A new dawn

by Dinzo Tabamo | Sep 14, 2009
I can still remember one of the first supercars I've ever seen in my life. It was a yellow Ferrari F355 in Tokyo back in 1997. It was parked on the street without fanfare as if it were a common Corolla. I couldn't stop staring at the low slung Italian art piece. Since then I've seen more than a few Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches in motor shows and in the course of my job. But of all the sports cars I've wanted to see, one has eluded me--the McLaren F1. Even if its top speed has been eclipsed several times by Bugattis and Koenigseggs, it's still one of the purest supercars ever made. The automotive press almost unanimously praised it when it was released in 1993, and up to now, 16 years after its release, it can still hold its own against the most hardcore sports cars. The simply named McLaren F1 was the only pure product of McLaren's automotive division. They collaborated on the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, but for me it was compromised by the need for it to be luxurious and easy to drive, although it is still an exceptional automobile. If I'm not mistaken there are two or three units in our country, and I've definitely seen at least one of them. Now a new McLaren road car is about to be introduced, its name is the MP4-12C and it promises to be just as groundbreaking as its forebear. I was looking for legendary McLaren F1 designer Gordon Murray's name in the press release, but I realized he's not part of McLaren anymore. Shame. Those familiar with Formula 1 will recognize the MP4 name as the chassis designation of all McLaren Formula 1 cars since 1981. The 12 is an internal code to benchmark the car's performance, and C stands for the extensive use of carbon fiber in the body. mclaren1 The rest of the press release is simply voluminous; I've never seen such a long announcement before. Here are some of the highlights:
  • At its heart, the McLaren MP4-12C features a revolutionary carbon fiber chassis structure, the Carbon MonoCell: the first time a car in this market segment is based around such a strong and lightweight racing car engineering solution and the first time any car has ever featured a one-piece carbon fiber structure.
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  • The 12C is pure McLaren, featuring no carryover parts from any other car, and will be produced by McLaren in the UK. It goes on sale through a dedicated, worldwide retailer network in early 2011 for an estimated £125,000-£175,000.
  • All the parts of the McLaren MP4-12C are bespoke and unique to this car. Everything from the engine right down to the tailor-made switches and buttons is pure McLaren: nothing has come from another manufacturer's parts bin.
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  • The 12C is powered by a bespoke McLaren 'M838T' 3.8 liter, V8 twin-turbo engine producing around 600bhp, driving through a McLaren seven speed Seamless Shift dual clutch gearbox (SSG).
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  • 'M838T' is a unique McLaren power unit, developed specifically for the 12C. It is compact, lightweight, very stiff, and offers an uncompromising combination of very high performance and good driveability, with excellent economy and CO2 emission values. It features dual variable valve timing and produces around 600bhp and 600Nm of torque.
  • The McLaren MP4-12C design follows similar principles to McLaren's Formula 1 cars, and the legendary McLaren F1, where everything is for a reason and all lines, surfaces, and details are designed with a job in mind as much as styled.
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  • It will compete with cars like the Ferrari 458, Lamborghini Gallardo, Porsche 911 Turbo, Bentley Continental GT and Aston Martin DB9.
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  • Gears are changed using a Formula 1 style rocker shift that pivots in the centre of the steering wheel. It is actuated on either side of the steering wheel (pulling right changes up, pulling left down). As with the McLaren Formula 1 car, a shift can be actuated either by pulling or by pushing on the rocker. The rocker moves with the steering wheel, rather than being mounted on the steering column, so that if a gearchange is needed while lock is being applied the driver does not have to fumble around to change gear.
  • The transmission rocker incorporates an innovative feature created by McLaren engineers called Pre-Cog. The name stands for pre-cognition, literally "foreknowledge." The rocker on the 12C has two positions with a slightly different haptic (or feel) for each. The driver applies first pressure to the rocker and it informs the gearbox to get ready to swap ratios, thereby saving time-latency--between the message being sent and the gearbox being primed to act. The second pressure confirms that the gear should be changed and the torque handover is completed in milliseconds.
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  • The suspension for the McLaren MP4-12C breaks new ground, offering hitherto unseen levels of roll control and grip (an almost flat cornering attitude, depending on the program selected).
  • Another feature that helps the 12C to handle at a new level is a development of an electronic system used by McLaren's 1997 MP4/12 Formula 1 car--Brake Steer. In essence, it is a system that brakes the inside rear wheel when the car is entering a corner too quickly to make the desired radius. Under normal circumstances the front would wash away wide of the apex the driver wants to touch: in other words, understeer.
  • The 12C's face is dominated by large and distinctive air intakes and bi-xenon headlights with LED running lights inspired by the form of the McLaren logo. The McLaren logo itself also graces the bonnet of a car for the first time.
  • Illumination from the running lights bleeds into three distinctive gills just above the headlamps. The windscreen is deep and low for superb forward visibility and redolent of the McLaren F1: in wet weather it is swept by a single weight-saving pantograph wiper blade, as was the F1.
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  • Another prevailing design characteristics are the dihedral doors (a hereditary gene from the McLaren F1), which has a clear purpose, like every other element of McLaren's design ethos. The concept of dihedral doors is simply to allow the driver and passenger to get into and out of the car as easily as possible as well as allowing a smaller door opening than would otherwise be necessary.
  • The 12C's rear has an aggressive, business-like appearance with its downforce-optimized rear diffuser. The exhaust pipes exit high and in the center of the car and the rear end is open to ensure efficient evacuation of hot air from the engine bay. The engine itself is visible through the top deck. The LED tail light clusters are hidden behind horizontal black bars. They are only visible when illuminated: the two upper bars light up as LED brake lights and turn indicators.
  • The steering wheel is 'clean'--there are no buttons to distract the driver. It also needs to be small and very tactile. Having employed an advanced and compact airbag, the steering wheel design was then inspired by McLaren's racing expertise. The steering wheel grip of the 12C is as technically precise as a McLaren racing driver's wheel. This is because past Formula 1 championship-winning drivers' grips were modeled and scanned and the most effective feel and thickness of their wheels was replicated for a high performance road car.
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  • Early planning indicates that 25 per cent of sales will be made in the UK, 25 per cent in the USA and the remainder to the rest of the world, notably Germany and mainland Europe, the Middle East and some Far Eastern countries.
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