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Old 06-17-2013, 04:09 PM   #1
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The Supercar's Supercar - building the McLaren F1

Hoping this isn't a repost. Fantastic write-up by John Brooks at DrivingLine, original link here.

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The Supercar had arguably its finest hour during the final decade of the 20th Century. McLaren, dominant in Formula One at that time and spurred on by the presence of the Porsche 959 and the Ferrari F40, built the F1 – which most modern commentators still consider to be the ultimate expression of the Supercar genre.

Despite economic uncertainties that most of us experience on a daily basis, there has been a recent resurgence of the Supercar concept. Gracing last years Geneva Salon were LaFerrari, the McLaren P1 and the Lamborghini Veneno, all fine expressions of automotive excess and confidence. Looking back at their spiritual ancestor, the McLaren F1, now seems appropriate – if only to see how high the bar was set some 20 years ago.



The McLaren F1 had all the usual attributes of the select group known as SuperCars, stunning looks, out of this world performance and a stratospheric price tag. What set Woking’s finest apart from the opposition was not only excelling in those road bound attributes but also its stellar record on the racetrack, the pinnacle of which was outright victory at the 1995 Le Mans 24 Hours.



The McLaren F1 was not even the first road going sportscar the company had produced, that honour was taken by the McLaren M6GT which was a coupé based on the successful M6A Can-Am racer.



Designed and built in the late 60′s by the company’s founder, Bruce McLaren, the M6GT never entered production with only two examples built. The death in 1970 of McLaren while testing at Goodwood ended that initiative.



Good ideas often arise from a simple start and the McLaren F1 was no exception to this rule. A delayed flight at Milan’s Linate airport is hardly headline news, so the day after the 1988 Italian Grand Prix saw an impromptu meeting of McLaren bosses, Ron Dennis and Mansour Ojjeh, along with marketing man Creighton Brown and Gordon Murray, design genius and present Technical Director of the group. Murray had designed many winning Formula One cars but had always harboured ambitions to build a roadcar.



Murray’s desire fitted well with the vision of the future that Ron Dennis had for McLaren, he wanted to diversify the offering from purely racing and to apply the high standards of that activity to other fields. What had started as a “what if” in an airport lounge soon took on a life of its own. Murray had been the designer of the 1988 McLaren MP4/4 Honda that won every race that year bar one, ironically the Italian Grand Prix. After twenty years in Grand Prix Racing he was looking for a fresh challenge.



As the project developed the objective became clear, the car would be the best, most advanced car built, regardless of cost, it would reflect the values of the TAG-McLaren group in every aspect. “No compromise” would be the guiding principle.

The layout of the car was the first issue to be addressed and after much experimentation a central driving position was adopted. This answered many of the problems encountered with more conventional mid-engined designs and it would ensure the maximum impact when unveiled to the public.



Gull wing doors just added to the legend, another example of a no compromise approach. Reflecting the heritage of the TAG-McLaren group, the car would be constructed in carbon composite. Peter Stevens was brought on board to handle styling and aerodynamics.



The biggest question still remaining was what engine would the car use? For a number of reasons the desire was to have a V12 normally aspirated unit, producing at least 100bhp per litre. The list of those who were qualified to design and build such a unit was a short one – Ferrari, Honda and BMW. The Italians were ruled out, obviously, with the Japanese not keen to be involved, it left BMW.

Murray had a good history with Paul Rosche, chief engineer at BMW Motorsport during his time in F1, the two had won the World Championship in 1983 together. McLaren’s specification was accepted by BMW and the result came in the form of the 48 valve, 6 litre V12 producing over 600bhp. Now McLaren were ready to roll.



Every aspect of the car from transmission to suspension to electronics brought similar problems and forced the team building the F1 to push themselves even harder to answer the questions that this machine raised. Days and weeks rolled into one mass, but the launch continued approaching. On 28th May 1992 the car was presented to the world at the Sporting Club in Monte Carlo. The reaction was ecstatic, hardly surprising as this car was truly unlike anything seen before.



The production process got underway and cars were sold to those with deep enough pockets and a taste for the finest things in life. £640,000 would be sufficient moolah to secure one of these treasures. Despite this lottery winning figure there was considerable demand. Unlike almost every other car ever launched, McLaren only allowed one comprehensive road test by the press, Autocar being the lucky magazine. Their verdict was not a surprise.

“The McLaren F1 is the finest driving machine yet built for the public road. It possesses more performance than most of the cars racing at Le Mans this year, but that is almost incidental compared to its real achievement: containing such performance within a car without guile. A car that always inspires, never intimidates.”

Of course getting the car onto the road was only part of the story, the siren call of competition was next, a legend was about to be born.

