2019 McLaren Speedtail… How do you follow a car of such reverence as the F1? With an attention to detail that borders on the obsessive. The result?
The McLaren Speedtail by Stuart Gallagher Twenty years after the last F1 was delivered, McLaren has revealed its successor. It’s called the Speedtail and it’s the most extraordinary car yet to emerge from modern-era Woking.
If I had the first idea about music I’d shoehorn in a ‘tricky second album’ analogy right about now. But seeing as my audio tastes start and stop at Test Match Special I’m a bit stuck. So here is McLaren’s replacement for the F1. A car McLaren owners and fans have been waiting two decades for and a car that redefines today’s hypercars.
As per the original, this is a money-no-object (within reason), no-compromise automobile that reinvents a genre and, perhaps, will once again make the establishment wake from its slumber and understand that at the higher echelons of the automotive world a ‘that will do’ approach isn’t an option. Neither is an SUV.
Twenty years ago the last F1 was produced, the project cut short due to a financial climate in which spending $1 million on a car left an uneasy feeling. Twenty years later McLaren has started the journey that will see the F1’s true successor arrive in less than 18 months’ time with a price starting from £1.75 million (plus tax).
The Speedtail is only the second McLaren to get a name rather than a letter-and-number identifier and it comes from the Ultimate Series stable, where at one end sits the Senna and the Senna GTR, in the middle will be the successor to the P1 (due before the end of 2025), and parked at the opposite end to the Senna will be the Speedtail.
What, then, is the Speedtail exactly? It’s a hyper-GT car that will also be the most powerful and fastest McLaren to date. It looks like it’s landed from an episode of The Jetsons.
While the next P1 will, like the original, be McLaren’s pioneer car and the model that sets out what we can expect in terms of design, performance and technology from the brand going forward, and the Senna remains McLaren’s ultimate expression of a track car – or ultimate, ultimate if we’re talking about the track-only GTR model – the Speedtail is the ultimate road car. It is everything McLaren Automotive knows distilled into an elegant design that cloaks an unapologetic level of performance.
Normally at this stage of a new McLaren’s reveal the car in question is only a few months of final calibration away from production. That’s not the case with the Speedtail. The Speedtail Silver car pictured here is a working example and representative of the finished article, give or take a shutline or two. It can move under its own power (although max-speed runs are probably a step too far today) and features every function and design detail that will make its way onto the final production cars. There are also two development mules, one affectionately called Albert after the original Ultima-based F1 test car. Today McLaren has its own models to build its mules from, so a couple of 720Ss have had their rear decks stretched and a three-seat driving layout fitted.
What McLaren is offering in terms of detail is the following. The 4-litre turbocharged V8 petrol engine will be assisted by an electric motor fed by a battery that will be induction charged. Drive will be to the rear wheels, which will need to manage 1050 PS (1036bhp in evo money) and a 0-300kph (186mph) time of 12.8sec. To save you looking it up, that’s 3.7sec quicker than a P1, a car that we’ve yet to find anyone step from and say it felt a bit tardy.
When it comes to top speed the Speedtail will reach 250mph – 10mph more than the McLaren F1 achieved – although this is a minimum figure because work with Pirelli on a bespoke tyre is still in the early stages. ‘We need a tyre that has enough sidewall compliance for the Speedtail to deliver on its GT credentials, but will still be capable of 403kph,’ explains Andy Palmer, vehicle line director for McLaren’s Ultimate Series cars. (The pictured car is fitted with Pirelli P Zeros measuring 235/35 ZR20 front, 315/30 ZR21 rear.) Bugatti and Michelin might want to book some track time next year. Like the Bugatti, to reach the Speedtail’s top speed you will need to select a different driving mode – ‘Velocity’ mode in McLaren speak – which also lowers the car 35mm and retracts the ‘door mirrors’. More on those later.
Those numbers only tell part of the story. So much of the Speedtail and its goals lie in its design and the way it looks. ‘When designing the Speedtail we designed everything for a reason,’ explains Rob Melville, McLaren’s design director. ‘To achieve what we wanted we had a number of design pillars to work to: using the right materials were key, it had to be light but it also had to be functional. There had to be no excess on the car. With the Senna we had a purpose – it was a car always designed for the track so downforce was a priority. With Speedtail top speed, acceleration and comfort were our primary focus so we needed a clean design, the cleanest possible. It meant we had to rethink how we approached previous areas of McLaren design.
‘We needed the design to be very functional; to deliver the target speed every area of the car has to have a function. But it also had to have a level of engagement beyond anything we have produced before. We had to be brave every step of the way to achieve our goals. We had to take risks.’
Melville and his team certainly did that. As you’d expect, the Speedtail is low – in its lowest setting the highest point is just 1.1 metres off the ground – and at 5.2 metres long we’re talking long-wheelbase S-class in length. But it’s well proportioned with a hip-high roofline and hammerhead nose that has the appearance of a smoothed-over 720S front end; the cuts, slashes and scoops appearing to have been filled in with liquid carbonfibre. There are narrow LED headlights, while the upright DRLs are positioned on the leading edges of the nose and incorporate a pair of air curtains that draw air in, along and out under the doors and down the side of the car as smoothly and cleanly as possible. The front is low and broad-shouldered to punch that initial hole in the air.
