Saturday 9 July 2022

McLaren Speedtail

Well, one can dream.

At the Wall Street Journal, "McLaren Speedtail: A $3 Million Zoom With a View":

Go ahead, yank. Give a squeeze. Imagine yourself strapped into this belt-high, $3-million hybrid hypercar, looking down the middle of that steep hood at your immediate and onrushing destiny. It’s a weathery June day in the south of England, with veils of rain and patchy sun along the M3 from the company’s headquarters in Woking, Surrey, to your lunch stop, near Portsmouth.

Fluffy sheep and fluffier clouds, green hills, stone walls. While you’re at it, imagine you weigh what you did in high school. The Speedtail’s steeply bolstered driver’s couch fits like ’70s-era Calvin Kleins.

This go-kart of the gods is officially the fastest McLaren yet (top speed 250 mph), and the most powerful (1,055 hp), hosting an AI-enhanced, twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 mated to a hybrid KERS system, seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and a torque-vectoring rear axle. The factory, usually conservative in these matters, says the Speedtail can accelerate from naught to 124 mph in 6.6 seconds and to 186 mph in 13 seconds—about the time it takes to read this sentence aloud.

Can you feel that?

Yet this is a case where the absurdity of performance—on what planet will anyone be driving at 250 mph?—takes itself out of critical consideration. Besides, if you go shopping among elite car builders, you (or your goony intermediaries) can acquire all sorts of instantly collectible, money-laundering hypercars with unbearable performance, including the Mercedes-AMG Project One, Aston Martin Valkyrie and Bugatti Chiron. But no other car can compete with this view.

The Speedtail completes a generational quartet of limited-edition, science-on-a-rampage hybrid hypercars from McLaren—the Ultimate Series—including the Senna, the Elva, and the P1. For enthusiasts, these cars represent the proverbial best of times. Each has its inimitable and historic bits for which collectors will pay handsomely in years to come.

The Speedtail’s immortal flex begins with the cockpit layout: the driver’s couch is in the center, flanked by two smaller seats, molded into the carbon-fiber/aluminum monocoque. The three-seat layout is a homage to the essential McLaren F1 sports racer of the 1990s. A way more comfortable homage, I might add.

As with the F1, the company limited Speedtail production to 106 examples—all built and delivered in 2020 and 2021. I’m sorry I’m only getting around to it now.

The center-seat experience is singular—solipsistic, even. In this car the driver’s perceptions sit in the middle of a spherical transparency, around which reality warps like the backgrounds of a first-person videogame. Fanning kinescopes of passing forests, hectic kaleidoscopes of council-owned agriculture, all lens around your POV in perfect symmetry.

The center-seat driver experience is singular—solipsistic, even

That. Is. Awesome! Having spent my driving life slightly askew, it seems, this sudden alignment of my somatic graviception and momentum vector-space was practically euphoric. This is the saddled symmetry of riding horseback, or on a motorcycle, or piloting a single-seat race car or fighter jet. Oh Maverick! Take me to the hangar!

Then there’s the way it looks. I’ve studied the matter closely: The Speedtail is the most beautiful of a generation of very, very fast cars built in the hyper-hybrid era, the sweetest and most lyrical derivation of Navier-Stokes since perhaps the 1930s—”beauty” here being aesthetic satisfaction uncompromised by extreme speed.

Generally, the faster a car is, the uglier. That collects the much-adored Aston Martin Valkyrie and Bugatti Chiron, among others. If not ugly then more cluttered with edges, blades, scoops and splitters, necessary to ensure stability at speeds where the angels fear to tread. And to look cool.

The Speedtail’s form is like a glass javelin, long and balanced and piercing at both ends. Much of the downforce is generated by the unseen underbody and (pressure) diffuser. Instead of a rear wing waggling on pneumatic pylons, movable aero elements are integrated into flexible sections of trailing-edge body work that bend up and down, reacting to control-loop calls for downforce and braking.

The flexi-bendy ailerons were not easy, said Andy Palmer, Vehicle Line Director, Ultimate Series. But to do otherwise would have been like spoiling the line of a good suit.

The plan was to race Mr. Palmer to lunch near Southampton—he in the second validation prototype (XP2) of the Speedtail and I in the XP5. If that wasn’t the plan, nobody told him. Soon the XP2’s exquisite, filamentary taillights disappeared in a towering gray rooster tail, boiling up from the car’s mighty underbody diffuser. Crikey, he’s leaving me.

But put your foot down and the Speedtail represents. Totes. In the time it took to zing the turbos three times—bu-bah-tweee, bu-bahhh-tweeee, bu-bahhhh-tweeeee—the Speedtail had closed in on the XP2 and I was flirting with extradition. It all happened so fast, officer. And so swimmingly.

Why aren’t there more such delightful cars, ask the rest of us? According to the feds, the Speedtail isn’t even road legal, on account of its center controls, camera-based wing mirrors and, I’m sure, other homologation issues. About one-third of Speedtails produced have been imported to the U.S. under what’s known as the show or display rule, which restricts annual odometer-registered mileage to 2,500 miles...

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