The performance and specification of the McLaren F1 was clearly that of a racer built for the road. So it wouldn’t take much of a leap in imagination to see the vehicle in competitive environment, and of course there were already individuals wanting to race the McLaren at the tracks. While this path was directly contrary to the original plan of producing the ultimate road car, as the clamor increased McLaren had to accept the inevitable. As always with this organization, if their creation was going to be raced, it would be done properly. A roll cage was the first item to be added along with other safety related equipment but amazingly it was said that the 1995 spec F1 GTRs were around 90% comprised of the same parts as were found on the roadcar. Perhaps the motto would be “Drive on Monday, win on Sunday!”



As with so many other aspects of this amazing vehicle the F1 GTR’s timing was impeccable. Endurance prototype sportscar racing had disappeared from Europe and North America after 1992, a victim of insanely rising costs and scandalous political intrigue, the manufacturers had simply walked away. A year or so later, sensing a gap in the marketplace, Stephane Ratel, Patrick Peter and Jürgen Barth formed an alliance to bring the BPR Global Endurance GT Series into being. After a tentative start in 1994, things really got motoring the following season. The impact of the arrival of three McLarens on the grid in early March at Jerez in Southern Spain, proved to be a major factor in the rapid growth of the Series.

It was GT Racing in the traditional style with privateer teams and owners competing using road based racers and a mix of gentlemen and professionals behind the wheel. There was a serious attempt to create the right spirit in the paddock, with a cocktail party after Qualifying at every meeting, all very agreeable and sociable (no wonder I liked it so much). Ambiance was very much an important element to the BPR in 1995.



The initial field was a bit thin, but reinforcements were on the way, more McLarens in fact. The best news for Woking was the fact that the Gulf sponsored F1 GTR of Ray Bellm and Mauricio Sandro Sala took first place in the Jerez 4 Hours, making McLaren winners from day one.


Round two in France at Le Castellet saw more cars and attention from the media, but the result was the same, another win for the Gulf pair. The appetite of both competitors and fans had been whetted, the BPR grids swelled.

The third event at Monza saw another jump in numbers, the BPR Series was gaining traction with each round. There was another McLaren win, this time for Thomas Bscher and John Nielsen.



Jarama race drew another big crowd. Those present were privileged to witness another two McLarens on the grid, bringing the total to five. The tidal wave from McLaren was unstoppable, another win – four in a row in four hour events.



The BPR calendar was crazy in 1995 with another two races being squeezed into the pre-Le Mans schedule, Nürburgring and Donington. Both saw victories for McLaren, but up next was a test of a different magnitude. Another new F1 GTR joined the fray, backed by the Fayed family through their famous store, Harrods.



Those going before have shown that it takes up to three years of campaigning to win the Le Mans 24 Hours. Certainly no one comes along and wins in the first year! McLaren took no notice of that “truth” and beefed up the spec of the car, with no less than seven examples making the start. Unlike the races earlier in the year, the McLarens were also up against the much faster prototypes, so racecraft and meticulous preparation would come into play as well as flat out speed. The conditions, cold and wet almost from the start, negated some of the advantage for the prototypes. The fastest of these, a Courage C34 Porsche of Bob Wollek, Eric Helary and Mario Andretti, was delayed by six laps after the great American hit the wall avoiding a spinning GT. Would this slight window of advantage be enough?



The answer was just about. One by one the F1 GTRs were delayed themselves till the race came down to a straight fight between two McLarens – the Harrods example and the Ueno Clinic car. JJ Lehto in the latter car put in a drive that has passed into legend, clearly the fastest car on track during the worst of conditions. When the Harrods car was delayed by clutch problems, Lehto and his co-drivers, Masanori Sekiya and Yannick Dalmas took a famous victory with the Ueno Clinic F1 GTR. In fact McLaren finished 1-3-4-5-13 overall, with the missing cars retiring after accidents. It was a once in a lifetime performance.



To celebrate this enormous achievement, the company produced a run of five specials, known as the McLaren F1 LM. It was basically a road legal version of the car that had triumphed at Le Mans, arguably the ultimate sportscar that could be driven in public. With a weight reduction of 78 kilograms and an additional 60bhp on tap, it could comfortably outperform the “standard” F1.



After the euphoria of victory at Le Mans, there was the more mundane task of finishing the 1995 BPR season. There were two McLaren teams in contention for the title led by the early race winner, Gulf Oil sponsored F1 GTR of Ray Bellm and Maurizio Sandro Sala. Closing in fast was the Thomas Bscher and John Nielsen car which combined consistency with speed, and overtaking the pair in terms of pace was the Harrods McLaren now with ex-F1 driver, Olivier Grouillard joining sportscar ace, Andy Wallace.



