Murray and Rosche decided to do away with a flywheel.

In his quest for everything to be as light as possible, the exhaust is made from Inconel, while the silencer is made from titanium. And, as every pub bore will tell you within seconds of an F1 being mentioned, the engine bay is lined with gold foil because of its heat-reflective properties.

While the big V12 is a reliable unit – changing the plugs is often all that’s needed to sort out one that’s running slightly rough – the bag-style fuel tank needs to be replaced every five years, which is a big and expensive job that involves removing the engine and gearbox.

Still, Murray really did think of everything: there’s a tool to remove the cap on the dry-sump oil tank so that you don’t burn your fingers, plus a cloth to wipe the dipstick and a McLaren glove to wear while you’re doing it!

Classic cars for sale now

Gearbox

The F1 features a bespoke six-speed manual gearbox, driving via a carbon clutch. Murray reasoned that Formula One cars used carbon clutches, so this should do the same. It will require checking every 6000 miles but might just need to be shimmed rather than replaced.

Even when the F1 was first developed into a racing car – a move to which Murray was initially vehemently opposed – they retained the road car’s synchromesh gearbox. When it was further modified into long-tail GT specification, however, an Xtrac sequential unit was used.

Suspension and brakes

Even though Murray dabbled with carbon brakes very early in the design process, they were rejected because of their poor low-temperature performance. Instead, iron brakes were used but the calipers are monobloc aluminium units designed for light weight and stiffness.

As you’d expect from a car as pure as the F1, there is no power assistance to either the brakes or the steering. Folk used to modern servos might therefore get a heart-stopping surprise the first time they gently brush the brake pedal. The balance is adjustable between front and rear.

The F1 was never intended to be a bone-shaking track car, and its suspension set-up makes it relatively comfortable on the road. Its wheels and spring mountings are made of magnesium, while the suspension arms and wishbones are machined from aluminium. The bill for a pair of rear wishbones will be comfortably into four figures.

Bodywork

Not since Colin Chapman had anybody been as obsessive about weight as Murray was with the F1 – his designers had to justify using any bolt larger than 10mm, as well the thicker of two types of washers that were available.

In order to further ‘add lightness’, carbon fibre was the obvious choice for the F1’s structure. Murray had experience of it from his Brabham days and McLaren had been the first team to construct a complete Formula One monocoque from the material, but using it in the F1 was another road-car first. There is no steel in the chassis structure at all – just a pair of structural aluminium castings in the main chassis members.

With his racing-car background, Murray acknowledged that he knew little of body engineering for road cars – seals, latches and suchlike – so Barry Lett came on board to help with that. Even the hinges for the front and rear closing panels are machined from aluminium.

In terms of styling, Murray’s friend Peter Stevens joined the team. The intention had simply been to ask Stevens to recommend one of his students from the Royal College of Art, but instead an inspired Stevens wanted to do it himself.

Murray nonetheless had a clear idea of what he wanted the car to look like and what its proportions would be. Also, he designed the F1 to benefit from ground-effect aerodynamics – another link to his glory days at Brabham, and yet another first on a road car.

Interior

When he first started the F1 project, Murray drove all of the contemporary supercars and poured scorn on the various compromises that journalists habitually dismiss as ‘character’ but which make a car almost impossible to live with. One of his biggest gripes was with their dreadful driving positions and non-existent visibility.

The F1 therefore received the central driving position for which it became famous. Either side, and slightly offset to keep overall width in check, are two seats that aren’t really seats at all – they comprise padding strategically applied to the sculpted monocoque.

Visibility is superb, with the dashboard intentionally kept as low as possible. To do that, a bespoke air-con unit was made that would heat or cool just the occupants – keeping it small enough to go into the car’s nose. Murray then approached Saint Gobain, which adapted the technology used for a fighter jet’s electrically heated canopy for use in the F1, and that took care of demisting the windscreen.

The F1 came with a luggage set that had the chassis number embossed on the handles. There was even a custom golf bag that could be strapped into the passenger seat, plus a complete toolkit – a lightweight one, of course.

Murray was fanatical about everything that you touched being top-quality, and also of avoiding injection-moulded plastic because he wanted everything to be hand-made. The instruments are therefore stainless-steel discs, while the needles are machined from aluminium.

History

  • 1992: F1 unveiled in Monaco
  • 1993: Jonathan Palmer records a top speed of 231mph in XP3 prototype
  • 1995: F1 GTR wins Le Mans at its first attempt
  • 1997: long-tail bodywork introduced
  • 1998: Andy Wallace achieves 240mph in XP5 prototype. Production ends after 106 F1s have been built, including racing cars and prototypes

AutoClassics say…

If you need to ask about the running costs of an F1, you can’t afford them. Annual maintenance will be well into five figures, but in a car worth £10,000,000 that’s unlikely to worry many owners.

Sixty-four standard roadgoing F1s were made, plus five 680bhp LMs – thinly disguised racing cars for the road that were built to celebrate (and replicate) the Le Mans-winning GTR. It’s also thought that eight long-tail GT road cars were sold in order to ‘homologate’ the bodywork for racing – McLaren’s answer to Porsche’s rule-stretching GT1.

Mileage, condition and provenance each play their part in dictating price, but at this level that’s really just fine-tuning. Each F1 is likely to have been cared for by McLaren itself throughout its life and will be well known to the company.

Everyone knows the F1’s headline figures – 627bhp, 0-100mph in 6.3sec, 240mph – but this car’s appeal goes well beyond those. It’s recognised as the ultimate vision of a design genius, and its status is only likely to grow yet further in the coming years.

Specifications

McLaren F1
  Power 627bhp
  Top speed 240mph
  0-60mph 3.2sec
  Economy 15mpg

Looking to buy a McLaren F1?

Have a look through the AutoClassics classifieds for your classic McLaren F1 for sale

Classic Cars for Sale