We’ve become desensitised to the stratospheric price tags of exotic new cars, so much so that when McLaren announced the figure for its new Elva roadster — £1.425 million ($2.55 million) plus taxes and options — it scarcely caused a ripple. Inspired by the fearsome McLaren-Elva sports racing cars that company founder Bruce McLaren designed in the 1960s, the new model will have a limited run of 399 units. Simple math tells you the extraordinary boost such cars can provide to a maker’s income, particularly when the quoted price is only for standard models. Many will be heavily tailored to the owners’ tastes by McLaren Special Operations, hence lifting the average price considerably.
Whether relatively high volume, such as the Ferrari Monza SP1 and SP2 twins, or wildly expensive one-offs, such as Bugatti’s La Voiture Noire (which sold for US$18.7 million), the limited-edition special has become a major part of almost every premium carmaker’s business. The Elva (the name was originally a pun on the French elle va, or “she goes”) is one of at least 20 new cars in the past few years with a price tag exceeding US$1.5 million.
The Elva is described as the lightest road car ever from the British carmaker. That’s thanks to the extensive use of carbon-fibre — and all things that aren’t there, such as a roof, windscreen and side windows. McLaren won’t yet provide a specific weight but lets on that Elva’s twin-turbo 608kW-V8 engine will power it to 100 km/h in under 3 seconds, and to 200 km/h in 6.7 seconds. The company’s design director Rob Melville says the mission was “to create an open-cockpit, two-seat roadster that delivers the most elemental of driving experiences”.
The Elva has been homologated for major markets, though in some countries, it will need to be fitted with a windscreen for road use. Not that that’s an issue for some buyers, who will merely park the vehicle at home, in the hope that the price will appreciate. And chances are, it will — several previous McLaren special editions are now worth considerably more than their original price.
The story is similar with the Sian coupe, Lamborghini’s first petrol-electric hybrid. The Italian company is making 63 examples — a number chosen because 1963 was its foundation year. Despite a price of US$3.6 million (ex-factory), every example was spoken for even before it was unveiled at September’s Frankfurt Motor Show. To heighten the exclusivity, the purchase of a Sian includes time with head designer Mitja Borkert at the Centro Stile design studio, who’s promised to work closely with each buyer to craft a “one-off jewel”.
“They will be like art cars, really unique pieces,” he tells us, pointing to adventurous choices of colours and colour zones, carbon-fibre finishes, metals, exotic materials and leathers. Borkert wants to go beyond that. He hopes that technology like 3D printing (used on certain parts of the Sian) will afford greater variation on higher-volume models. “People want character, they want something special on exclusive cars like the Lamborghini. Just imagine sitting here in eight or 10 years, and it is possible to be able to create fenders bespoke.”
Today, a unique “one-off” body is the ultimate expression of individuality for wealthy collectors and high-net-worth enthusiasts. Lamborghini, along with Ferrari, Rolls-Royce, Bugatti, Bentley and McLaren, have produced such vehicles. It usually happens with the head designer working closely with the client; during the golden days of coach-built cars, for instance, film director Roberto Rossellini had a special Ferrari built for his actress-wife Ingrid Bergman.
We spoke to Bugatti design director Achim Anscheidt at the launch of Divo, a restyled, low-volume version of the company’s principal model, the Chiron coupe. He said modification was technically challenging because so much of the Chiron’s componentry, including its 10 radiators, are just below the surface. There’s also the matter of packaging an enormous 8-litre W16 engine: “I think that’s what kept former generations at Bugatti away from coach building. But now… we’re launching into this idea of an even more exclusive type of car: tailormade for selected customers, very exquisite and exclusive.”
Furthering this exclusivity — just 40 examples of the Divo will be built — is new technology. The Divo is the first Bugatti to be entirely digitally designed, without a traditional clay model. Management examined it by walking around a virtual car wearing Hololens 3D glasses.
Another aspect of this new age of bespoke is a jump in the number of regular models by exotic carmakers. Two decades ago, Ferrari brought out one or two new models a year at most. Now, it announces them so often it’s hard to keep track. In 2019, it presented five new models — including the curvaceous Roma coupe — and has promised another 10 by 2022. It is the most frantic model activity in the company’s history, yet it is open about plans to increase production and prices substantially. For companies at the very top, the market for rare, unusual and bespoke is positively booming.
10 Multi-Million Dollar Cars You Can Try Getting Your Hands On (US$)
Bugatti La Voiture Noire $18.7 million / 1 unit
Rolls-Royce Sweptail $13 million / 1 unit
Bugatti Centodieci $8.9 million / 10 units
Bugatti Divo $5.8 million / 40 units
Ferrari SP275 RW Competizione $5 million / 1 unit
Lamborghini Sian FKP 37 $3.6 million / 63 units
Aston Martin Valkyrie $3.2 million / 150 units
Mercedes-AMG One $2.72 million / 275 units
McLaren Speedtail $2.25 million / 106 units
Ferrari Monza SP1/SP2 $1.75 million / 499 units
This story first appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of A Magazine.