As fine a pair of gentlemen drivers Bellm and Bscher were, they could not match the performance levels of the two pros in the yellow F1 GTR. So of the final five races after Le Mans, three were wrapped up by Grouillard and Wallace, in the Harrods McLaren, with the title going to Nielsen and Bscher as they outscored Bellm and Sandro Sala.



The McLaren F1 GTR had swept all before it during its debut season, winning 10 out of the 12 rounds of the BPR Global Challenge, and dominating at the race prized above all others, Les Vingt Quatre Heures du Mans. Truly for Woking 1995 was an Annus Mirabilis (“Year of Wonders” for those non-versed in Latin).



All of which would be a hard act to follow, but 1996 would see the F1 GTRs back and in winning form. There were two brand new cars at the Gulf-backed GTC Competition, a new livery and a new driver, James Weaver. Having narrowly lost the BPR title in 1995, they were anxious to make amends in the new season, Ray Bellm never took defeat easily and was soon racking up the miles tyre testing.



The 1996 edition of the F1 GTR was updated in light of the lessons learnt during the previous season, mainly to make the car more user-friendly – but there was also a diet that took 38 kilos off, plus a revised front splitter and aerodynamics. The two DRP run cars that had featured prominently in 1995 were updated also, so that as the season approached the ranks of McLarens were at full strength. And they would need to be, as factory efforts from Lotus and Viper were joining the numbers of those running in the BPR, and rumours came from Germany that a new Porsche was on the way…………….



BMW decided to get in on the act also, having merely a background role in the 1995 successes. They bought two cars for Team Bigazzi to campaign on their behalf, but in reality they were was a little late to the party. The advantage had shifted from Munich to Weissach……………….



Prior to the Le Mans 24 Hours, the first four rounds of the BPR went to the usual McLaren gang, on the surface the status quo prevailed. Still there were strong rumours about the latest Porsche, it would be a bit special or so it was whispered.

Porsche had been outraged in 1995 that their icon, the 911, was being soundly beaten by the upstart British marque – sportscar racing was Porsche territory and something must be done. Suggestions that increasing the power would solve the problem were soon discounted, what was needed was a mid-engined racer that could compete in all-around performance. The Great Man, Norbert Singer, who had been involved in every Porsche win at Le Mans, was tasked with sorting out this problem and restoring the natural order of things. His answer was the Porsche 911 GT1.



The front unibody and windscreen (derived from the then current model 911) was attached to a steel subframe. Behind that was a familiar motorsport-derived 3.6 litre twin turbo engine and a racing transmission. In reality the car was a proper racer, but there was a hitch. If it wanted to compete in BPR, a road going version had to be produced. This completely undermined the principles that BPR had hitherto been run on, ie. take a real road going GT and adapt it for the track – not the other way around. This would quickly prove to be the undoing of a very fine race series.



As might have been expected, the 911 GT1 appeared in time for Le Mans and was immediately over five seconds a lap faster than the F1 GTR squadron. So Woking’s teams were reduced from pace setters to “also rans”, left to hope that Porsche would suffer some sort of calamity on the way to victory.

That calamity actually happened. Porsche, with typical efficiency, had taken out an insurance policy in the form giving a pair of TWR Porsche WSC 95 prototypes to Reinhold Joest’s team to back up the 911’s in case of emergencies. Unfortunately they were faster than the new GTs and, with the great Joest team behind them, they beat the factory cars (a small consolation for the McLaren teams). While Porsche claimed the win as their own,everyone knew the cars were originally built by TWR and used during the 1992 Jaguar Group C programme.



After La Sarthe the fun and games really started. Porsche stepped up the pressure on the BPR to allow the 911 GT1 to race in the series. Jürgen Barth’s position was somewhat compromised with his dual roles and loyalties, being a race promoter with BPR and Customer Competition Manager with Porsche AG. The existing teams, especially those with McLarens, were still reeling from the drubbing they had received in France. They were adamant that the 911 should stay away from the BPR, it was not eligible they argued and was outside the spirit of the regulations.

As a temporary solution, and in order to not destroy the 1996 title race, eventually the Porsche was allowed to start but would not be able to score points. It was bordering on farce as all the parties tied themselves in knots trying to justify whatever position they favoured.



This turned into tragedy, when Soames Langton, a popular figure in the paddock and typical of the talented amateur driver that was the bedrock of the series, was badly injured in the penultimate round of the BPR at Nogaro. He sustained head injuries and never recovered.

There was already a truly poisonous atmosphere in the paddock, and with the addition of Langton’s injury, the BPR was as stuffed as the local geese before racers left that paddock in the South of France. So, McLaren, in the form of Bellm and Weaver’s Gulf sponsored car, took the title – but the dispute over the eligibility of the Porsche had destroyed the BRP. What would 1997 bring?



