In The Fast Lane

Up Close With McLaren’s Speedtail

It hit speeds of over 400 km/h.

Up Close With McLaren’s Speedtail

Rob Melville, a 41-year-old from Leeds in northern England, is beaming with pride as he walks us around his fastest and most expensive creation.

It’s a pre-production prototype of the McLaren Speedtail, a low and limousine-long “grand tourer” capable of carrying three people at speeds of over 400 km/h – and costing £2.2 million [British pounds], ex factory. To that you must add freight, local taxes and duties and the multitude of accessories and options most buyers will specify.

The head designer of the ambitious British supercar maker points out the unique features on this car, which is radically different from other models in the stable. “We don’t do the Russian doll system like some other car makers do,” says Melville. “We always seek to answer a question. The question in this case was: how can we create the world’s first three-seat hybrid grand luxury tourer.”

The Speedtail’s unique central driving position pays tribute to the ultra-rare McLaren F1 coupe of the 1990s, which is now one of the world’s most valuable collectors’ cars. But that was a car designed to be fast on a race circuit and Melville says this one is not. “It is about ultra low drag, sleek and seamless, high speed, effortless road touring, about being very lightweight but offering supreme comfort.”

A 1000-horspower-plus hybrid engine provides the power. Pop out cameras provide rear vision. The vast windscreen rises right over the top of the driver’s head, and the door glass wraps around to the centre line. The company’s distinctive lift-up “dihedral” doors are found on all their cars, but were originally designed to cut into the roof and give better access to a central driving seat.

Melville, says the unusual static wheel covers at the front are aerodynamic devices inspired by the group’s F1 technology. They have been left off the rear because they are less effective there, and make the car look too heavy. Flexible panels at the rear move upwards when required to create a wing and push the rear of the car down. The hinge for these so-called ailerons is a line of thinner carbon across the back of the huge one-piece rear bodywork. Melville admits this is “a very expensive solution” but enables visual and technical advantages for such a high-speed car.

The McLaren cars are like a family, Melville says. “They are brothers: the same skeletons, but different training. The Speedtail brother has trained for swimming, he’s the Olympic swimmer, long, lean elegant muscles.” He says the track-focused Senna, with its huge wings, is the Olympic sprinter, being brutal and track focused, while the more versatile but still very quick 720S Spyder would be the decathlete. “Their forms represent their character, we are trying to tell the visuals story of their function through their appearance.”

Andy Palmer, the company’s “vehicle line director” points out the Speedtail’s two luggage spaces – a tiny one in the front, a more generous one in the rear – and the car’s ten piece titanium 3D-printed tool kit made by Snap-On. We pick up a couple of the spanners and their lightness is extraordinary.

The first Speedtails will be delivered in January [2020] and Palmer says most customers are optioning their cars heavily. There is an almost unlimited list of colours, materials and finishes. It is possible, for example, to spend a six figure sum on solid 18 karat gold badges and instrument panel highlights, inlaid with carbon fibre. “Tick all the boxes and you spend £440,000 pounds extra,” says Palmer.

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