The stunning new McLaren has self-tinting electrochromic glass, airplane ailerons at the rear and your name woven into the carbon fibre body. Only 106 will be made – and they've already been sold
By Alistair Charlton
Almost two years since McLaren said it would revisit the three-seat layout of the legendary F1, its successor, the Speedtail, has finally been revealed. The hybrid hypercar is the company’s first so-called “Hyper GT" and marries over 1,000hp and a 250mph top speed with a host of technical innovations.
The car is priced from £1.75 million (plus tax) and a total of 106 will be built – the same as the F1 from the Nineties. But it’s no use reaching for your wallet now, as they have already been sold, such is the hunger of today’s hypercar market.
What those lucky (and very wealthy) buyers will get for their money when the first deliveries begin in early-2020 is the fastest McLaren ever made. It is also the longest and most aerodynamically efficient roadcar to leave the Woking factory, with a tail which appears to swoop down in one continuous dive from the top of the windscreen to the pointed end of the rear deck.
The car’s unusual stance and long tail give it the profile of a 1980s Group C race car, a look further emphasised by the front wheel covers, which remain static when the car is in motion to reduce turbulence around the wheel arches and help keep air closer to the car, where it can be fed neatly into the radiators.
McLaren’s pursuit of aerodynamic slipperiness is seen in every curve and crevice of the Speedtail’s design, from the smooth nose and deep splitter, to a pair of ailerons on the rear deck.
Similar to what you’d find on the trailing edge of an aeroplane wing, these panels are made from flexible carbon fibre, a material patented by McLaren, which allows the ailerons to move up and down, stabilising and braking the car as required, but without any turbulence-causing panel gaps. They are invisible when folded flat, yet appear a rigid part of the car’s shape when elevated.
The Speedtail uses cameras instead of conventional wing mirrors, each streaming their high-definition view to a pair of dashboard screens. The cameras retract when the car is parked, but can also be tucked away to help the Speedtail reach its 250mph top speed.
All this may seem a lot of effort to give the Speedtail a top speed just 7mph greater than that of the McLaren F1, built in 1993. One could perhaps question if McLaren is sandbagging for now, and the car’s true top speed – like that of the Bugatti Chiron – is not yet known.
However, what is clear is just how different the Speedtail looks to the rest of McLaren’s vehicles – a lineup often accused of sticking too close to the shared house style. The Speedtail is a smooth, droplet-shaped tonic to the edgy, brutalist Senna. Both cars are equally purposeful, but where the Senna is about lapping circuits as quickly as possible while still wearing number plates, McLaren's goal for the Speedtail’s is for a driver and two passengers to cover ground quickly and comfortably. There’s even space for McLaren’s luggage set in the nose and tail – tailored to match your choice of interior, naturally.
There are reminders of the 720S and 675LT in the Speedtail’s nose and headlights, while the driver’s seat and small window apertures could almost have been lifted directly from the F1.
McLaren Automotive chief executive Mike Flewitt describes the car’s shape as being “reminiscent of sleek ‘streamliners’ that once set world speed records”. Flewitt says: “As our first Hyper-GT, the Speedtail is the ultimate McLaren road car; a fusion of art and science that combines an astonishing maximum speed with an iconic central driving position and a pioneering approach to bespoke personalisation.”
To keep the weight down to a claimed 1,430kg without fluids, McLaren is of course building much of the Speedtail from carbon fibre, this time wrapped around a bespoke version of the firm’s Monocage chassis.
The use of carbon extends to the interior, but unlike the carbon used by rivals Ferrari and Lamborghini, McLaren has opted for Thin-Ply Technology Carbon Fibre (TPT), produced in collaboration with Swiss watchmaker Richard Mille and a world-first for the automotive sector.
This material sees layers of 30-micron thick carbon built up, then milled to expose a shimmering construction with a flowing, high-gloss finish. This material is used most obviously on the steering wheel and overhead controls, but also features on the nose badge, for which ostentatious buyers can choose to have McLaren spelled out in solid gold.
Another material making its debut is 1K Titanium Deposition Carbon Fibre. Used by the Speedtail’s front splitter and rear diffuser, the material sees a micron-thin layer of anodised titanium fused into the weave of carbon fibre, becoming integral to its construction. This process allows for unique patterns – like images, words, or symbols – to be woven into the carbon, and in any colour the buyer specifies.
The car’s three seats, arranged with the driver in the middle and their passengers flanking slightly behind, are developed by the Bridge of Weir Leather Company, their material has had its density and weight cut by 30 per cent by infusing air beneath the surface during the manufacturing process.
More weight-saving is found in the Speedtail’s lack of sun visors. Instead, the top portion of the windscreen is made from electrochromic glass which can be tinted at the touch of a button. This glass is also featured in the car’s roof panel, the tops of the vertically opening doors, and the rear quarterlights.
The dashboard curves around the driver and features a central digital display flanked by a pair of large touch screens, replacing most of the car’s physical infotainment controls. In the roof there are gear selection buttons for the paddle-operated semi-automatic gearbox, dials for the car’s traction and stability control systems, the engine ignition, and switches to operate the windows and powered doors.
Although McLaren is keeping the engine’s specification a secret for now, we know the Speedtail is powered by a petrol-electric hybrid system which differs to that of its last hybrid hypercar, the P1 from 2013. It will produce 1,050PS (1,035 horsepower) and accelerate the car from standstill to 186mph (300 km/h) in 12.8 seconds, which is 3.5 seconds quicker than the P1 could manage, and 0.8s ahead of the Bugatti Chiron.
Under the all-carbon body, the Speedtail has an active suspension system made from aluminium, and carbon ceramic brakes. These will likely form part of an energy recovery arrangement, where energy lost during braking is harvested and fed back into the hybrid system’s battery, ready to be deployed with the next press of the accelerator.
And lastly there is the Speedtail’s party trick: Velocity Mode. With the press of a button above the driver’s head, the rear-view cameras retract and the car lowers itself by 35mm to improve aerodynamic efficiency. The hybrid system is then optimised by temporarily adjusting the engine’s idle speed to fully charge the battery, ready to deploy the thousand-plus horsepower through the car’s bespoke Pirelli P-Zero tyres.