The problem of what to do in the wake of the acrimonious conclusion to the BPR Global Series was pressing. The obvious solution also became the answer to a number of other problems within international motorsport.

The FIA International Touring Car Championship had just imploded, a result of insane costs and little discernible return on investment. Alfa Romeo and Opel quit – leaving only Mercedes Benz, whom had a budget but nowhere to race. Bernie Ecclestone took a few minutes respite from running his Formula One empire and “suggested” to the the honchos who made up the management of BPR that they create a new GT series. This would accommodate most of their existing competitors and bring in others like, guess who, Mercedes Benz. Patrick Peter decided that he had seen enough of how the FIA did business and left to promote his own successful set of historic events. Stephane Ratel and Jürgen Barth threw themselves into the task with much enthusiasm, and soon we had the new FIA Championship for 1997.



The 1997 FIA GT Championship would be a major step up for all concerned from the BPR Global GT Series, with its spirit based in the gentlemen racer ethos. The new Championship would target hard-nosed factory teams with correspondingly high budgets. McLaren acquired BMW as a full partner for the third year of the F1 GTR race project. One of the more contentious rules introduced for 1997 was a requirement to have sold a road car version of the proposed racer at least one month before the start of the first race.

So the McLaren F1 GT was born, still based on a road car chassis it tried to answer the needs of the track more effectively than its predecessors. The “Longtail” featured body extensions for both front and rear that produced much more downforce and aerodynamic stability. After the single road car was completed, the racing versions were laid down for the list of customers. Without question it was one of the most elegant cars ever built, it looked just right from day one.

McLaren’s Gordon Murray explained the rational behind the 1997 evolution. “Porsche built a racing car and forced us to do it”, he was referring to the Long Tail. “But once the new Porsche had been admitted to the BPR races it was plain that the writing was on the wall. Our purebred road-going, production based cars with their long travel, high camber change suspension and limited downforce had been leapfrogged. We had to respond”.



McLaren commenced a new production run for the F1 GTR and chassis 19R to 28R were put into the construction pipeline. Four would end up at Team BMW Motorsport, run by Schnitzer Motorsport and was a full factory effort with additional sponsorship from oil company Fina. The drivers would be JJ Lehto and Steve Soper in one car and Peter Kox and Roberto Ravaglia in the other; Nelson Piquet and Eric Helary would join the line up for Le Mans.

Aside from growing the long tail, there was a substantial increase in the ground effects generating downforce without giving away too much in drag terms. The weight of the car was reduced down to 915 kilos, a loss of 98 kilos or a staggering 10%. BMW contributed their part by reducing the size of the engine to a fraction under 6 litres, thereby increasing the size of the engine air restrictors allowed. These were substantial performance upgrades and no effort was spared.



GTC Competition would run three of the new cars, one each for F1 GTR stalwarts, Ray Bellm and Thomas Bscher and the third that was effectively the McLaren works entry to be driven by Jean-Marc Gounon and Pierre-Henri Raphanel. The elegance of the silhouette combined with the beautiful livery is without question automotive art of the highest order.



Porsche argued that in 1996 they had obtained road type approval in Luxembourg for the 911 GT1 before commencing their racing campaign. They strongly maintained that a mid-engined configuration, and a longer wheelbase, were essential to make a steel monocoque 911 derivative competitive. Whatever the views held, the reality was that the 911 GT1 was a quantum leap over the original F1 GTR and that it was going racing, so stop complaining and deal with the situation. Well…McLaren dealt with it by creating the Long Tail.



Of course this forced Porsche to make revisions to their 911 GT1, now referred to as EVO, the spending war had commenced. The Werks squad planned to run a pair of the updated machines, plus they sold a whole bunch of EVOs to what were soon to become unhappy customer teams. The source of the Porsche purchasers’ discontent was the performance improvements of the other leading marques, in particular Mercedes and BMW/McLaren, they had spent a fortune to run somewhat off the pace. Frankly the customers were more than a little naive, the resources available to the two other German manufacturers dwarfed that of Porsche and as the saying runs in motorsport “You can’t beat cubic Bucks!”



AMG Mercedes Benz arrived from the defunct FIA ITCC to field two, then three, brand new CLK GTRs. It featured a carbon fibre tub built by Lola Composites, with a full competition suspension system all topped off by a 6 litre, V12 engine that was light and powerful. It was a purpose built racer without compromises. The AMG Mercedes outfit had an all star driver line up comprising Bernd Schneider, Alessandro Nannini, Alex Würz, Marcel Tiemann and Klaus Ludwig plus cameo appearances from the likes of Ralf Schumacher.


