Test Drive Tuesday review #34: 1995 McLaren F1 LM
It’s easy to see why the McLaren F1 made such an impact on the automotive world and why it’s one of the most iconic cars ever made. 20 years ago, that car had around 600 hp for 1,000 kg, and a top speed of 231 mph. Two decades later, it’s hard to think of any car half as impressive.
Designed by Formula 1 guru Gordon Murray, it sported very advanced features, some of which were banned in motorsport: active aerodynamics,
fans sucking air from underneath the car, etc. It also proposed a new cockpit layout, allowing for three occupants while giving maximum visibility to the driver without compromising aerodynamics. Of course, it later went racing, and of course it was massively successful. It won Le Mans in 1995 against pure-blooded prototypes. So, when looking to build the ultimate iteration of the ultimate road car, McLaren took its inspiration from the racecar, giving a massive rear wing, magnesium wheel and no interior comfort to the stock F1. Amazingly, it was faster than the Le Mans winning car, because of the delete of air-restrictors that hampered the BMW V12. This truly ultimate car is the McLaren F1 LM.
If you’ve been reading my column for some time now, you’ll know how much I like to rant about this “race-car for the road” thing. I generally think it just makes the cars faster and harder to drive without fixing the normal road car issues: poor tires and brakes, and way too high gearing. The F1 LM doesn’t escape those issues. But it comes really close, and is perhaps the closest to a racecar a street legal vehicle can be this side of an Ariel Atom.
So yes it understeers, and doesn’t have the breaking power to go with its massive engine. Yes it can be annoying and frustrating at times. But it’s not all that bad. It’s way less of an issue than with something like the Zonda R, which isn’t even street legal. And the drive train isn’t any less amazing. The BMW-issued V12 doesn’t have the flamboyant howl of the Pagani, but it oozes character nonetheless. And, as is always the case with these big NA engines, the power delivery is very predictable, linear and usable. It’ll make the rear-end of the car wiggle exiting every corner, but the massive rear tires provide just enough grip to keep you on the road.
And unlike other fast road cars, it actually seems to enjoy being driven close to the limit, at least on corner exit. On entry, you have to be more careful, and load the front end so it turns but without blocking the wheels, which isn’t easy to do. But the car remains somewhat balanced, and driven at 90% of its limits, provides an enjoyable challenge. You’ll have to be seriously talented to go further than that without being frustrated by the front end. But on the way there, the car gives you plenty of feel and can get you to a nice flowing drive.
It’s not a nasty car, nor is it the sharpest of instruments. And I still can’t really see the point of driving a very fast road car, with all its limitations, on a race track. But the F1 LM is actually good fun to drive, fast and full of character. And I truly enjoy owning such a legend. I won’t drive it every day, but I’m sure I’ll come back to it regularly.
To find out how it did against all the other TDT cars, follow this link to the updated TDT Leaderboards: https://goo.gl/ATr6mF