The teardrop-shaped cockpit is made from four single pieces of glass – one for the windscreen, which curves up to form part of the roof, a piece each for both doors, and a single curved section that tapers into the engine cover. The technology employed in the glasshouse has allowed McLaren to remove much of the visual roof bars, further improving airflow over the body. The side windows also double up as the top half of the doors, allowing the removal of the carbon door frames.
Manufactured from Thin-Ply Technology Carbon (TPTC), the material is just 30-microns deep and was developed in conjunction with a watch manufacturer and allows the surface to be milled to an unheard-of precision for a car. Combined with Titanium Deposition Carbon Fibre (TDCF), a material that has just 1000 fibres per thread rather than the usual 3000, has allowed more intricate and lighter bodywork to be produced.
Just three pieces of carbon make up the rear of the car, two of which are the largest single-form pieces of the material fitted to a production car, and were instrumental in allowing Melville and his team to create the Speedtail’s remarkable look. The result is a cross between the car we all drew as an eight-year- old when asked to think what the future holds, mixed with the elegance of pre-war streamliner racers.
For a car with so few overt design details it’s hard to pull yourself away from it because what details are there take a while to get your head around. There are, for example, no door mirrors – not because it’s so early in the project’s life but because McLaren will use a digital mirror system: a wide-angle camera glides out from each door and relays the image it captures onto a small screen on the corresponding side of the cockpit. When you select Velocity mode the cameras retract to reduce drag.
You’ll notice there are no aerodynamic wings, either, partly because of the associated drag, but also because a car with the Speedtail’s performance only requires an element of aerodynamic assistance to keep it the right way up. There are, however, two hydraulically actuated ailerons on the trailing edge of the rear clamshell that are formed in flexible carbon and trim the aero as required. And those front wheel covers? They’re fixed items manufactured from carbonfibre, secured to the hub through the wheel, with barely millimetres of clearance between the inner face of the disc and the wheel. They’re only on the front because there was minimal benefit to be gained by fitting them to the rear wheels. Behind the forged wheels are the same carbon-ceramic brakes as fitted to the Senna.
Beneath the carbon body is a new MonoCell with lower sills and no upper door frames or roof bracing. The wheelbase is 50mm longer than the 2670mm of the 720S, with the additional space freed for battery storage between the passenger cell and engine. The two passenger seats either side of the central driver’s seat are integrated into the carbon tub. There’s also a new front bulkhead to accommodate the central driving position, and unlike the F1 the driver can enter or exit through either door, as there’s no gearlever in the way.
In addition to the ‘mirror’ screens, occupants are presented with three TFT displays – one directly ahead of the driver for the instruments, with one either side angled in for the infotainment and navigation systems. There are a handful of switches on the roof, including controls for the gearbox and driving modes, and like the Kenwood CD player in the F1, the Speedtail has a bespoke Bowers & Wilkins system that’s designed to maximise the central driving position. And there are no sun visors: instead the four glass panels are fitted with electro-chromatic technology to change their tint at the touch of a button.
Personalisation plays a big part in the Speedtail’s DNA and McLaren has developed plenty of ways to feed customers’ needs to be individual, such as titanium-fused carbonfibre that can be colour-coded to your requirements. Such are the opportunities to personalise your Speedtail that this example has £450,000 of options fitted to it. That’s two 720Ss in options; we’ll just let that sink in.
With only 106 Speedtails destined to be built (once McLaren has finished the run of Senna GTRs, which it can’t start until the last Senna is delivered later this year) the chances of seeing one in the flesh are thin on the ground, although McLaren owners do appear to enjoy their cars more than owners of rival products. Even so, a car costing this much and chasing a top speed that holds little relevance to so many should be considered a total folly. And yet it’s not. Just as Bugatti’s Chiron, the Koenigsegg One:1 and Aston Martin’s Valkyrie represent the very best each has to offer, the Speedtail is the ultimate expression of McLaren’s pioneering spirit. Just like the F1.
“THIS SPEEDTAIL HAS £450.000 OF EXTRAS. THAT’S TWO 720SS IN OPTIONS”
Above: narrow LED headlights neighbour DRLs and air intakes. Right: teardrop cockpit formed from four pieces of glass. Left: flexible carbon ailerons trimaero as required. Right: front wheel hubs hide carbon brakes-shared with the Senna.
‘THIS SPEEDTAIL HAS £450K OF EXTRAS. THAT’S 720SS IN OPTIONS’
HOW THE SPEEDTAIL COMPARES
|Engine||V8, 3999cc, twin-turbo, electric motor||V8, 3799cc, twin-turbo, electric motor||V12, 6064cc|
|Max Power||1036bhp||903bhp @ 7500rpm||627bhp @ 7500rpm|
|Max Torque||1000Ib ft (est)||664lb ft @ 4000rpm||479lb ft @ 4000-7000rpm|