Viewed from the outside (or even the Media Centre) the Championship was capable of really going places, the reality was more than a little different from this rosy picture. As ever it was a dispute over the small print. The official yearbook from 1997 gives a definition of what a GT car was, presumably this was approved by the FIA prior to publication. I quote…

“A Grand Touring car is an open or closed automobile which has no more than one door on each side, has no more than four seats, is fully legal for road use and has been modified to ensure suitablity for speed races on circuits or closed courses. A GT car is a road car adapted for racing and not a racing car adapted for the road……….the car must be genuinely designed and built for use on the road. To ensure the validity of the rule the FIA further insists that all cars taking part in the GT Championship must be properly homologated for road use…”

Pretty clear then, even a simple soul like me can see that you take a road car and tune it up and go racing. Okay you might not take the base model food shopping, but you can see where the line is drawn. Or can you? In order to build a road car, even one destined primarily for the tracks, and get it homologated by the relevant authorities – there are certain choices that would not be taken if you were aiming to build a pure race car. Compromises forced by reality rather than actual choices.


There were other conditions to be met, as Gordon Murray described. “To comply with the regulations as written we had to build a new road car, sell one a month before the first race, have dealers, brochures and parts back-up for it. I went to Ron (Dennis) for a budget to do just that and actually started the wind tunnel programme before I’d got the go-ahead.” Without any fanfare, the FIA altered the regulation demanding full homologation prior to the start of the season, setting a deadline of the last day of the year instead. Utterly ridiculous, what sanctions would the FIA be able to apply to the likes of Mercedes Benz if the road car did not fully comply with the rules? Ask for the trophies back, re-bottle the Champagne? The change was justified by the FIA as it did not only help Stuttgart but also Panoz and Lotus whose own efforts were struggling and grid numbers were important. The bitterness that afflicted the final months of the BPR resurfaced and privately BMW decided that they would be off at the end of the season.

In case you are wondering why I am labouring this point, I will bring you the words of , Norbert Singer, who in his long career led Porsche to 16 Le Mans’ victories. His opinions are treated with the greatest of respect in this side of the sport. “The Mercedes underwent no homologation until the end of the 1997 season and it was very strong from the beginning. I was not happy about this. There were features on the race car that were not found on the road car homologated in December. Mercedes did not actually care about production and built the car it wanted to race…This is not what anyone had in mind for genuine GT cars and in reality Mercedes killed the GT1 category because they made things that were not suitable for the road. Our GT1, we were satisfied, was fully compliant with the spirit of the regulations.”

From this it is clear that the anger coming from Porsche and BMW was not as a result of ‘sour grapes’ but from the sense of injustice. Having built cars to a set of rules only to find that the rules are altered at a late stage handing a rival a clear advantage is a good method to drive manufacturers away. A very cunning plan indeed and one that succeeded.



1997 started well for McLaren and BMW with victories in the first three rounds while the AMG squad suffered minor problems, their obvious speed was ominous though. The Porsches were hampered by engine regulations that favoured big normally aspirated units and not the turbocharged six cylinder found in the GT1 EVO, and in addition they were concentrating their efforts on Le Mans. Other factory teams from Lotus and Panoz were not really on the pace, in reality it was a battle throughout the season between the Mercedes trio and the BMW Motorsport McLaren of JJ Lehto and Steve Soper.



The McLarens were not front runners at Le Mans and two of the GTC cars went up in flames during the event as a result of engine fires. The factory Porsche 911 pair dominated till failing early on Sunday Morning, victory almost in their grasp. First Bob Wollek crashed out while two laps up, then the sister car also went up in flames, leaving the Joest prototype to take a successive victory at La Sarthe.

[IMG]hhttp://www.drivingline.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/97FIAGTA1Ring_0041.jpgttp://[/IMG]

The FIA GT Championship continued with the title fight swinging backwards and forwards between AMG and BMW, given a particular edge by the late change to the homologation rules by the FIA. BMW were furious and remained resolved to quit at the end of the season. Not that it mattered by that stage, but AMG Mercedes did get a road going car registered in 1997, on 30th December I recall.



A late retirement at Sebring, the penultimate round, handed the titles to Stuttgart rather than Munich. On balance AMG had the faster car, but McLaren and BMW had pushed them all the way. It was a pity that there was rancour rather than respect, but the stakes were high and there were some colossal egos involved.



That was it for the factory involvement of McLaren and BMW in GT Racing, at least in the 20th Century. However there were a couple of notable results in 1998 from the two teams still running their privately-owned examples. Thomas Bscher and Geoff Lees defeated a good standard of entries to win the Monza 1000 Kilometres, the final international victory for the F1 GTR.



