In this month’s Top Gear issue, Botchi and I make separate trips to Cebu to check out the car culture in the South. One of the shops I visited was JT Wheels, an importer of wheels and surplus parts from Japan. It’s a bargain hunter’s paradise: a whole lot filled with stacks of branded wheels, carts full of shock absorbers, walls hung with steering wheels, and racks of car electronics.
Looking through the goods, something struck me: a Kenwood DVD nagivation unit festooned with McLaren logos on it. It was a two-piece device: a DVD-ROM drive and a touch screen display.
I touched the McLaren logo and it wasn’t a sticker job. It seemed printed-on and done at the factory.
Being a DVD-ROM device, I knew this had to be from the mid-‘90s, when the maps needed for navigation systems had to be loaded onto DVD data discs, unlike maps now which are stored in high-capacity memory cards.
My mind was excited about the possible conclusion: did this come from a McLaren F1 supercar? As any true car nut knows, Gordon Murray commissioned Kenwood to design an audio system for the McLaren F1. Kenwood built one that conformed to Murray’s requirements for size and weight. During the ‘90s, Kenwood also used this tie up to promote its car audio systems in advertising materials.
I wondered if this surplus navigation unit could simply be branding, a Kenwood navigation system that sported McLaren’s logo. But a Google search for a McLaren-branded Kenwood unit turned up empty.
As far as I know the McLaren F1 car didn’t have navigation, not even a radio (Gordon Murray didn’t listen to radio, why should his customers?). It only had a control unit of some sort, a CD changer and speakers. My suspicion was this was an add-on to the original audio equipment. Should a McLaren F1 owner so desire, Kenwood attached this navigation system to his existing stock audio setup. This explained the careful co-branding and the era-appropriate technology being used.
If this really was from a McLaren F1, it’s the closest I’ve come to touching one. The McLaren F1 was the definitive supercar of the ‘90s, the decade when I started reading car magazines in earnest. Only about a hundred exist, and as far as I know none are in our country. A Ferrari is only hot until Maranello churns out the next model. But a McLaren F1, because of its exclusivity and performance, still sets motoring hearts on fire even if it’s more than 15 years old.
The shopkeeper priced the Kenwood-McLaren navigation device at P12,000. I didn’t even bother seeing if the price can be brought down. Its usefulness is debatable at this point. To use it you have to have a DVD-ROM map of the Philippines and that map has to be compatible with the software Kenwood uses. As a video player, the DVD Region codes could be a stumbling block. Japan (I’m presuming this is where the unit came from) uses Region 2 discs while we use Region 3 discs. As a television, Japan uses different channel frequencies from ours.
I still hope I’m right, that this really did come from a McLaren F1. Maybe next time I’ll encounter the real thing.
Photos by Raynand Olarte