Perhaps even more remarkable was the fourth place overall for Steve O’Rourke, Tim Sugden and Bill Auberlen at Le Mans. Outdated by the development of factory teams from Porsche, Toyota, Nissan, BMW and Mercedes Benz, the F1 GTR ran without a fault while others failed or crashed out. It was, perhaps, a fitting conclusion to the story of McLaren and Le Mans.

As if that was not enough success in competition, there was one other record that McLaren snatched in 1998 – and that is when Andy Wallace was timed at 240.1 mph on the VW proving grounds at Ehra-Leissen, a world record speed for a production car.



The final numbers make interesting reading, McLaren produced 107 chassis, 7 were used as prototypes. There were just 64 F1 cars, 5 LM examples plus 2 GTs. 28 racecars were made, leaving a spare chassis, which I suspect has been used by now.

It is seemed unlikely that such a car, so at home on the road and so successful on the tracks, will ever be produced again, the spirit of this century is much less free than the last one. Anything as exuberant and almost hedonistic as the McLaren F1 will have an ever increasing section of the populace pursing their lips and being “offended”. Even the trio of hopefuls exhibited at the 2013 Geneva Salon will never have a competition pedigree to back up their SuperCar claims, they will remain incomplete. You would have to look back to the Ford GT40 or Ferrari 250 GTO to find a similar breadth of abilities and achievements.

As to the McLaren F1, a lucky few will own such a car, the rest of us will stare in awe at this work of art and dream……………..and hopefully get inspired.
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Old 06-17-2013, 04:41 PM   #2
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Old 06-17-2013, 04:51 PM   #3
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Didnt even notice that, but yeah it sums up the article quite well.
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Old 06-17-2013, 04:58 PM   #4
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I didn't even all of it but I think the write up by Gordon Murray was better.
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Old 06-17-2013, 04:59 PM   #5
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To this day, the NSX is still a car that is near and dear to my heart. I put 75,000 Km on my NSX over the course of six or seven years.


It's very difficult to discuss the NSX using current values and sensibilities. When the NSX debuted, the word "supercar" was still a relatively new idea in Europe. There are some who would say the Lamborghini Miura from the late 1960s was the first supercar. However, the truth is the explosion of modern supercars really started at the end of the 1980s.



At the end of the 80s was the time when McLaren Cars was conceiving the idea for the McLaren F1. To that end, I was concentrating on coming up with what I wanted in a road car.


To my thinking, the ideal car is one in which I could get in the driver's seat and be out for a drive in downtown London, and then want to continue straight on to southern France. A car that you can trust, with functional air conditioning, and retains daily drivability. No offset pedals allowed. No high dashboards restricting your view either. Having a low roof hitting your head every time you go over a bump in the name of aerodynamics and styling is out of the question. It is essential that a supercar be a pleasure to drive, and anything detracting from that must be excised.



I started by driving the cars known then as "supercars." The Porsche 959, Bugatti EB110, Ferrari F40, Jaguar XJ220. Unfortunately, none of these fit the pattern of the supercar we were trying to build. What we wanted was a relatively compact, usable driver's car. The Porsche 911 had the usability, but with the engine packed in the back, it had a weakness in its handling stability.


During this time, we were able to visit with Ayrton Senna (the late F1 Champion) and Honda's Tochigi Research Center. The visit related to the fact that at the time, McLaren's F1 Grand Prix cars were using Honda engines.


Coincidentally, I spotted an NSX prototype parked near the course. I also learned at the time that Ayrton was assisting in the development of the NSX. And that Honda rear mid-engined sports car--the NSX--was the friendly supercar that we had been looking for. This car had perfectly functional air conditioning, a reasonably roomy trunk, and of course, it was a Honda, with the high levels of quality and reliability that implies.
Then I had the opportunity to drive it. Along with Ron Dennis (President, McLaren Cars) and Mansour Ojjeh (Tag McLaren Group Representative), we drove the prototype on the Tochigi Research Center test course. I remember being moved, thinking, "It is remarkable how our vision comes through in this car."


Of course as you know, the engine has only six cylinders; however, the NSX's very rigid chassis is excellent and would easily be capable of handling more power. Although it's true I had thought it would have been better to put a larger engine, the moment I drove the "little" NSX, all the benchmark cars--Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini--I had been using as references in the development of my car vanished from my mind. Of course the car we would create, the McLaren F1, needed to be faster than the NSX, but the NSX's ride quality and handling would become our new design target.
When working on the development of a new car for years, it's easy to be caught in certain pitfalls. When you drive the car under development for testing every day (in truth, I was responsible for two-thirds of the testing for the McLaren F1), in that time, you can unknowingly convince yourself you are making progress when in fact you are not. For example, it's human nature that at the end of a long day you may want to think that your efforts to reduce low speed harshness are working better than they are. It is at times like this when you need a car to compare with. In those situations, the NSX time and again showed us the path in the areas of ride quality and handling, and also helped us recognize when we weren't making as much progress as we thought.



In my opinion, the NSX's most special quality has long been overlooked.
That could be summarized with the words, "The NSX's suspension is amazing."


Both the body and suspension are aluminum, and it probably couldn't be helped that journalists' attention has been focused on praising the aluminum body. However, the suspension is the much more impressive use of aluminum.


It's lightweight, tough, yet compliant. Also contributing to the refined NSX's handling and ride quality are 17 inch wheels and tires that are not overly large. The NSX's suspension is truly an ingenious system, and back then I imagined the development costs must have been enormous. To achieve that unparalleled accuracy and superior ride quality, longitudinal wheel movement is allowed via the use of a compliance pivot. (※)


(※) Compliance refers to when you travel over a bump, the tire experiences a longitudinal force, which the tire and suspension must move with and absorb the shock. The pivot couples the upper and lower arms. It is connected to the arms via ball joints so that they move as a unit. When encountering input, the pivot rotates, keeping alignment changes to near zero while retaining compliance (see diagram). The inspiration obtained from this NSX suspension system would later influence the development of the McLaren F1's suspension.


The NSX was also the first car to use DBW (Drive By Wire). It felt very pleasing. DBW is when instead of using a mechanical cable, an electronic signal is used to communicate throttle position. It achieved a very natural, linear feeling throttle, and I can now hide my embarrassment and confess that I copied the idea during the development of the McLaren F1 (laughs).
The low-slung NSX's driver's seat position also provided just the right head clearance and an amazing field of view. The NSX development team moved the air conditioning unit away from the dash and deep into the NSX's nose in order to obtain more space. That air conditioning unit is an excellent one, and normally, you don't notice whether it's on or not.


On the day I bought the NSX, I pressed the "Auto" button and since then until selling it, I never had to touch it. It was that perfect. Ah, I also remember the audio system as being very good.


However, the media wrote up the aluminum body, and the many merits and advantages I perceived in the NSX have largely been overlooked.



In my opinion, the NSX, while being such a great sports car, had two large flaws in it's marketing. First, at the time, the public was not ready to accept a Japanese car that was this expensive. The second is that for supercar customers, the power figures were not quite high enough. Of course, the prototype's engine was not bad, and soon the VTEC engine was added. Whenever I hear that VTEC sound it's amazing. I am repeating myself, but the NSX's excellent chassis would have been capable of handling much more power.


With just a slightly lower price, or possibly selling it with a different brand name and a different badge, or perhaps endowing it with atouch flashier and more aggressive styling and additional power, there is no question the NSX would have reigned as a cult star of the supercars.


However, during that time, in Honda's philosophy there was a resistance to large engines with many cylinders. I am not certain, but probably at the time, the voluntary restraint on power limits was a factor. Being a fan of Honda engines, I later went to Honda's Tochigi Research Center on two occasions and requested that they consider building for the McLaren F1 a 4.5 liter V10 or V12. I asked, I tried to persuade them, but in the end could not convince them to do it, and the McLaren F1 ended up equipped with a BMW engine.


The NSX's development costs must have been enormous. Everything on it is unique. The chassis, powertrain, even the air conditioning are peerless. That aluminum body was very expensive. The numerous hurdles overcome by the NSX to reach production in areas such as spot welding, corrosion, and repairability make it a monumental work in automotive history. The philosophy of creating a car for human beings is apparent throughout. If it were me, I probably would not have obsessed over the aluminum and would have settled for a steel structure with aluminum panels to try to achieve a similar weight reduction. But what I really want to emphasize is the suspension. It is a a groundbreaking use of aluminum.




There are a few things that could be improved on the NSX. First, the tires are too soft. Over the seven years I ran mine, I went through 14 sets of tires. After changing over to harder-compound Michelins in the rear, my tire life increased. As a result, rear grip was decreased slightly, but driving became more fun. The NSX's traction control and ABS are first generation systems and as a result are somewhat slow-acting. I also missed having more storage space in the interior. However, such things hardly seem significant in a sports car of this caliber.


The NSX is a landmark car. It awoke not only a lazy Ferrari, but Porsche as well and sparked advances in usability, ergonomics, and handling. It may not have achieved success from a marketing standpoint, but many influential and important people have owned them. The NSX is also unusual in that it continued to be on sale for so long. If I were to looking for that type of car now, I would--without a doubt--gladly own an NSX
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Old 06-17-2013, 05:27 PM   #6
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Yeah, you're not biased at all...

Thanks for your input.
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Old 06-17-2013, 05:41 PM   #7
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Yeah, you're not biased at all...

Thanks for your input.
The thing about Timpo is, he's an idiot.
You'll learn that soon to come.
But anyways, welcome to RS.
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Old 06-17-2013, 05:51 PM   #8
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Thanks, just moved to Vancouver and judging by this forum it seems to be a pretty cool community of enthusiasts.
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Old 06-17-2013, 10:16 PM   #9
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The thing about Timpo is, he's an idiot.
Yea I know I am.

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Old 06-18-2013, 07:37 AM   #10
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awesome, I love this car!
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Old 06-18-2013, 10:16 AM   #11
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+1 Best car ever... there will never be another.
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Old 06-18-2013, 10:51 AM   #12
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+1 Best car ever... there will never be another.
if only they made the P1 center-seated they can do it again.
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Old 06-18-2013, 12:29 PM   #13
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if only they made the P1 center-seated they can do it again.
I beg to differ. The P1 isn't nearly as impressive as F1.

When McLaren F1 first came out, nothing came close. F40, 959, Diablo, EB110, XJ220, etc...The McLaren F1 was in class of its own.
The design, technology, performance...and the price. Everything was different.

The P1? I don't know about that...LaFerrari, Koenigsegg, Veyron, Venom GT, there are many rivals.
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Old 06-18-2013, 03:40 PM   #14
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I still dont think there is any car I'd rather drive. The F1 is, IMO, the pinnacle of "pure" supercar.
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Old 06-18-2013, 06:44 PM   #15
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Man that is one fucking epic mustache.
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Old 06-18-2013, 08:55 PM   #16
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^ man, that is one ass huge accolade for honda engineering from one of the most admired car designer ever. He is spot on about honda, if they gave the nsx, 50-75hp more power, it would have been the ultimate supercar of that generation
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Old 06-18-2013, 09:01 PM   #17
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I still dont think there is any car I'd rather drive. The F1 is, IMO, the pinnacle of "pure" supercar.
I agree with you, however, I think the nsx was more impressive in the sense that the mclaren was built to be the purest supercar regardless of price. The nsx for less than 1 tenth the cost can perform at 90% of the mclaren. Awesome!
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Old 06-18-2013, 09:11 PM   #18
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Thanks, just moved to Vancouver and judging by this forum it seems to be a pretty cool community of enthusiasts.
We're all assholes.



Should come out to some of the meets one night. We're much cooler in person. Well, Ice Boy and originalhypa are, anyway.
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Old 06-19-2013, 12:18 AM   #19
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I agree with you, however, I think the nsx was more impressive in the sense that the mclaren was built to be the purest supercar regardless of price. The nsx for less than 1 tenth the cost can perform at 90% of the mclaren. Awesome!
Yeah, I don't know what defines "pure" sportscar. Mazda Miata and Lotus Elise definitely are pure sportscars.

McLaren F1 is more like exotic or supercar.
Unless your definition of "pure" sportscar is;

-6.1L V12 pushing 627hp with $1 million price tag
-391km/h topspeed and 0-60mph in 3.2 sec
-center cockpit 3 seater + custom made Kenwood sound system
-dry carbon monocoque body with butterfly doors
-full titanium exhaust and gold plated engine bay
etc...
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Old 06-19-2013, 12:34 PM   #20
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I agree with you, however, I think the nsx was more impressive in the sense that the mclaren was built to be the purest supercar regardless of price. The nsx for less than 1 tenth the cost can perform at 90% of the mclaren. Awesome!
Not a fan of that analogy, because very rarely is any car over $100k worth the premium. Look at the LF-A, then look at every performance car that costs less than it.

Hell, even on a smaller scale a Mustang 5.0 looks pretty good on a track against cars nearer the $100k price point.

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Yeah, I don't know what defines "pure" sportscar. Mazda Miata and Lotus Elise definitely are pure sportscars.

McLaren F1 is more like exotic or supercar
.
Unless your definition of "pure" sportscar is;

-6.1L V12 pushing 627hp with $1 million price tag
-391km/h topspeed and 0-60mph in 3.2 sec
-center cockpit 3 seater + custom made Kenwood sound system
-dry carbon monocoque body with butterfly doors
-full titanium exhaust and gold plated engine bay
etc...
Sportscar =/= Supercar

Where are you even getting this sportscar discussion from? Who here is even calling the F1 a sportscar?
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Old 06-19-2013, 03:58 PM   #21
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Sportscar =/= Supercar

Where are you even getting this sportscar discussion from? Who here is even calling the F1 a sportscar?


Welcome to the world according to Timpo. You'll learn to deal with his posts quickly enough.
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Old 06-19-2013, 06:55 PM   #22
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Where are you even getting this sportscar discussion from?
shit, I guess I read it wrong.

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